Splashing The Cash: Signing Hernan Crespo Signalled A Sea Change At Chelsea

When Roman Abramovich's revolution hit top gear...
14:10, 23 Aug 2019

A two-window transfer ban and the appointment of Frank Lampard suggest a change in direction for Chelsea this season. Ever since Roman Abramovich bought the club in 2003, the Blues have targeted short-term success and rarely looked too far beyond the season ahead. 

That policy has served them well: in the last 16 years Chelsea have won five Premier League titles, a Champions League, two Europa Leagues, five FA Cups and three League Cups. Relatively speaking, though, the pressure is off in 2019/20 as Lampard attempts to meet more modest targets, most likely a sustained challenge for the top four and a run deep into at least one of the Champions League, FA Cup or League Cup.

Things were different back in 2003, when Chelsea were at the very start of a bright new era. Abramovich took charge of the club at the beginning of July and immediately set about splashing the cash in the transfer market. Glen Johnson was first through the door for £6m, followed by Geremi, Wayne Bridge, Damien Duff, Joe Cole, Juan Sebastian Veron, Adrian Mutu, Alexey Smertin, Hernan Crespo, Neil Sullivan, Claude Makelele and Scott Parker.

At £17m Duff was the most expensive addition, and it was the £16m Makelele who went on to have the biggest impact at Stamford Bridge. Yet the marquee signing of that first Abramovich summer was Crespo, who arrived to considerable fanfare on August 26 for a fee of £16.8m.

The Argentinian was in the prime of his career, having turned 28 the previous month. He possessed an enviable scoring record in Italy (80 in 151 games for Parma; 48 in 73 for Lazio; and 16 in 30 for Inter) and looked set to take the Premier League by storm too. Unfortunately for Chelsea fans, however, things did not go to plan.

Crespo was not a disaster at Stamford Bridge, and he began reasonably well with 12 goals in 31 matches in 2003/04. Yet it is also true that he did not live up to expectations, and Crespo returned to Italy with a loan spell at Milan the following campaign. There was still time for a second season at Chelsea in 2005/06, but despite some fine moments he did not do enough to be considered a bona fide success.

Off-field issues affected the striker’s on-pitch performances. Crespo told FourFourTwo that his family lost two children during his time at Chelsea, while he also found it difficult to settle in London.

"I just couldn't assimilate," Crespo later told Kicker. "The cultural differences between an Anglo-Saxon country and Italy was just too big.

"The Italian way of playing suits me better than the English one - but it didn't have anything to do with that. For one thing there were the injuries; they stopped me finding a rhythm although I was happy enough with my scoring record. Always being injured has a negative psychological effect.

"There were no problems with my team-mates but there were [social] things that had nothing to do with the club. London is a great city but I missed human warmth and, of course, there was the language barrier. I felt left out away from football and I couldn't enjoy myself. It was my own fault. We shouldn't use cultural differences as an excuse, but one shouldn't underestimate it."

Didier Drogba joined Chelsea a year after Crespo and went on to become a club legend. However, the Blues have generally struggled with big-money or high-profile acquisitions up front; Mateja Kezman, Fernando Torres, Andriy Shevchenko, Radamel Falcao, Alvaro Morata and Gonzalo Higuain all disappointed at Stamford Bridge. Crespo was not as big a flop as some of those names, but he ultimately did not justify the excitement felt by every Chelsea supporter on this day in 2003.