Taribo West is one of few men that played for fierce rivals Inter Milan and AC Milan. He talks about his successful European sojourn and playing with and against the best strikers of his era, fanatical Italian ultras, racism and more, in this interview.
Relationship with Inter ultras
It was great. I think I was one of the fortunate players who didn’t fall into their hands because if we had a bad result, they could beat up anybody. Before you got home, they would have destroyed your car. They were wild. If you had a bad game, they could visit their anger on your family. But the club and Italian FA were able to manage it because they kept working on it.
Playing with Brazilian Ronaldo
What can I say? It was dream come true as a footballer. Playing with such wonderful generation of players also made you one of the best. All through my career, I played with and against great footballers; you can’t find such players in this present generation, even though there’s so much money now.
Diego Simeone friendship
I called him ‘Animale’ because he was like an animal. When you see Atletico Madrid play, that’s exactly how Simeone is. I just sent him a message few days ago on his birthday. He replied and sent me all kinds of cartoons. He was a great player – he was rugged with an incredible work rate and a typical South American player that could play tip-tap. He was also very energetic, that’s how Atletico play too.
I had most issues in Italy and Germany. The only place I wasn’t abused or thrown stones and water at was at the San Siro, but every other place I played in Italy, if they didn’t abuse my mother, they would abuse my father and throw stones and water at me. It was the same thing in Germany. It was also in France, but not as high as it was in Italy and Germany. The Italians pretend that there’s no racism, but it’s very high. When (Samuel) Eto’o played there, he confronted it because it was very high. (Romelu) Lukaku also faced it.
Henry was one of the toughest strikers I played against. Throughout my sojourn in Europe, I don’t think I slept, I was always calculating ahead of the next striker I would play against. To play in the French topflight then as a defender, you must be very good because all the teams had first class strikers. Go to Italy, England, Germany, it was the same. I was one of the defenders that were outstanding. There were very few attackers that passed me one-on-one to score, they were very few. Henry was one of the emerging stars then, and when Auxerre played against Monaco, I always breathed down his neck. I made him shiver, like they were pouring snow on him. That’s why he said I was the toughest defender he played against.
West’s East sojourn
Playing in Eastern Europe was wonderful. The Serbian league wasn’t like EPL or Serie A, but when I got there with Lothar Matthaus, we helped Partizan Belgrade massively. We qualified for the Champions League and we won the league. The country and club won’t forget us for that feat.
That was their problem at Partizan. When I got there, I think my passport had 28 (years) on it, but the club president said I was around 31 or 32. When I was there he didn’t tell me that, so it’s his problem.
On retirement, I experienced another passion and another stage of life higher than football, and that’s the privilege to work as a servant of God. That makes me contented. Football is all about the pains of the people. If you do well, they praise you, if you don’t, you are nobody. For instance, Lionel Messi left Barcelona to PSG and people who received him in Paris saying ‘he’s the man’ are the same people who are saying all sorts of things about him now. So, since God helped me to pursue a career in football, I was able to know my direction in life and that has given me immense fulfilment. It’s not easy to play inside a stadium of 120, 000 fans. I played at the San Siro with Inter Milan and AC Milan that usually had tickets sold out. You won’t even find space, people were stuck outside during matches. Football brought money and gave you the opportunity to meet the who’s who in the world. If you retire, it can only be God that can keep you. It won’t be easy living that kind of high life anymore. It takes wisdom and understanding to manage yourself when you quit the game, but God has been there for me.