In July of 2000, a little-known 25-year-old Argentine striker named Hernán Crespo shocked the world and became a household name when S.S. Lazio brought him to Rome for a then-world record £35 million transfer fee (£16m in cash plus Matías Almeyda and Sérgio Conceição worth £19m). Previously, Crespo had spent 4 years plying his trade for F.C. Parma, managing 116 appearances and scoring 62 goals between 1996-2000. Despite his high regard in Italy, he was far from a well-known entity outside of Serie A, and to say his world-record transfer came as a surprise would be an understatement.
As July of 2012 approaches, 25-year-old Uruguayan striker Edison Cavani is poised to fill Hernán Crespo’s figurative boots as some of Europe’s biggest clubs queue up to secure his services from S.S.C. Napoli. Despite indignant refusals to sell from Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis, interest in the statuesque striker has not flagged in the slightest.
First catching the international eye in 2007 during the South American Youth Championships, several big teams showed interest in signing Cavani, including Serie A giants Juventus F.C. and A.C. Milan. However, it was Cittá di Palermo who secured his signing in January of 2007 for a fee of around €4.5 million. Cavani struggled in his first season at Palermo, often finding himself shunted out wide or relegated to the bench to make room for first-choice strikers Amauri and Fabrizio Miccoli.
Following Amauri’s departure to Juventus in the summer of 2008, Cavani seized his chance to shine, cementing a first-team place and forging a lethal partnership with Miccoli to net 14 goals in the 08-09 Serie A season. The following season was a further success as he netted 13 goals, helping Palermo to a Champions League playoff place. In the summer of 2010, Napoli signed Cavani on loan for €5 million with a €12 million forced option to be paid at season’s end. 2010-11 would be Cavani’s breakout year, as he joined Argentine Ezequiel Lavezzi and Slovakian Marek Hamsik to form Napoli’s incredible “Three Tenors” attacking trident. With 33 total goals to his name, including magnificent hat-tricks against Juventus, Lazio and Sampdoria, Cavani was beginning to make more than a small name for himself. In 2011-12, despite increased attention from opposition defences, Cavani netted another 33 goals in all competitions, including a notable Champions League strike against this year’s EPL champions Manchester City and a hat-trick against Serie A runners-up Milan.
Apart from just the possibility of mirroring Hernán Crespo’s meteoric rise from Serie A “obscurity” to big money transfer, Cavani mirrors many of Crespo’s traits on the pitch as well. A physically imposing striker, the Uruguayan is a force to be reckoned with in the air, excels in hold-up play, and possesses a fair bit of pace. Unlike Crespo, Cavani has proven himself to be more than proficient when forced into a wide role, but the two strikers share a predatory instinct and wonderful off-the-ball movement. For his national side, Cavani often occupies a more wide role to allow Diego Forlán space to operate, functioning in a support role, rather than as a prima punta, or main striker. More of a complete striker than Crespo, Cavani can often as not be found in his own half harrying opponents as in the opposition six-yard-box slotting home crosses.
With the incredible amount of football accessibility, a surprise like Hernán Crespo’s transfer is unlikely to happen again. However, with the steadily intensifying interest surrounding young Edinson Cavani, we may just see yet another South American striker from Serie A make an incredibly high-profile move.