From king of the pitch to king of a nation: George Weah

“My fellow Liberians, I deeply feel the emotion of all the nation. I measure the importance and the responsibility of the immense task which I embrace today. Change is on.” George Weah tweeted these words on the night of Thursday, 28th of December 2017 as he waltzed into history books once again but now as the first ex-football star to become president of a nation.

Yes, his story is a typical success story of “came from a humble background and then made it in life through hard work and perseverance,” but Mr. Weah is no ordinary successful man. He is idolized in the West African nation as “Mister George.”

The beginning

It all started from Clara Town slum of Monrovia, one of the poorest counties in the nation founded by freed American slaves, Liberia. George was born to William T. Weah, Snr. and Anna Quayeweah but raised mostly by his paternal grandmother. Like any other child with decent opportunities in Africa, he attended middle school at Muslim Congress and Wells Hairston in high school before but at the time, only himself knew that he was firstly a footballer before he was a student. Mister George’s football career started off quickly in the domestic leagues where he won few titles and some personal accolades including the Liberian Premier League title. Sometime during his domestic football career he had to work as a switchboard technician at Liberia Telecommunications to get by in life but his successes would soon catch the attention of Arsene Wenger. He was quickly brought to Monaco by Arsene and then the conquest began.

Football career

George Weah AC Milan.jpg

The story goes on, the wheels wouldn’t just come off in this man’s illustrious career, there was no stopping him. He went on to win a four major titles in France with Paris St Germain in the 1989-1995 period before moving to Italy. George Weah then bagged two Italian Serie A titles in four years with AC Milan playing alongside Roberto Baggio in the frontline. His European successes were also coupled with dominance in Africa, winning three CAF African Player of the Year titles in 1989, 1994 and 1999 and became the first and up to now, the only African player to have won the coveted Ballon d’Or and FIFA’s World Player of the Year in 1994. He is known for his strength, speed and dribbling ability. Most people remember the goal he scored at Milan against Verona where he dribbled past seven players from his own box until he scored. FIFA described him as the “precursor of the multi-functional strikers of today.” He became popularly known as King George. Mr. Weah’s decorated football career ended with short spells at Chelsea, Manchester City and finally Al-Jazira in UAE in 2003. He was voted Africa’s Player of the century by sport journalists, the same recognition that the Brazilian Pele got for South America and Johan Cruyff for Europe. But the story is only half done. He was always a patriotic, who went back home to Liberia when he won his first CAF award while he was at Monaco to celebrate with his country. Watch what happens next.

Off the pitch

He was always a person of goodwill, even though there was an incident where he broke the Portuguese, Jorge Costa’s nose in the tunnel after a Champions League match at Porto in 1996. He alleged that Jorge had made some racist comments on which he never got any witnesses. George later apologized to Costa but the Portuguese wouldn’t have any of that. He was however named FIFA Fair Player of the year that year and also became UNICEF and UN Goodwill Ambassador later. Back home, Mister George was a President of Junior professionals, a football club that required school attendance for entry. Most of the recruits have gone to play for the national team. In 2016, he partnered with Indian Entrepreneur, Nirav Tripathi in a multi-million deal that would set up global football academies to assist youth in impoverished and emerging nations.

George Weah PSG.jpg

Mr. President

In 2005, George Weah announced his intentions to run for Presidency against the Nobel Peace Prize Winner and Harvard educated, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Some people probably thought he was biting more than he could chew right there. Surprisingly he was leading the race in the first round of elections with 28.3% of the votes. He however eventually lost the presidency to Sirleaf getting 40.6% and his rival 59.4% in the second round of elections where he accused the opposition for voter intimidation and ballot tampering which was brushed aside by the African Union. He humbly took the loss. Weah was always criticized for lacking formal education to govern a nation by opposition leaders, they called him “a babe in woods.” He once replied to the critics in a statement, “With all their education and experience, they have governed this nation for hundreds of years. They have never done anything for the nation.”

After pursuing a business administration degree at DeVry University in Miami, Mister George returned home and successfully campaigned for the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) in Montserrado County senatorial by-election. In 2011, CDC unsuccessfully contested in the elections selecting Weah as the Vice-President with Winston Tubman as the presidential candidate. Three years later, Weah was elected into the Senate after overwhelmingly beating the president’s son, Robert Sirleaf. He became the first international athlete to make to represent a county in the Liberian legislature.

2017 has been the year when it all comes together outside the pitch for Mister George. He is officially the President of Liberia in historic election which saw the first democratic transition of power. He beat Vice President Joseph Boakai by getting 61.5% of the 98% votes counted with Boakai getting 38.5%.

He is the only African player to have won the FIFA World Player of the year in 1995, the Ballon d’Or in the same year and the first ex-football star to lead a nation, his is George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah and this is FirstTouch Football.