Inter Milan icon Hernan Crespo on his River Plate love affair and power of Club World Cup

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Hernan Crespo packed a lot into his playing career.

He had nearly all you could want from a centre forward. Expert in the air, ruthless off both feet and a selfless foil for iconic team-mates such as Ronaldo, Paolo Maldini, Christian Vieri and Kaka.

There were more than 300 goals across 19 years as a professional at boyhood club River Plate, Parma, Lazio (in world-record fashion courtesy of July 2000’s €56 million deal), both AC and Inter Milan, Chelsea and Genoa.

His 35 strikes from 65 internationals for Argentina still makes him their fourth-highest scorer. Only Manchester City poacher Sergio Aguero, iconic peer Gabriel Batistuta and the peerless Lionel Messi are ahead of him – not bad company to keep.

Even when on the wrong side of history, the now 43-year-old can count a predatory brace in 2004/05’s Champions League final. A fact that is often ignored amid emotive flashbacks of the ‘Miracle of Istanbul’ when Milan’s 3-0 half-time lead famously evaporated against Liverpool in one of football’s great clashes.

Among all this sterling achievement, however, there is one source of regret.

As a 20-year-old of rare promise, he would, decisively, score twice in June 1996’s second leg and ensure River defeated Colombia’s Junior to claim the cherished Copa Libertadores. But by the time that November’s 1-0 reversal to Juventus in the Intercontinental Cup – a precursor to the current global club tournament – came around, his triumphant European adventure was under way at Parma.

When asked by Sport360 at Wednesday’s event to promote next month’s 2018 Club World Cup in the UAE whether he still rues this gap in his CV, he replies: “Yes. I joined Parma in August 1996, so now I use this opportunity to come here [for the 2018 Club World Cup].

“In 1996, we had won the Copa Libertadores but I never reached the Intercontinental Cup. This is because I was sold to Parma and I watched on television, suffering so much.

“But, it is never too late to come into this event.”

The reason why Crespo has found himself in the Emirates is illuminating.

South America’s entrant for the CWC is still to be decided, even though it runs from December 12-22. This is after the epochal Copa showdown between eternal Buenos Aires rivals Boca Juniors and River Plate descended into infamy last weekend.

An attack on the former’s team bus by supporters of the latter caused the abortive second leg to be, repeatedly, postponed. Shameful headlines across the world followed, ahead of a Superclasico decider on neutral soil – the UAE has been tipped as one of many potential venues – on December 8 or 9.

River icon Crespo and Boca stalwart Nicolas Burdisso crossed Buenos Aires’ great divide this midweek at Al Ain’s resplendent Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. They came together to preach the unifying role that the sport can have at its best.

“I want to talk about what happened ahead of the final between River Plate and Boca Juniors,” Crespo said at a press conference. “I would like to say as players we are very disappointed with what happened.

“We know there is a history of rivalry between the two sides, but the fans have to refrain from such practices.”

He added: “Just imagine, though, if people used the emotion that they have for football in a positive way, to help shape society.”

For River to build on the 2-2 draw from the first leg, head coach Marcelo Gallardo will be central.

Nicolas Burdisso (l) and Hernan Crespo (r) in Al Ain.

Nicolas Burdisso (l) and Hernan Crespo (r) in Al Ain.

Crespo’s supply line for club and country, as a renowned playmaker, is now after a ninth title in four wildly successful years in the El Monumental-dugout.

Did he expect El Muneco (The Doll) to be such a success?

“Yes, because he was very intelligence,” Crespo answers. “As a player, he was so intelligent on the pitch and he understood everything.

“He doesn’t surprise me. He has put River Plate on another level, maybe they now have the best XI in their history.

“Everything is thanks to Gallardo. He’s a great, great manager.

“Everybody knows him in South America, because he won a lot of trophies. Maybe in Europe, not everyone knows him.

“I think it is a good opportunity to be part of this event, to get to know all the players and managers.”

Crespo first donned the hallowed red sash of River Plate as a child, prior to netting 36 times in 84 run-outs for the first team from 1993-96.

This relationship has left an indelible mark on his life.

He says: “I grew up in River Plate. I began playing there at seven-years old – it was 14 years of my life.

“It is not easy to explain. This is because it is about feelings, about sensations.

“Explaining this is very difficult. But I am always a River Plate fan.”

A scan of Crespo’s social media showcases his status as globetrotting promoter of the sport since his November 2012 retirement.

But for all the sun-kissed charity matches with the likes of Ronaldinho, Ryan Giggs and Alessandro Del Piero, a desire to return to the top end remains acute.

A spell from June 2017-January 2018 as vice-president to new majority shareholder at Parma, Jiang Lizhang, was influential in the club’s return to Serie A.

There was also a tortured first – and so far only – head-coach posting at Serie B-strugglers Modena from June 2015-March 2016.

This strained experience, however, could never diminish Crespo’s passion.

He says: “I have been a coach and I finished helping Parma as an assistant to the president, in the last two seasons to return to Serie A.

“Now, I want to come back to being a coach. This is what I really love.

“I think in a few days I can come back to the pitch and start to be a coach again.”

The 2018 CWC will bring together six continental champions – holders Real Madrid, Asia’s Kashima Antlers, Africa’s Esperance de Tunis, Central America’s Guadalajara, Oceania’s Team Wellington plus the eventual South American participant – and host team Al Ain.

Tickets are still available at www.fifa.com/clubworldcup/, including ones beginning at Dh25 for the first three matches at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

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Serie A 2018/19: Krzysztof Piatek joins Cristiano Ronaldo among top five signings so far

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The 2018/19 Serie A season is around a third of the way complete, which is plenty of time for teams to establish a rhythm and new arrivals to bed in to their new surroundings.

Champions Juventus lead the way and will be the team to beat it seems, with Napoli and Inter Milan several points off their searing pace.

As ever, a raft of signing were made in the summer. But which ones are shining bright in the early part of the season?

Here, we pick our five best signings of the season so far:

Krzysztof Piatek (Cracovia to Genoa, 4 million)

0914 Krzysztof Piatek

Hands up, who’d heard of Piatek before this season?

Only those with an encyclopedic knowledge of Polish football, or who’ve (mis)spent far too many hours in the deepest recess of YouTube, would have picked him out as a player who would explode into action.

Genoa’s flamboyant president Enrico Preziosi was impressed enough by several internet clips to take a gamble on an uncapped striker with a one-in-two record for mid-table Cracovia. What a bet this turned out to be, as four goals went in on debut against Lecce.

By his eight appearance, the 23-year-old was averaging a goal every 59.9 minutes. Links then followed to Barcelona as Luis Suarez’s long-term successor or to Napoli as they man to, finally, bring the Serie A title back down south.

This fever has been tempered, however, during a five-match scoreless streak which correlates perfectly with the decision to bring head coach Ivan Juric back to the club.

Cristiano Ronaldo (Real Madrid to Juventus,€100 million)

1023 Ronaldo Focus

A grand plan has been concocted to get Juve over the line in the Champions League after two decades of pain– and the Portugal icon is the central figure.

Moans within minutes of Real Madrid’s latest continental triumph last May escalated into an exit officially announced, in grandstanding style, just before France’s World Cup 2018 semi-final against Belgium. Football’s biggest ego would then, by pure happenstance, arrive in Turin for the first time during the tournament’s decider.

The Old Lady are not stupid and they knew what they were getting, on the pitch, before they lavished a six-figure sum on a 33-year-old.

Ronaldo is joint-second in the Serie A scoring charts with eight – after he took three appearances to net, a match-winning brace versus Sassuolo – and joint-second in assists with five. His average of 7.3 shots per top-flight match is comfortably ahead of Edin Dzeko’s 4.6 for Roma.

Serious allegations, that Ronaldo strenuously denies, off the pitch cast a dark shadow. But who would back against him securing a domestic and European double by next May?

Joao Cancelo (Valencia to Juventus, €40.4 million)

FBL-ITA-SERIEA-AC MILAN-JUVENTUS

It’s easy for all the attention in Turin to fall on Portugal’s most-famous son.

A compatriot, however, continues to reach supreme levels of performance. Cancelo was, comfortably, the best right-back in Serie A last season when on loan at Inter Milan from Valencia.

Boasting searing pace and an eye for a cross, he gained three assists in 26 top-flight run-outs, there was always going to be a chase for his signature in the summer. Juve came out in front for the man cut from World Cup 2018 – and their investment is being rewarded every week.

Last term, the champions had the aged Stephan Lichsteiner or injury addled Matteo De Sciglio to turn to.

In Cancelo, they’ve recruited an effervescent speed merchant who currently leads the way for them with 2.8 dribbles per Serie A game average – 1.0 more than nearest team-mate Paulo Dybala.

But don’t mistake adventure for defensive weakness. An average of 2.1 tackles per game is the joint-club best with France battler Blaise Matuidi.

Kevin-Prince Boateng (Eintracht Frankfurt to Sassuolo, free transfer)

US Sassuolo v Empoli - Serie A

It was a mistake, then, to think the Ghana midfielder’s time at the highest level was at an end.

A steady decline had been witnessed at AC Milan (for a second time), Las Palmas and Eintracht Frankfurt ahead of a return to Italy this summer in the humble surroundings of Sassuolo.

Little was expected. Much has been given by the 31-year-old, in return.

A tally of four goals in 10 matches is respectable – and represents the Neroverdi’s highest total. Among these, important strikes helped secure draws at Cagliari and versus Bologna.

Boateng has relished a central role, be that in a 4-3-3 formation or, latterly, a 3-1-4-2. There, he also leads the way with 1.7 aerials won per Serie A match. When previously Boateng excelled in the pocket, he’s now a frontline soldier.

There is a frisson at play between himself and Italy prospect Domenico Berardi.

This partnership has helped carry Sassuolo into the heady heights of seventh coming into the November international break.

Francesco Acerbi (Sassuolo to Lazio, €10 million)

FBL-EUR-C3-LAZIO-MARSEILLE

Roberto Mancini’s latest Italy squad generated quizzical looks in the Sky Blue half of the Eternal City.

Just how could the ex-Biancocelesti player and head coach ignore one of his old team’s newest stars?

Acerbi arrived in the summer from mid-table Sassuolo to little fanfare and as replacement for the excellent Stefan de Vrij – one mad game against future employers Inter Milan, aside.

Lazio boss Simone Inzaghi, however, had seen him register the fourth-best average clearances per game (6.4) and joint-third best interceptions per game (2.3) in the division. Plus, an iron-clad reliability which means Acerbi last missed a top flight minute in 2015/16 – incredible for a testicular cancer survivor from only five years ago.

The former AC Milan flop has improved throughout 2018/19, just like his team-mates. Highlights include a goal in victory at Udinese, plus an exceptional display at Parma.

After being with the Azzurri last month, it is perplexing that Mancini did not decide to give another call-up. Maybe, he has more strength in depth than he lets on?

1611 five best serie a

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Serie A 2018/19: Keita Balde and Kevin Mirallas make list of five worst summer signings

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The 2018/19 Serie A season is around a third of the way complete, which is plenty of time for teams to establish a rhythm and new arrivals to bed in to their new surroundings.

Champions Juventus lead the way and will be the team to beat it seems, with Napoli and Inter Milan several points off their searing pace.

As ever, a raft of signing were made in the summer. But which ones are struggling badly in the early part of the season?

Here, we pick our five best signings of the season so far:

Keita Balde (Monaco to Inter Milan, loan)

FC Internazionale v Parma Calcio - Serie A

Luciano Spalletti made a special request to his Nerazzurri paymasters to bring Balde back to Serie A.

On the evidence of the early months of the season, this belief was misplaced.

The on-loan Monaco forward has failed to net during 352 minutes in the top flight, spread across three starts and eight cameos. Dry spells can happen to any forward, but where Inter will be concerned is the fact that an average of 0.8 attempts per match is just the 12th best for them.

It is no wonder that a €34 million permanent option has reportedly been dismissed out of hand and talks have begun to send him back to Ligue 1 in January.

This is a stark contrast to a successful spell at Lazio from 2013-17. The now 23-year-old then scored a respectable 37 times in 137 run-outs, impressing Spalletti along the way.

Inter must hope this month’s email farce that denied Balde’s Senegal duty instead provides time to reflect on what is going wrong.

Diego Laxalt (Genoa to AC Milan, €14 million)

AC Milan v Genoa CFC - Serie A

Questionable hair style aside, Laxalt had earned himself a reputation in Serie A as a full-back of real promise.

Last season’s return of three assists and three goals created interest. This was only strengthened throughout a solid World Cup 2018 for Uruguay.

AC Milan looked to have made an uncharacteristically sensible signing when they headed off Premier League-interest to land a 25-year-old once owned by rivals Inter. Reality has not been as kind.

No one can question the player’s effort. It is his quality which has been queried by the Rossonero – plus, seemingly, head coach Gennaro Gattuso.

Even amid a defensive crisis, Laxalt was moved back to the sidelines for November 11’s 2-0 loss to champions Juventus. In total, he’s made four starts and six substitute appearances.

From these, only striker Patrick Cutrone has registered a worse pass completion (75.9-77.5 per cent) in the top flight for Milan.

This step up to the San Siro looks to be a step too far.

Simone Zaza (Valencia to Torino, loan)

Udinese v Torino FC - Serie A

Heads are currently being scratched in the maroon half of Turin.

A temporary arrangement to bring Italy striker Zaza back to Serie A in the summer seemed a smart one. Especially after 2017/18’s return of 13 goals in 39 matches for Valencia – figures he hadn’t bettered since 2012/13’s breakthrough campaign with Ascoli in Serie B.

The €2 million loan fee with a €12m obligation now appears onerously priced.

Zaza simply hasn’t come close to finding his space at Torino. From head coach Walter Mazzarri’s 3-4-2-1 formation which only leaves space for Andrea Belotti, to the calf injury which caused regression after a goal at Chievo and assist against Frosinone prior to October’s international break.

Zaza was given 42 minutes during the 2-1 defeat at Parma last time out. He made just nine touches and saw two harmless attempts sail wide.

A reputation as a polarising figure has only been enforced.

Lukasz Teodorczyk (Anderlecht to Udinese, €7 million)

Udinese v Torino FC - Serie A

Udinese will hope the surgeon’s knife provides the cure to the malaise of their major summer acquisition.

Poland striker Teodorczyk rocketed in 45 matches during 93 run-outs for Belgium giants Anderlecht, with such form sparking a wave of excitement at Dacia Arena when he was landed in August.

A goalless eight Serie A matches have followed – one start, seven substitute appearances –for new employers stationed one place outside the drop zone.

In mitigation, a medical intervention to cure a hernia problem was carried out at the end of last month. This would be a serious impediment for any athlete, never mind one who relies on graft and physical prowess to unsettle defences.

Of greater alarm for Udinese is a deeper look into his Anderlecht statistics. From the highs of 2016/17’s return of 30 goals in 53 matches, a decline during the following campaign saw the net bulge only 15 times in 40 games.

Worrying reading for a club with plenty of problems to be dealt with.

Kevin Mirallas (Everton to Fiorentina, loan)

ACF Fiorentina v AS Roma - Serie A

Mirallas turned into persona non grata at Everton.

Alarmingly, he hasn’t fared much better at Fiorentina.

At his best, Mirallas was a ruthless – some would say selfish – forward, expert in the arm of cutting inside from the wing to cause havoc. At 31-years old, the glory days are an increasingly distant memory.

The ex-Belgium international was bombed out of Olympiakos last term and another temporary move to Serie A is not proving to be any more successful this time around.

A grand total of zero top-flight goals or assists have come from 356 minutes of deployment, across three starts and five substitute run-outs.

In this month’s 1-1 draw with Roma, his 15 touches was the least of any starter. No attempts on goal or key passes were made, plus his 53 minutes on the pitch produced a pass accuracy of 60 per cent.

The Viola will surely be wondering why they bothered bringing in such a useless foil for youngsters Federico Chiesa and Giovanni Simeone.

1611 five worst serie a - Revised2

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