By Oyediji Oluwaseun Babatunde
Sports Writer, kick442.com Nigeria
On this edition of Soccernittygritty Green/Super Eagles Greatest of all Time (GOAT) Countdown, kick442.com examines Number 15-17 on the list.
LAST EDITION REMINDER
20. THOMPSON USIYAN (1976-1981)
19. CELESTINE BABAYARO (1995-2004)
18. PETER RUFAI (1983-1998)
17. TARIBO WEST (1994-2005)
“The local gang were known as the Area Boys. You were either with them or against them- I thought it would be better to have them as friends than as enemies. Burglary, muggings, drugs and fightings held sway. We would spontaneously mug people on the street.”
Such were the chaos Taribo’s life was immersed into before football handed him a leeway to greatness. He fled to Port Harcourt from Lagos in a bid to embracing a new lease on life. He found succour in the home of his mother and channeled his innately boisterous energy into
football through local clubside, Obanta United. Taribo weathered a rather disjointed pathway to stardom which saw him play for Enugu Rangers and finally Julius Berger. All of these wouldn’t have happened save for the creative ingenuity in a certain Monday Sinclair who spotted the diamond in Taribo, albeit, in the rough. The rough diamond was exported to France in 1993 and given the required polishing and sophistication by Guy Roux following successful trials with Auxerre.
He apprenticed patiently for a whole season without been used under such legends as Lauren Blanc. Taribo finally broke into the first team in the 1995/1996 season and never looked back. His debut season saw him achieve great success, winning the double – League title and the National cup. He grew into a more confident player the subsequent season which saw him churn out superlative performances which helped Auxerre into the Quarter final stage of the UEFA Champions League before their Cinderella run was punctuated by a Matthias Sammer-inspired Borussia Dortmund.
Taribo arrived at Inter Milan in 1997 fully armed with a fearsome resume which emboldened him as one of world’s most feared and respected defenders. He lived up to this fierce pedigree and had a glorious couple of seasons with the Italian giants including winning the UEFA Cup in 1998. By now, Taribo was a proper big boy. A much sought after defender to such extent AC Milan engaged his services with a very bold primary job description : “SAVE US FROM THE WRATH OF RONALDO”.
“Italian mobsters couldn’t accept a player from Africa coming into the Milan team at the expense of defenders such as Paolo Maldini and Alessandro Costacurta, both Italian club legends.” Taribo explained the genesis of his AC Milan no-show.
The daredevil defender continued: “The mafia would do anything in their powers to make sure I was done away with at Milan. They cooked a vicious story in the press that I was injured in a desperate bid to send me out of Milan. The doctors were bribed to say I was injured, but it was a lie. They did that because they felt it was unthinkable for an African player to take the place of those aforementioned aging defenders. Liverpool came with an offer, but at the end of the day, I had to settle for Derby County.” Taribo concluded.
His profile on arrival at AC Milan was that intimidating but unbefitting for 1990s era where
racism in the Serie A was almost a norm.
Inter Milan had “The Phenomenon”- Ronaldo de Lima, incessantly inflicting pain on an aging AC Milan defence as pointed out above by Taribo, the board were convinced an equally phenomenal Taribo would provide the required antidote to the ceaseless torture, they were right. Unfortunately, dressing-room politics effectively put paid to Taribo’s ascendancy in the game. A match rusty Taribo following a full season of inactivity was finally allowed to move to Derby County on loan in 2000 and his gradual exponential regression commenced which saw him make uninspiring moves across
Europe and the Middle East.
His chaotic club timeline from 2000 upwards coincided with his diminishing relevance in the
Super Eagles. African Cup of Nations (AFCON) 2000, hosted on home soil was his last “inspiring” showing in the green jersey while subsequent appearances such as that of
Korea Japan World Cup in 2002 signalled the end of yet another legend in Nigeria’s history. He had his heart intact, but in reality, his abilities had exited his body. Taribo stuck around for a couple more years before he finally made a retirement pronouncement in 2005.
A world class defender he truly was and an
Olympic Gold medalist.
16. EMMANUEL OKALA (1972-1980)
Unarguably the best goalkeeper, that is, “ability-wise” to ever represent Nigeria and indeed one of
Africa’s finest. Okala’s rating could have could have easily transcended even the African continent and rated one of world ’s best had he popped up in the millennium era where accessibility to European football is a realistic goal. He was that phenomenal. Sadly, he experienced none of that, yet had done enough to occupy an enviable position on the
The 6ft 6inch monster of a goalie was feared across the continent for a whole decade (70-79). He was truly a giant nicknamed – “IROKO IN THE NET”. With Okala in goal, his teammates knew they were covered. He had such incredible abilities his name attained some kind of a myth to such extent, decades passed, yet, every goalkeeping kid on the streets took pride in calling himself “Okala”.
He started out playing as an “outside left” now referred to as a “winger” in his primary school days, but destiny pulled a fast one on him when the school team’s goalie fell out of favor with the games master – Mr Ukpaka. Okala already had an intimidating height even as a kid and offered himself to the coach to replace the goalie. He was exceptional and the coach formerly pronounced him the school goalie afterwards. He progressed nicely in his new found role and ascended via several clubsides, especially Enugu Rangers. He had a very thick mustache which heightened whatever fear opposition strikers had for him. His sight between the sticks was devastating. He was revered and feared in equal proportions around the continent in the 70s to such extent he was named the First African Footballer of the year in 1978, formerly installed in February 1979. Yes. Rasheed Yekini isn’t Nigeria’s first ever African Footballer of the Year, rather, Emmanuel Oguajiofor Okala.
Now here is how the conspiracy went down: A busy-body organization called “France Football” made up of a group of self-inaugurated African journalists living in France, for some weird reasons had assumed the position of installing the kings of Africa from Europe since 1970 because there were no other structured body from within Africa to do so.
In 1978, The Organization of African Unity (OAU) deemed it fit to inaugurate a structured body to oversee the affairs of African football, thus, set up a governing body for sports- Supreme Council for Sports in Africa (SCSA). The council in turn set up a panel called African Sports Journalists Union (ASJU) to act strictly on its behalf. At this point, “France Football” had been alienated. ASJU were in charge! Yet, the “illegitimate” body installed Ghana’s Kareem Abdul Razaq. Africa responded more unanimously this time via its governing body SCSA and pronounced Nigeria’s Emmanuel Okala its first recipient of the prestigious award.
Due to the nascent status of the SCSA, it didn’t have the required clout to overwhelm the more established “France Football” in the media, hence, the reason why Okala’s mention as a recipient of the award was, and is still met by surprise by football fans. Nonetheless, Emmanuel Okala is LEGITIMATELY Africa and Nigeria’s first ever Footballer of the Year.
Okala had a rare addiction- a training regime in which he ensured that the Eagles’ best strikers never scored him. Anyone who managed to get the ball past him was almost guaranteed of getting a goal on match-day. He was supremely gifted.
He was a fixture in the Green Eagles squad for almost a decade and clocked 59 international appearances- an impressive return in an era where friendlies were a rarity. He won the
African Cup of Nations (AFCON) title in 1980 and his unavailability between the sticks due to injury was widely believed and agreed to be the reason behind the Green Eagles’ inability to win gold at the 1978
All African Games where the Nigerian team won the silver medal.
15. CHRISTIAN CHUKWU
Christian Chukwu aka “Chairman” occupies the 15th position on the NAIJAGOAT20 countdown. He was nicknamed as such for displaying so much elegance and charisma in central defence for club,
Enugu Rangers and national team, Green Eagles for a period spanning over a decade (1971-1983).
Chukwu redefined the centre-back role, typified his style with calmness and gained notoriety for playing out from the back- a rarity back in the day. He was the captain of arguably Nigeria’s most talented squad, a bunch which doubles as the most unlucky, characterized with near-misses. Following the painful non-qualification to Argentina for the 1978 World Cup, the team responded befittingly to win Nigeria’s first ever AFCON title on home-soil in 1980 ably captained by the “Chairman”.
Chukwu equally enjoyed an illustrious professional career and attained landmarks unsurpassed till date. He captained Rangers to Challenge Cup victories 4 times- 1975, 1976, 1981 and 1983 and won the league title an astonishing 5 times. Chukwu-inspired Rangers won the prestigious Africa Cup Winners’ Cup in 1977 for only the second time by any Nigerian side after IICC Shooting stars. An unrivalled feat that could only be dreamt of.
He retired after the 1980 AFCON victory but the vacuum created by his exit was so overwhelming he came out of retirement to help the
Green Eagles make another attempt at a maiden
World Cup qualification en route Spain 1982, albeit, to no avail. In the end, Chukwu’s career was garnished with longevity
and productivity. He remains one of the most inspirational National team captains of all time.
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