“The three best players ever?” He thinks about it for a bit and puts it in order: “Ronaldo Il Fenomeno, Okocha and Weah on equal merits…” It is hard to pick third place for him who then takes a few extra minutes and screams: “The great Taribo.” And he goes on laughing from there…
It is impossible to not love Taribo West because of his loving and unique character. He is from Port Harcourt and arrived in Italy in the summer of 1997 after 4 seasons with Auxerre. Believing him then was Massimo Moratti who gave Taribo the shirt number 16. He left his Nigeria where as a kid, he helped his mother Wakaji in the delivery of Akara (a sort of bean cake): “The president is a very impressive man, I owe him so much.”
Unforgettable look, with those braids that exalted Inter fans. They were green and white when he was with the national team, but two years later, they became red and black: “Milan were still a satisfaction for me but I say this: “Dear my Interisti friends, only you are in my heart.” Solid defender on the pitch, character with thousand lives off of it. One of these allows him to be committed in helping the less fortunate in the name of faith. In 1996, he founded a church called “Shelter In The Storm” in Nigeria with offices here in Milan.
Who is Taribo West of today?
“Religion is my second life. I am a happy man who is decided between charity, preaching and the pitch. In Nigeria, I work with the Federation and help the children in need thanks to my foundation and the Taribo Boys (his football team).”
“To help those who have lost their way and contribute to solve the most serious problems: loss of loved ones, economic difficulties, lack of work. I speak especially to those who have taken the wrong path.”
Faith and football, can you follow both?
“They are compatible with my schedule, it is not easy but I wish the best to Inter for this second part of the season. I hope they can achieve their objectives.”
You were only in Milan for two years, but very intense time.
“I carry so many moments in my heart. It’s been 20 years but it seems like yesterday. Incredible experience, not everyone can share the dressing room with champions like Zamorano, Zanetti and Ronaldo. True friends. And I do not forget Bergomi. He and Pagliuca helped integrating me into the team.”
Not to mention Simoni.
“An incredible man! I worked with so many good coaches in my career but nobody was like him. Great person, fundamental for my growth.”
“Coach, God told me that I must play.” Response: “Strange because he did not say anything to me.”
“Are you referring to Lippi? His career speaks for himself. He won a World Cup and several trophies with Juventus. He is one of the best but we could talk about the rest of it. He was not a bad person but there was no feeling between us.”
Moratti, however, is a different story.
“Father Moratti, what a man! He has a big heart.”
A fellow countryman of yours owes him a lot.
“He was extraordinary with Kanu (Moratti paid for his heart surgery) but there are many other stories that people do not know. Moratti helped many players in difficulty. He is one of the best presidents in football history.”
What about best on the pitch, you surely have no doubt?
“Ronaldo Il Fenomeno. He played out of the ordinary, never seen anything like this in my life. Then Okocha and Weah.”
“It is hard to answer.” He pauses to think about it then: “Now I have it: the great Taribo!” (Laughs)
But the Inter fans struggle to forget the red and black braids.
“I understand but Milan were a major chance for me. But be calm: my heart is only for Inter and its fans.”
To end: how old are you?
“In 2002, I went to Partizan Belgrade. The president of the time, Zecevic, told the media that I was 40 instead of 28. I never understood why, it was an attack. Absurd.”
“I was born on March 26, 1974, I am 44 years old. It’s the truth.”