Hernan Crespo has sustained high level performances and ratio of goals at the six top level clubs he has played for in Argentina, Italy and England. Furthermore, having recently turned 31, last year alone Crespo obtained a championship medal at Chelsea, a silver boot award at the last World Cup, and also became one of the new signings of current Serie A leaders Internazionale. He is the Argentine national team’s third all-time top scorer behind Gabriel Batistuta and Diego Maradona, yet, in spite of his achievements and acceptable levels of world-wide recognition, he is not precisely revered as an “idol” either in his home country or abroad.
I witnessed Crespo’s first division debut for River Plate in late 1993. He came on as a sub for the last twenty minutes of an emphatic 4-1 win against Newels Old Boys. This scoreline was already sealed by the time he was on the pitch, but a couple of surging runs towards the penalty area by this eighteen year old striker were enough to attract the attention of the River fans present that day. This particular match had in fact been awaited with high expectation, not only because River where the then current argentine league leaders, but primarily because Maradona had been recently signed by Newels and was supposedly going to feature in this game. In the event he was ruled out because of injury, and Crespo’s emergence into professional football is probably what is now most remembered about that match.
Crespo rapidly became one of coach Daniel Passarella’s favorites alongside other youth players also promoted to the River Plate first team by the former Argentine World Cup captain, such as Ariel Ortega, Matías Almeyda and Marcelo Gallardo. Crespo spent three very successful years at the club, and crowned his career there when he scored the two decisive goals by which River beat America de Cali in the Libertadores cup final of 1996. This was to be his last match for River, which I also had the honor to attend, as he was immediately sold to Parma at the age of twenty for the now laughable sum of 4 million dollars.
His legacy as one of the club’s historic icons, can nowadays occasionally be witnessed amongst River fans sporting shirts, with his name inscribed at the back, of any of the European teams he starred for. However, it is revealing that in spite of having played such a vital role in River’s last significant international success, his successor as number nine, the Chilean Marcelo Salas and, later on, Javier Saviola, have both enjoyed superior levels of idolatry than Crespo at that club.
Four seasons at Parma were enough to transform Crespo in the club’s highest ever Serie A goalscorer. Sold to Lazio in 2000-2001, he immediately repaid the astronomic sum paid by the then reigning Italian champions by becoming capocannoniere with 26 goals in his first season. His first spells at Inter and Chelsea were partially marred by persistent injuries, however this did not necessarily imply a significant decline in his goal ratio. Although he did not manage to win any titles during his loan spell at Milan in 2004-2005, he proved an ideal complement to Andrej Shevchenko in attack, and of course scored two goals against Liverpool in the bizarre Champions League final in Istanbul, becoming in this way the first ever player to score in both Libertadores and Champions League cup finals. On his return to Chelsea last season, he obtained his first championship medal since arriving to Europe, and this season he seems destined to achieve his first Serie A championship medal in his second spell at Inter.
His career with the Argentine national team has been one of mixed emotions. In spite of boasting a ratio of one goal every two matches, he will most likely be remembered as the striker who was permanently in the shadow of Batistuta. He also competed, and lost, with “Bati” for the distinction of “best looking player” in the polls that appeared in female teenage magazines whenever Argentina was competing in a World Cup. However, when it comes to nicknames he is simply referred to as “Crespito” or “Valdanito” compared with Batistuta’s more striking labeling of “Lion King” or “Batigol”.
Crespo’s apparent lack of charisma does not necessarily obey to lack of personality. He is neither shy nor soft-spoken, on the contrary, he usually comes across as very articulate and always keen to express his opinions. The question of his lack of charisma seems to lie elsewhere. Maybe his career has not been controversial enough: he has never been sent off in almost fourteen years, and is not known to have had the slightest of rifts with coaches, team mates or adversaries either on or of the pitch. He is not known to have had confrontations with the press either, and details of his private life barely transcend in the media. These factors, more than any other, probably explain why Crespo has not reached the category of "idol" yet.