Ok, so the title suggests that the deal to sign Hernan Crespo from Inter has been officially confirmed which isn’t true, but the noises coming out of Italy suggest that the Argentine’s move is a nailed-on certainty. Famous last words perhaps, but more than anything the transfer makes sense for everyone involved, considering Crespo’s lack of playing time at the San Siro this season and Cesare Prandelli’s knack for reinvigorating former world beaters. Crespo certainly comes under this category, boasting 35 international goals in 64 caps as well as a once world-record transfer fee to his name, and if Prandelli can work his magic on the 33-soon-to-be-34-year-old striker, la Viola could have a valuable asset on their books. Furthermore, the former Chelsea man will have the added incentive of playing Champions League football next season, as Fiorentina all but secured their place in Europe’s most prestigious competition. A 1-0 victory over Sampdoria at the Stadio Franchi means that Prandelli’s men need just a point from their remaining two fixtures to assure themselves of fourth position.
Crespo is no stranger to pitching up and plying his trade at a new club, having represented five well-renowned teams since leaving River Plate at the age of 21. During his time spent at Parma between 1996 and 2000, he was the complete striker – as Alan Hansen would say, he had pace, power, passion and a lethal touch in front of goal. 72 goals scored in just 141 games convinced Sven Goran Eriksson and the Lazio board to part with £16 million plus Matias Almeyda and Sergio Conceicao (amounting to an estimated £35 million) for the forward’s services. Crespo joined a wonderful Lazio team, with Alessandro Nesta the rock at the back, Diego Simeone patrolling the midfield and Pavel Nedved sparking the creativity in the final third. The Argentine well and truly filled his boots with the plethora of inventive talent that supported him, finding the back of the net 52 times in just 70 appearances – an astonishing statistic. Lazio’s demise, however, coincided with Crespo’s move to Inter after just two seasons spent at the Stadio Olimpico.
One prolific campaign in Nerazzurri colours and a mouthwatering partnership with Brazilian legend Ronaldo was enough to persuade Chelsea tycoon Roman Abramovich to dispense with £16.8 million of his fortune and bring Crespo to Stamford Bridge. Although the stats suggest the South American was not a complete flop in London, his constant complaining about the English lifestyle proved too much for then Manager Jose Mourinho to bear – loan spells to both the blue and red sides of Milan ensued. Whether Crespo’s behaviour at Chelsea led to Mourinho’s sparing use of the Argentine this season or if it has been simply down to the age factor is a matter of debate. However, from glancing over the impressive CV of this “ exceptional player ” (as Prandelli recently described him), one thing is certain – he has an unerring gift for scoring goals.
And this is what Fiorentina fans should expect to see of him next season, when he plays. For here, as a famous playwright once said, enlies the rub – if Crespo has been bought to partner Alberto Gilardino on a regular basis, and thus alter the 4-2-3-1 formation so successfully adopted by Prandelli, then it should be regarded as a rather un-ambitious signing. On the other hand, if Crespo’s presence at the Stadio Franchi is as back-up for Gila, then his signature seems a very shrewd one on behalf of Technical Director Pantaleo Corvino. Matches will come thick and fast next year with Champions League football, and Crespo could play a decisive role (albeit slightly more of a back-seat role) in alleviating the pressure on Gila’s shoulders. Gila himself is ostensibly excited at the prospect of the Argentine’s arrival: “Champions like Hernan Crespo are always welcomed…he’s a great player and a really good person.” Prandelli will be looking to improve the squad over the summer, not weaken it, and if Crespo is a replacement for the outgoing Emiliano Bonazzoli, then he will have made a good start.
Despite Crespo’s age, his signing signifies the calibre of player Fiorentina can now attract. This is no doubt aided by the promise of Champions League football – a pledge that surely will be made good after this weekend’s victory. It has now been four matches since the Tuscan outfit last conceded a goal -that being an 87th minute consolation strike by Roma’s Julio Baptista in their 4-1 mauling. Basing a team’s success on a strong defence is one of the oldest arguments in football, but it is undeniably true. Seven victories in eight matches are testament to that, with Prandelli’s charges showing title-winning form, let alone top four aspirations, as the teams around continue to slip up.
Week 36 saw an un-ambitious Sampdoria side, drained and devastated from their mid-week Coppa Italia final exploits, show little interest in attacking their opponents, much like Torino two weeks prior. Fiorentina had a decent first half, playing some attractive stuff – the usual suspects of Montolivo, Jovetic and Vargas at the heart of any entertainment on offer. And it was the Peruvian, who really should give up any pretences of being a defender and focus on his talents going forward, that provided the cross for Gila’s 19th league goal of the season, and the game-defining moment. Gila once more showed the type of predatory instincts that his role as target man/poacher requires – he’ll have to keep this up next season as this position is perfectly suited to Crespo’s capabilities. Without a second goal cushion, the atmosphere during the match’s denouement was a little more tense, but in the end, the better team prevailed. Once more an efficient performance from la Viola, doing enough to secure the points – an important quality for any successful team to possess, as no-one can play sexy football week-in, week-out.
Taking a look at the remaining fixtures, Fiorentina have a definite chance of finishing third. With only one point separating la Viola and the Claudio Ranieri-less Juventus, the two teams could easily be switched round in the league by Sunday evening. Fiorentina go to a realistically-doomed Lecce where an away win seems likely, while Juve, whose last league victory was on March 21 and who haven’t kept a clean sheet for 10 games now, go to the unpredictable Siena. A positive reaction from the players to the new manager, Ciro Ferrara, is to be expected, but still it’s a tough ask. The final league game for Fiorentina is a home fixture against Milan, where, at this moment, fifth, fourth, third and even second are still possible end-of-season finishes for Prandelli’s men. However, the canny Tactician will be keeping the focus on Lecce away, borrowing that favourite old line from Glenn Hoddle and his fellow sporting cliche enthusiasts of ‘taking each game as it comes.’
However, this tactic is starting to wear a bit thin with some of the Fiorentina players, as they now sense a higher place finish than fourth is a distinct possibility. Felipe Melo, Fioretina’s outstanding Brazilian in the middle of the park, revealed yesterday that the team is now “thinking about third position.” This sentiment has been echoed by Marco Donadel, who this week has been hypothesising about the possible results that could leave la Viola as Scudetto runners-up (as many of the Fiorentina fans must be doing right now), as well as stating his wish “to stay in Florence to play in another Champions League.” Donadel has been at Fiorentina for four years now, and whilst not the most gifted footballer, he has a committed streak that renders him a valuable squad member. Unless Corvino and Prandelli have plans to buy two new central midfielders of higher quality, staying at the Stadio Franchi for another season seems sensible business for both player and club.
Keeping Donadel may prove to be even more significant if the rumours about Europe’s elite circling around Melo have any truth to them. Although he has only been at the club for a season after his move from Spain, the Brazilian has caught the eye this campaign and even broken into his national side. The word is that Real Madrid and Inter are keen on him, and if they make their interest known with a firm bid, it may be difficult for Fiorentina to reject their advances. However, Madrid seem destined to revert back to the Galactico era if Florentino Perez is re-elected as President, given their supporters thirst for instant success, so it is unlikely that Melo’s name would carry enough weight to be on their summer wish-list. Inter and Mourinho, conversely, seem to have a more pragmatic approach towards transfer dealings, and with the probable summer exit of Patrick Vieira, Melo could be a target. Then again, with the lack of creativity in the Inter side and the burning hole left by Adriano, perhaps Inter have more important areas to address. Fiorentina fans may be a little anxious, but with Champions League football all but assured, the smart money is on Melo walking out with Crespo and Co for next season’s European adventure.