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Hernan Crespo, the manager: How the ex-Chelsea striker is making strides into coaching at Sao Paulo

Hernan Crespo, AC Milan, Defensa y Justicia
(Image credit: Getty)

This profile of Hernan Crespo first appeared as part of a feature on next-generation managers in the April 2021 issue of FourFourTwo magazine. Subscribe now!

Throw back to January, and a sweltering day in Cordoba, Argentina. Washington Camacho has just tapped home a third goal in injury time for Defensa y Justicia, confirming it’ll be their name on the Copa Sudamericana trophy for the first time.

A familiar, open-mouthed figure bounces along the touchline in celebration – only these days, with a more manageable haircut than when he was netting Serie A stunners and on the prowl upfront for Chelsea.

That was the day Crespo truly announced himself to the world as an elite manager – in a stadium named after Mario Kempes, the striker he grew up idolising. As a manager, though, the Albiceleste hero is very much his own man. “I look to the great coaches, but I have to be myself,” Crespo told FFT in 2016, when taking his first steps with Modena.

“I look at Carlo Ancelotti, Jose Mourinho, Marcelo Bielsa… I take lessons from them, but I don’t want to be the same.” 

The Argentine was prepared to make mistakes to learn those lessons. The former Blue started coaching at Parma in 2014, but as the club sunk into financial meltdown – they even had to auction off trophies he’d helped them win as a player to pay the bills – Crespo accepted the Modena job in Serie B.

In still learning his craft, he couldn’t lead them out of a relegation tussle; the rookie coach was relieved of his duties by March. 

Argentine side Banfield weren’t put off, however, and hired him in 2018. While that stint ended in another chop, it was back home where Crespo began to enforce his philosophy. 

“If you go to watch a Tarantino film, you know what you’ll get,” he claimed after losing his job five matches into a new campaign, following a mid-table finish. “The same with a Scorsese. I watch Guardiola and I know what team I’m going to see.”

Crespo knew what kind of blockbuster he wanted to direct. From January 2020, his Defensa side played with a high-octane style reminiscent of coaching inspiration Bielsa, and rewards were finally reaped. They toppled Vasco da Gama and Bahia with disciplined displays over two legs in South America’s Europa League equivalent, before beating Coquimbo Unido in the semis. Their exquisite 3-0 hammering of Lanus in the final ensured club history.

After the title, Crespo moved to Brazilian giants Sao Paulo – without a domestic trophy since 2008. It’s his biggest job yet, but should be worth the wait. He’s reached this point in his own time – so you can be sure he’ll carry on doing things in the same spirit.

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