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If you’re the sort of player who travels the world kicking around various leagues having a decent, but hardly world-shattering career, with a hairstyle that marks you out as ‘individual’ to say the least, having another claim to fame can be invaluable. Avid fans of Championship Manager 01/02 are well aware that signing Taribo West on a free was a pretty astute move. Bargain basement signings that kick on to become stars in that electronic environment are the very essence of carving out a successful managerial career, and Taribo West slotted right into that category. When games were played on grass rather than keyboards though, things were a bit different.
After a time playing in his native Nigeria, West signed for French club Auxerre in 1993. He only made a single appearance in his first season with AJA but, as would become a fairly common occurrence for the hard-tackling defender, he marked his debut with a booking. The following season would be different, but similar! With West featuring in 23 games, Auxerre climbed to fourth place in the league, a position largely predicated on the back of the meanest defence who conceded a mere 34 goals across the season. West played a full part in keeping the back door locked, but a further six bookings and two dismissals were less of an aid to the cause.
Auxerre continued to prosper and with West now an established member of the team and a key member of the defence, the club achieved the domestic double in France, and in the following summer, he played every minute in Nigeria’s Olympic campaign as they secured the gold medal.
By now the name of Taribo West was popping up on the radar of any number of the continent’s top clubs and Auxerre’s run to the quarter-finals of the Champions League only served to make him more prominent. In the summer of 1997, amid rumours of interest from Manchester United and Real Madrid, Auxerre cashed their chips in and West moved to Inter Milan in a deal worth around £2 million. Slightly more than the electronic version would cost you!
Now in the classic Nerazzurri stripes, West contributed to the club finishing second in Serie A and winning the UEFA Cup. Sadly, but perhaps predictably though, that triumph was slightly marred by a red card. To be fair though, the challenge that incurred the wrath of the referee was fairly innocuous and with just eight minutes remaining on the clock and Inter 3-0 up on Lazio, the job was done anyway.
Club politics in Italy is often an inscrutable beast, and despite being reasonably successful, West fell foul of a couple of powerful elements at Inter and was shipped out to co-tenants of the San Siro, AC Milan. Swapping the black and blue for the red and black did little to help though and after some ill-judged comments regarding Paolo Maldini, his four-game tenure for the Rossoneri was unceremoniously brought to a close. A three-month loan to Derby County would wind down the clock on his contract with Milan before moving on to the Bundesliga club, Kaiserslautern.
Whilst his time in the East Midlands had been successful, helping the club avoid relegation, the visit to South West Germany was much less the case. After making a mere ten appearances, the club released him, citing their “total disagreement with Taribo West’s behaviour”. A reputation was building and it wouldn’t do his ongoing career much good.
Even on the international stage, controversy followed Taribo West. The Nigerian coach lambasted his attitude and performance for the Super Eagles saying that West cared little for his team-mates or tactical plan, and merely played his own way. Adegboye Onigbinde explained, “…he would only ask the players to play to his own style, going against what we asked them to do.”
Now 28, West’s next stop on his whistle-stop tour was Partizan Belgrade, and it was here that the rumours about his age broke out, although that was sometime after he had retired from the game. In 2013, the Serbian newspaper Vecernje Novosti quoted Zarko Zecevic, the former Partizan president as saying West had “…joined us saying he was 28. We only later found out he was 40.” It was an accusation that West strenuously disputed, asserting that he had always stated his true age. Whatever the facts of the matter, West stayed in Belgrade for 18 months before further moves took him to Qatar, a four-game stay in the West Country with Plymouth Argyle and then to Iran before he hung up his boots.
In later life, Taribo West would go on to launch a football talent scouting organisation in Nigeria before becoming a Christian Pastor. For a player who ranged across the much of the footballing world displaying his particularly robust brand of talent, it seems perhaps fitting that he eventually turned to religion. Taribo West’s lifestyle was just as colourful as the braided beads in his hair, and having God on your side was probably a good move. Who knows, it may even have been the key to his fame and popularity in the online version of football management.