Crespo arrives and sparks talk of Chelsea domination

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IN 2005 Chelsea Football Club will celebrate its centenary, but this summer has been its year zero, according to the latest extravagant signing of the Roman Abramovich revolution.

Hernan Crespo was unveiled at Stamford Bridge yesterday with a scoring record - 115 goals in 197 games in Italian football - as luxuriant as his distinctively coiffured hair, and offered these colourful words of explanation. "Here there is everything to win. The prestige will come. The history can be written. This is the challenge that I put upon myself."

It was marvellous, theatrical stuff - as much conquistador as calcio from the 28-year-old Argentinian, who swore to help Chelsea break the hegemony of Manchester United and Arsenal in England and the Italian-Spanish axis in European competition.

His manager, Claudio Ranieri, was not to be outdone, claiming Crespo would have the same effect on the Premiership as Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Thierry Henry had for Manchester United and Arsenal, repectively. "I am happy with these words," smiled Crespo, whose own favourite players, he said, were Marco van Basten and, of English strikers, Gary Lineker.

Crespo's £16.8m sale now takes his total in the transfer market to more than £70m after moves between Parma, Lazio and Internazionale, including, of course, a then world record £37m when he moved to the Roman club. His signature also takes the spending at the Bridge to £94.6m in 60 or so days.

It will breach the £100m mark with the signing of the reserve goalkeeper Neil Sullivan and, more significantly, the probable arrival of Claude Makelele, the powerfully impressive Real Madrid midfielder who will provide the shield to accompany Crespo's broadsword and Adrian Mutu's rapier.

When asked about the Frenchman's £9m-plus move, Ranieri, in a rare departure from club policy not to discuss transfers, said: "We are talking". He added: "In two days, you know everything." Two days - or more specifically, tomorrow night - marks the closure of the transfer window, which Abramovich has so munificently flung open since his £150m takeover in a fashion that Crespo said had "surprised the world", never mind Serie A.

The engaging Argentinian freely admitted that despite the grand sweep of his words, his arrival had everything to do with hard cash. How long had it taken him to decide? "Not too long because the two clubs had made an agreement," Crespo said. He also denied there had been a falling-out at Inter, where Christian Vieiri, a Chelsea target before him, has raged at allowing his strike partner to leave.

The "economic crisis" in Italian football had meant that his move was "simple", he said. It also offered an opportunity to British teams who, he claimed, were not "so far behind Italian football".

"Three years ago there were no Italian teams in the quarter-final of any European competition," he said when asked about last season's Italian domination of the Champions' League. "So it is all relative."

Chelsea can now be challengers, he was sure. "Real Madrid, Juventus and Inter have been building their history for a long time. Now we'll try and write our history for the future," Crespo explained. "To get to that stage, you need a lot of quality and a little bit of luck. Hopefully we'll have a bit of luck because I'm convinced we have the quality."

Crespo will unite with his international and former club team-mate Juan Sebastian Veron, who had advised him to accept the move.

Crespo, who will go straight into the Chelsea squad for today's Premiership match against Blackburn Rovers, added: "It's all about the growth of the team - and if we achieve union in the team, we'll go far. I'm a very positive and optimistic person and I'm convinced things will go in the best possible way. I'll do everything I can to make sure they do."

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