As Weah hangs up his boots to play politics
By Frederick Mordi
Last Sunday, former football superstar, George Weah, won a landslide in Liberia’s senate elections, inching nearer to his long-standing ambition of becoming president of the West African country.
Weah, who joins other renowned footballers such as Andriy Shevchenko of Ukraine and Romario of Brazil that have hanged up their boots to play politics, has always expressed his desire to rule Liberia, just like he ruled the field in his heyday in football.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest African players of all time, Weah, a highly prolific striker, was in 1995, named FIFA World Player of the Year—the first and only African footballer to have won the trophy so far. He also won African Footballer of the Year on three occasions (1989, 1994 and 1995), and was included in the FIFA 100 List of the World’s Greatest Living Players, in 2004. He was equally voted the African Player of the Century by sport journalists from all around the world, winning the award alongside Pelé (South American Player of the Century) and Johan Cruyff (European Player of the Century).
Weah, who spent his professional football career playing for clubs in France, Italy, and England, was reportedly discovered by Arsenal Coach, Arsène Wenger. His only regret would likely be his inability to win African Cup of Nations for Liberia, or to take the country to a FIFA World Cup. But his financial and moral contributions to the team have been quite enormous.
Apparently determined to replicate his roaring success in football, in politics, in 2005, he decided to run in Liberia’s presidential election. But his journey to political stardom has not been as striking as his exploits on the football field. Even though he was hugely popular in Liberia, his lack of formal education proved to be his Achilles’ heel. He was easily beaten by the more politically experienced, Harvard-educated incumbent Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. This made him go back to school where he picked a Bachelor’s degree in Business Management and later a Master of Public Administration degree, both from DeVry University in Miami, Florida, United States.
“We all often strive to have college degrees,” he said in an interview with the Voice of America. “Some did, some never had the opportunity and some waited until the appropriate time was afforded. So, in my case, it is something I have always strived for, but I never had the opportunity because of my [football] career. And so, what I did, I did online courses. But, after my career, I decided to go back to class because it is the right thing to do, and I am very glad, and I made my parents and even my critics proud.”
Weah, who currently leads the largest opposition party in the country, the Congress for Democratic Change, is expected to stand again for the presidential election in 2017. His senate win will certainly help prepare the ground for him. Interestingly, he beat Robert Sirleaf, the President’s son, to win the senatorial election.
Wenger sums up his impressions of his former player in the following words, in an interview obtained from Arsenal’s website: “I could not imagine that the shy boy walking up on his first day at Monaco, completely lost, who nobody knew, could one day challenge to become president of Liberia. First of all it shows the amazing strength of character this boy has. Secondly it shows how magical sport can be to get a guy who starts with nothing yet can suddenly become president of his country. It’s a fantastic promotion of what football can be. It shows what kind of sense of mission, responsibility and love Weah has always shown for his country.”