Let’s get one thing straight: Hernan Crespo did not flop at Chelsea.
Chelsea may not have the best track record when it comes to signing strikers, with millions wasted on players with big reputations such as Andriy Shevchenko, Romelu Lukaku and Timo Werner.
And Crespo is often included on lists of expensive Premier League failures. Twenty-four goals from a world-class striker who remained on Chelsea’s books for five seasons certainly doesn’t scream success.
But calling the Argentina marksman a ‘flop’ would be a misdemeanour. A quick YouTube search for a collection of his Chelsea goals reveals a striker capable of scoring in a variety of different ways.
Poacher’s efforts that demonstrated his craft and intelligence, thumping headers where the ball hits the net as if directed by GPS, technically superb first-time shots that illustrated his incisiveness – they’re all there.
Despite the range of goals Crespo scored, two have stood the test of time and cause Chelsea fans to get goosebumps when recollecting them.
The first came on a sunny autumn afternoon at Highbury in 2003. Newly-minted Chelsea went into the game unbeaten but found themselves behind to Edu’s deflected free-kick.
Claudio Ranieri’s side would be behind for mere minutes. Geremi switched to the left and slipped a clever pass inside compatriot Lauren into Crespo’s path.
Without breaking stride, the long-haired goalscorer checked inside and won himself into space to lash a 25-yard shot past a startled Jens Lehmann and into the Arsenal net.
Clive Tyldesley was so excited that he managed to drown out the cries of the infamous Highbury screamer – on this occasion, such an exuberant response was fully justified.
— The Sportsman (@TheSportsman) August 22, 2021
After that? Not much for almost two years. Crespo’s first season in English football was marred by injuries and he spent the 2004-05 season on loan at AC Milan.
In an interview with FourFourTwo in 2016, the striker recalled: “I said: ‘Look, Jose, this is very difficult, but if I have to choose between Chelsea and Milan then I’m going to choose Milan.’
“Jose replied: ‘OK, I’ll wait for you for one week. If in one week the Milan deal is not done, then you’ll stay at Chelsea. Because if you don’t stay then we have to go to the market to buy a replacement.’”
That replacement turned out to be Mateja Kezman and while he struggled at Stamford Bridge, Crespo plundered 17 goals in Italy and Mourinho welcomed him back into the fold.
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Fresh from scoring twice in the 2005 Champions League final – benefiting from one of the all-time great assists by Kaka for his second – Crespo returned to England with a point to prove. In his absence, Chelsea had become champions of England and were the new benchmark for the rest of the league to follow.
Not many observers expected Wigan Athletic to provide much resistance to Mourinho’s men in August 2005 but the Premier League newcomers took the game to their much-vaunted opponents.
With the game edging towards a goalless draw, Crespo was thrown on and proceeded to score a goal of such cruelty that Montgomery Burns would have thought twice.
After Didier Drogba had scrapped for possession, Crespo found himself with the ball 20 yards from goal. Manipulating the ball onto his weaker left foot, the Argentine directed his shot beyond the despairing Mike Pollitt and into the top right-hand corner.
In his post-match interview, Mourinho said: “Crespo’s goal was unbelievable and it was important for him on his return to the club. He is a hero because we didn’t deserve three points.”
On the contrary, it was a strike of such brilliance that it – cliche alert – deserved to win any football match.
15 years ago today Wigan are just seconds away from earning a point vs Chelsea on their PL debut.
Then sub Hernan Crespo absolutely smears one into the top corner.
That’s just rude.pic.twitter.com/ybPQcO6aAo
— A Funny Old Game (@sid_lambert) August 14, 2020
Crespo scored a respectable 13 goals as Chelsea retained the Premier League title but never played for the club beyond 2006. He spent two years on loan at Inter Milan before being released at the end of his contract.
“I had some very difficult personal problems during my time at Chelsea,” Crespo told FourFourTwo. “My family lost two children. Emotionally, it was very, very hard to go through all of that on a personal level.
“Professionally, it was great. The fans were unbelievable. They sang [he breaks into song] ‘Hello, hello! Hernan Crespo, Hernan Crespo!’ I wanted to give something back as I felt I had their respect. I had fun with Chelsea.”
It’d be hard to argue that Crespo’s time at Chelsea turned out as expected. As one of Roman Abramovich’s first marquee signings, the striker only shone briefly at Stamford Bridge and never replicated the form he showed at Parma and Lazio.
But it’s clear Crespo retains huge affection for the club and, when he can score goals as good as this pair, it’s no wonder the fans reciprocate his feelings.
Because Hernan Crespo was one of Chelsea’s most talented strikers of the Abramovich era – and not the ‘flop’ of received wisdom.
By Michael Lee