Former Argentina striker, Hernan Crespo, is yet to forget his playing days with Nigerians, particularly the great dribbler, Austin ‘Jay Jay’ Okocha.
Crespo was in Nigeria for the first time on Saturday as a guest of the Heineken, just before the UEFA Champions League final showdown between Real Madrid and Liverpool, which the LaLiga giants won 3-1.
The legend, Crespo, spoke at an interactive session with journalists in Lagos, where he declared that Okocha is the greatest footballer to come from Nigeria.
“In my career, I met a lot of Nigerian players like Celestine Babayaro, Emmanuel Amunike, Daniel Amokachi, Sunday Oliseh and George Finidi.
I had respect for them. I won’t forget players like Taribo West. I think the greatest player so far in Nigeria was Austin Okocha. He remains my most impressive player among them,” he said.
Crespo, an ex-Chelsea and Inter Milan star, played 64 games and scored 35 goals for Argentina between 1995 and 2007.
He said: “I know Celestine Babayaro. We played together at Chelsea. I have also played against Finidi George and Taribo West.
“Among these players, I will say Taribo is my most scary defender, very strong and tough on the ball. It was a good experience to know all these great players. We met several times in the Italian league and on each occasion, I knew that Taribo was a dangerous defender many strikers were scared of,” Crespo added.
At Atlanta ’96 Olympics, Crespo was in the Argentine U-23 squad, while the Nigeria Dream Team paraded the likes of Okocha, Babayaro, Taribo, Wilson Oruma, Sunday Oliseh, Mobi Oparaku, Tijani Babagida, Teslim Fatusi, Kanu Nwankwo, Garba Lawal, Victor Ikpeba and Daniel Amokachi. Nigeria added Argentina to the casualty list with a 3-2 victory in the final to rule the world.
Crespo attributed his success in over 18 years football career to respect for others, which, he said, was one of the fundamental values of life.
“As a young player, I love the game of football but one fundamental thing I learnt along the way was respect for the game, my teammates and fans of football. As I grew older in football, I also learnt that it was very important to respect my opponents as well, and it has been a worthwhile experience for me.
“I am in Nigeria because I want to have the opportunity to meet people, to support my passion and most importantly support Heineken and their vision for the UEFA Champions League.”
With over 300 goals during his career, Crespo was regarded as one of the deadliest strikers in the history of European and World football.
He played for Argentinian club side River Plate and Italian sides such as Parma, Inter Milan, AC Milan, Genoa and Lazio. He won the 2005 English Premiership League title with Chelsea.
Crespo was brought along with ex-Nigerian players like Mutiu Adepoju, Austin Eguavoen and Taribo to answer some questions about his experience in the Champions League.
Meanwhile, former Super Eagles defender, Taribo West has said that he decided to abandon his ambition of becoming a governor in his native Rivers State due to circumstances beyond his control.
“After my playing days, I actually told people that I wanted to become the governor in Rivers State. But I had to abandon it because the situation became unhealthy for me to push on. I have left politics completely to face what God directed me to do. I am now a Pastor,” he stated.
However, Taribo, a close friend of Liberia President, George Weah, revealed that an ex-Nigerian footballer would become president of the country in few years to come.
“It won’t be me because I have left politics for my Pastoral job. But I can say that an ex-Nigerian footballer will become a president on day.
Nobody thought that my friend, Weah would be president of Liberia.
I was with him a few weeks ago and I will continue to pray for him. A former footballer will become Nigeria president also. It will come to pass,” Taribo stated.