By Ojonugwa Felix Ugboja
ABUJA (Sundiata Post) There is no telling how enormous the challenge is when you are born into one of the poorest homes in an already poor country. When he was born into the family of William T. Weah and Anna Quayeweah in Clara Town slum of Monrovia, Liberia in 1966, no one could tell if there was any sign that he would one day become the best footballer in the world, walking away with all the awards, but that was the fate of the man now globally known as George Weah, now the President-elect of his country, Liberia.
Rising from the obscure depths of poverty, Goerge Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah has gone to play for reknoned football clubs in Europe like Monaco, Paris Saint German, AC Milan, Chelsea FC, among others.
The most part of his childhood was with his paternal grandmother, Emma Klonjlalaeh Brown. Even though he has alternated between Christianity and Islam, he believes in the oneness of the both religions and always pledged for peaceful coexistence.
The Path To Greatness
As everyone who has listened to George Weah would know, Arsene Wenger, the current Arsenal FC Coach, is one of the biggest influences in his life, being the first man to take him to Europe, from where he would reach lofty heights. George Weah would always have something nice to say about the Frenchman.
“He made me the footballer I am today,” Weah calmly told the audience at the Milan gala in 1995 as he received his trophies and called the French coach spontaneously to the stage. “He taught me to persevere, to live a decent life, and to play fair. He initiated me into European ways, but he understood my African origins and respected them. He let me play my game, my way.” He went further to hand his award to the man he describes as a father.
But Arsene Wenger only stepped into George Weah’s life after he was spotted by Frenchman and FIFA instructor, Claude le Roy, then Cameroon national coach, and recommended to Monaco, for whom he signed in 1988. Prior to this time, Weah had played for some boyhood clubs in Liberia before moving to Yaoundé in Cameroon.
Most Notable Achievements
He moved from Monaco to Paris Saint Germain where he won the ligue 1 in 1994 and became the highest scorer of the 1994 – 95 Champions League Tournament. In 1995, he moved to AC Milan and won the league title twice. He subsequently had spells in English clubs, Chelsea and Manchester City.
His most outstanding achievement was winning the FIFA World Player of The Year and Ballon d’Or in 1995, becoming the first and only African to have won those awards till date. He was named African Footballer of the year in 1989, 1994 and 1995 before he was also named the African Player of The Century in 1996.
Known for his acceleration, speed, and dribbling ability, in addition to his goalscoring and finishing, Weah was described by FIFA as “the precursor of the multi-functional strikers of today”. In 2004, he was named by Pelé in the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players.
He was so remarkable a player that during his career, he wasn’t only a prominent face in the media but became the symbolic leader of the entire African players based in Europe at the time.
During his playing career he became a UN Goodwill Ambassador. At the 2004 ESPY Awards at the Kodak Theatre, Los Angeles, Weah won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for his efforts. He has also been named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador, a role which he has suspended while he pursued a political career.
The Generous Man
George Weah not only made his country famous, he also got financially involved in re-building the country on several occassions, especially in the years following the country’s civil wars.
“I’m beginning to feel a sense of social responsibility that I didn’t feel a couple of years ago. When I look around in Liberia, I see young boys playing football all over the place. It’s time Liberia established itself as a footballing nation,” he said to FIFA in an interview many years ago after helping finance the construction of a children’s hospital and a sports school, and the foundation of a youth football club, Junior Professionals.
Due to national austerity, George Weah personally sponsored and coached his country’s national team, even though Liberia has never been a succesful football team.
Political Life and Road To Presidency
After the second Liberian Civil War, Weah formed the Congress for Democratic Change party and announced his intention to contest the 2005 elections but lost to the more educated and experienced Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Despite the loss, Weah remained active in Liberian politics and also advanced his education. He returned from the United States in 2009 to successfully campaign for the Congress for Democratic Change candidate in the Montserrado County senatorial by-election. Some analysts saw these moves as preparation for a repeat run for the Presidency in 2011, and Weah did indeed later announce his intention to challenge Sirleaf in the 2011 election. After a series of failed alliances with other opposition parties, the Congress for Democratic Change chose Weah as its 2011 vice presidential candidate, running with presidential candidate Winston Tubman.
In 2014, he ran for election to the Senate as a Congress for Democratic Change candidate in Montserrado County. He was overwhelmingly elected to the Liberian Senate on 20 December 2014. Weah defeated Robert Sirleaf, the son of President Sirleaf, becoming the first Liberian international athlete elected to represent a county in the Legislature. He won a landslide victory, receiving 99,226 votes, which represented 78.0% of the total votes from the 141 polling centers, while Sirleaf, his closest rival received 13,692 votes, which is nearly 11% in the election marred only by a low turnout.
In April 2016, Weah announced his intention to run for President of Liberia for a second time, and that dream has materialised as he has finally been elected the President of Liberia in the 2017 general election against Vice President Joseph Boakai in which Former Nigeria President Jonathan led the observation mission.
The victory came after the earlier election which was inconclusive and led to a run-off on December 26.
The opportunity to prove his intentions for his country has finally been given to him and any modest analyst would agree that after years of economic recession couple with recent ebola crisis among other challenges, the task that lie ahead would always be a demanding one.