George Weah

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George Weah
PortraitGeorgeWeahAiportTunisCarthageSeptembre2016.jpg
25th President of Liberia
Assumed office
22 January 2018
Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor
Preceded by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Senator for Montserrado County
In office
14 January 2015 – 22 January 2018
Preceded by Joyce Musu Freeman-Sumo
Succeeded by TBA
Personal details
Born George Tawlon Manneh Oppong
Ousman Weah

(1966-10-01) 1 October 1966 (age 51)[1]
Monrovia, Liberia
Political party Coalition for Democratic Change
Spouse(s) Clar Weah (Jamaican born)[2]
Children 3, including George and Timothy
Alma mater DeVry University

Association football career
Playing position Striker
Youth career
1981–1984 Young Survivors Claratown
1984–1985 Bongrange Company
Senior career*
Years Team Apps (Gls)
1985–1986 Mighty Barrolle 10 (7)
1986–1987 Invincible Eleven 23 (24)
1987 Africa Sports 2 (1)
1987–1988 Tonnerre Yaoundé 18 (14)
1988–1992 Monaco 103 (47)
1992–1995 Paris Saint-Germain 96 (32)
1995–2000 Milan 114 (46)
2000 Chelsea (loan) 11 (3)
2000 Manchester City 7 (1)
2000–2001 Marseille 19 (5)
2001–2003 Al Jazira 8 (13)
Total 411 (193)
National team
1987–2007 Liberia 60 (22)
* Senior club appearances and goals counted for the domestic league only

George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah (/ˈwə/; born 1 October 1966) is a Liberian politician, who became the 25th President of Liberia in 2018, and a retired professional footballer who played as a striker.

After beginning his career in his home country of Liberia, Weah spent 14 years playing for clubs in France, Italy, and England. Arsène Wenger first brought him to Europe, signing him for Monaco in 1988. Weah moved to Paris Saint-Germain in 1992 where he won Ligue 1 in 1994 and became the top scorer of the 1994–95 UEFA Champions League. He signed for Milan in 1995 where he spent four successful seasons, winning Serie A twice.[3] His most notable goal in Italy saw him run the length of the field against Verona. He moved to the Premier League towards the end of his career and had spells at Chelsea and Manchester City, winning the FA Cup at the former, before returning to France to play for Marseille in 2001, and subsequently ending his career with Al-Jazira in 2003. At the international level, he represented Liberia at the African Cup of Nations on two occasions, winning 60 caps and scoring 22 goals for his country.

Widely regarded as one of the greatest African players of all time, in 1995, he was named as a FIFA World Player of the Year and won the Ballon d'Or, becoming the first and to date only African player to win these awards. In 1989, 1994 and 1995, he was also named the African Footballer of the Year, and in 1996, he was named African Player of the Century. 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".[4] In 2004, he was named by Pelé in the FIFA 100 list of the world's greatest living players.[5]

Weah became involved in politics in Liberia following his retirement from football. He formed the Congress for Democratic Change and ran unsuccessfully for President in the 2005 election, losing to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the second round of voting. In the 2011 election, he ran unsuccessfully for Vice President alongside Winston Tubman. Weah was subsequently elected to the Liberian Senate for Montserrado County in the 2014 elections. Weah was elected President of Liberia in the 2017 election, defeating the incumbent Vice President Joseph Boakai,[6][7] and sworn in on 22 January 2018.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

Weah was born and raised in the Clara Town district of Monrovia.[9] He is a member of the Kru ethnic group, which hail from south-eastern Liberia's Grand Kru County, one of the poorest areas of the country.[10] His father, William T. Weah, Sr.,[11] was a mechanic[12] while his mother, Anna Quayeweah (d. 2013),[13] was a seller.[12] He has three brothers, William, Moses and Wolo.[13] He was one of thirteen children largely raised by his devoutly Christian paternal grandmother,[12][9] Emma Klonjlaleh Brown after his parents separated[9] when George was still a baby.[12] He attended middle school at Muslim Congress and high school at Wells Hairston High School, and reportedly dropped out in his final year of studies.[14] He began to play soccer for the Young Survivors youth club at the age of 15 and later moved to other local football clubs, assuming starring roles for Mighty Barrolle and Invicible Eleven.[9] Before his football career allowed him to move abroad, Weah worked for the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation as a switchboard technician.[10]

Club career[edit]

Early career in Liberia, Cameroon and France[edit]

Weah was a real surprise. I have never seen any player explode on to the scene like he did.

Arsène Wenger[15]

After playing in the Liberian domestic league at the beginning of his successful career and winning several national honours (including the Liberian Premier League and the Liberian Cup),[15] Weah's abilities were discovered by the Cameroon national team coach, Claude Le Roy, who relayed the news to Arsène Wenger. Weah moved to Europe in 1988, for just £12,000,[16] when he was signed by Wenger[17] – the manager of Monaco at the time – who flew to Africa himself prior to the signing,[9] and whom Weah credits as an important influence on his career.[18] During his time with Monaco, Weah won the African Footballer of the Year for the first time in 1989; this was his first major award and he took it back home for the entire country to celebrate.[15] Weah also won the Coupe de France in 1991, and he helped Monaco reach the final of the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1992, scoring four goals in nine cup appearances.

Weah's celebrating his goal during the match between PSG and Napoli in the second round of 1992–93 UEFA Cup

Weah subsequently played for Paris Saint-Germain (1992–95), with whom he won the Coupe de France in 1993 and 1995, the French league in 1994, and the Coupe de la Ligue in 1995 during a highly prolific and successful period; he also became the top scorer of the 1994–95 UEFA Champions League, with seven goals, after reaching the semi-finals with the club, one of which was a skilful individual "wonder-goal" against Bayern Munich in the group stage, on 23 November 1994.[15][19] During his time at the club, he also managed to reach the semi-finals of the 1992–93 UEFA Cup, and the semi-finals of the 1993–94 European Cup Winners' Cup; in total, he scored 16 goals in 25 European games.[15] In 1994, he won the African Footballer of the Year Award for the second time in his career.[15]

Milan and individual success[edit]

Weah joined Milan in 1995, with whom he immediately won the Italian league in 1996 under Fabio Capello, playing alongside Roberto Baggio and Dejan Savićević in Milan's attack, as well as Marco Simone, on occasion, and finishing the season as Milan's top goalscorer; he won the Serie A title once again in 1999. During his time with the club, he also reached the 1998 Coppa Italia final, and finished as runner-up in the Supercoppa Italiana on two occasions, in 1996 and 1999.[3] Despite their European dominance in the early 1990s, Milan were less successful in Europe during this time, however, with their best result being a quarter-final finish in the 1995–96 UEFA Cup. In addition to his skill, athleticism and goalscoring prowess, Weah also became famous at Milan for scoring several notable goals, including his goal against Lazio in December 1995,[20] and in particular a solo goal against Hellas Verona at the San Siro, which saw him take the ball just outside his own penalty area, and slalom his way past seven opposing players, before scoring.[15] In total, he scored 58 goals in 147 games for Milan.[3]

Weah at the start of 1996–97 A.C. Milan season

Due to his successes, goalscoring, and performances with both Paris Saint-Germain and Milan, in 1995 Weah was the recipient of several individual awards: he won the Ballon d'Or, the Onze d'Or, and was named FIFA World Player of the Year, becoming the first and, currently, only native African player ever to win these awards; Weah dedicated his FIFA World Player of the Year victory to his former manager, Arsène Wenger, stating that it was thanks to him that he was able to develop into a world class player.[21] That year, Weah also won the African Player of the Year Award for the third time in his career, and was named to the Onze de Onze by the French football magazine Onze Mondial.[15] In 1996, Weah finished second in the FIFA World Player of the Year ranking; he was also the recipient of the FIFA Fair Play Award, and was voted the African Player of the Century by sport journalists from all around the world.[15]

Controversy[edit]

Weah was banned from six European matches for breaking the nose of the Portuguese defender Jorge Costa on 20 November 1996 in the players' tunnel after Milan's draw at Porto in the Champions League. Weah said he exploded in frustration after putting up with racist tauntings from Costa during both of the teams' Champions League matches that autumn. Costa strenuously denied the accusations of racism and was not charged by UEFA as no witnesses could verify Weah's allegations, not even his Milan teammates. Weah later attempted to apologise to Costa but this was rebuffed by the Portuguese, who considered the charges of racist insults leveled against him to be defamatory and took Weah to court.[22] The incident led to Costa undergoing facial surgery and he was subsequently sidelined for three weeks. Despite the incident, Weah still received the FIFA Fair Play Award in 1996.[23]

Time in England[edit]

Weah signed for English Premier League club Chelsea on loan from Milan on 11 January 2000, in a deal which would keep him with the West London club until the end of the 1999–2000 English season.[24]

Weah's time in England was deemed a success, especially at Chelsea where he instantly endeared himself to their fans by scoring the winner against rivals Tottenham Hotspur on his debut,[25] and scored further league goals against Wimbledon[26] and Liverpool.[27] He also scored twice in Chelsea's victorious 1999–2000 FA Cup campaign, netting crucial goals against Leicester City[28] and Gillingham.[29] This led to him starting in the final, which Chelsea won 1–0.[30]

Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli did not make Weah's move permanent, and, on 1 August 2000, he officially left Milan, and signed for newly promoted English Premier League side Manchester City on a free transfer on a two-year contract worth £30,000 a week,[31] declining the offer of a £1 million pay-off from Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi.[32] He played 11 games in all competitions for City, scoring four times, before leaving on 16 October 2000 after becoming dissatisfied with manager Joe Royle for selecting him as a substitute too frequently; he had only played the full 90 minutes in three of his 11 games for the Maine Road club.[33] At City, he scored once in the league against Liverpool (as he did at Chelsea),[34] and three times against Gillingham (again as he had at Chelsea), this time in the League Cup; once in the first leg[35] and twice in the second.[36]

Later career[edit]

Following his time in England, Weah returned to France and had a spell at Marseille, where he remained until May 2001. He later played with Al-Jazira in the UAE Arabian Gulf League, where he remained until his retirement as a player in 2003, at age 37.[15]

International career[edit]

As successful as he was at club level, Weah was not able to bring over that success to the Liberia national team. In total, Weah played 60 games for Liberia over 20 years, scoring 22 goals. As one of the smaller nations in world football and perennial underdogs, Weah did everything he could to support the national squad: aside from being the team's star player, he also later coached the squad and even funded his national side to a large extent. Despite his efforts, he was unsuccessful in helping Liberia qualify for a single FIFA World Cup, falling just a point short in qualifying for the 2002 tournament. However, he did help Liberia to qualify for the African Cup of Nations on two occasions: Weah represented his country in the 1996 and 2002 editions of the tournament, although Liberia failed to make it out of their group both times, suffering first-round eliminations.[15]

Weah has been named by several media outlets as among the best players to never play at the World Cup.[37][38][39][40][41]

Style of play[edit]

An exceptional goalscorer, it is no exaggeration to describe him as the precursor of the multi-functional strikers of today. Quick, skillful and boasting a powerful physique, fierce shooting power and deadly finishing skills, in his pomp Liberia's 'Mr George' was rightly considered one of the giants of the game.

FIFA profile of George Weah.[4]

During his prime in the 1990s, Weah was regarded as one of the best strikers in the world, despite not being able to score as many goals as other prolific forwards of his generation. In spite of that, Weah was lauded for his work-rate, class and attacking instincts, as well as his physical and athletic attributes, which he combined with his finishing, technical ability, creativity and skill.[4] A fast, powerful, physically strong player, he successfully filled the void left in the Milan attack by club legend Marco van Basten.[4][3][42] In addition to his pace, dribbling skills, and goalscoring ability, Weah was also a team-player who was capable of creating chances and assisting goals for teammates.[43][44]

Pictured during the 1995-96 season, Weah taking on defenders outside the penalty area

Along with Ronaldo and Romário, Weah was seen as a modern, new breed of striker in the 1990s who would also operate outside the penalty area and run with the ball towards goal, during a time when most strikers primarily operated inside the penalty area where they would receive the ball from teammates.[4][45][46]

Named African Footballer of the Year three times and the first African named FIFA World Player of the Year, his prominence in the 1990s led him to be nicknamed "King George".[42] Weah received further recognition in 2004 when he was named by Pelé in the FIFA 100 list of the world's greatest living players.[5] In 2013, Italy and Milan legend Franco Baresi named Weah in the greatest XI he has ever played with.[47] As well as being regarded as one of the greatest African footballers of all time, during his career Weah also stood out off the pitch for his initiatives to fight racism in football.[3]

Humanitarianism[edit]

Weah is a devoted humanitarian for his war-torn country. During his playing career he became a UN Goodwill Ambassador.[48] At the 2004 ESPY Awards at the Kodak Theatre, Los Angeles, Weah won the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for his efforts.[49] He has also been named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador,[50] a role which he has suspended while he pursues a political career.[51]

Football and children[edit]

Weah has tried to use football as a way to bring happiness and promote education for children in Liberia. In 1998, Weah launched a CD called Lively Up Africa featuring the singer Frisbie Omo Isibor and eight other African football stars. The proceeds from this CD went to children's programmes in the countries of origin of the athletes involved.[52]

Weah was President of the Junior Professionals, a football team he founded in Monrovia in 1994. The team is now defunct. As a way to encourage young people to remain in school, the club's only requirement for membership is school attendance. Many of the young people, recruited from all over Liberia, have gone on to play for the Liberian national team.[53]

Football academies[edit]

The Diya Group chairman and Indian entrepreneur Nirav Tripathi announced a multimillion-dollar partnership with George Weah in 2016 whereby global football academies would be established to help assist youth in both impoverished and emerging nations.[54]

The motivation for the academies is cited as a shared experience between both Tripathi and Weah in how sport can transform lives in their nations of both India and Liberia, which both still suffer from severe poverty.[54]

Career statistics[edit]

Club[edit]

Source:[55][56]

Club Season League Cup League Cup Super Cup Europe Total
Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals Apps Goals
Monaco 1988–89 23 14 10 1 5 2 38 17
1989–90 17 5 7 3 24 8
1990–91 29 10 6 5 5 3 40 18
1991–92 34 18 4 1 9 4 47 23
Paris Saint-Germain 1992–93 30 14 6 2 9 7 45 23
1993–94 32 11 3 2 5 1 40 14
1994–95 34 7 5 2 3 1 11 8 53 18
Milan 1995–96 26 11 3 1 1 0 6 3 36 15
1996–97 28 13 2 0 5 3 35 16
1997–98 24 10 8 3 32 13
1998–99 26 8 4 1 30 9
1999–2000 10 4 2 0 1 0 1 1 14 5
Chelsea 1999–2000 11 3 4 2 15 5
Manchester City 2000–01 7 1 -– 2 3 9 4
Marseille 2000–01 19 5 1 0 20 5
Total 350 134 58 20 5 4 2 0 63 35 478 193

Honours[edit]

Political career[edit]

Following the end of Second Liberian Civil War, Weah announced his intention to run for President of Liberia in the 2005 elections, forming the Congress for Democratic Change to back his candidacy. While Weah was a popular figure in Liberia, opponents cited his lack of formal education as a handicap to his ability to lead the country, in contrast with his Harvard-educated opponent, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Analysts also noted Weah's lack of experience, calling him a "babe-in-the-woods", while Sirleaf had served as minister of finance in the Tolbert administration in the 1970s and had held positions at Citibank, the World Bank and the United Nations. Weah's eligibility to run for Presidency was also called into question as it was reported that he had become a French citizen in his footballing career at Paris St. Germain, but these complaints were rebuffed by the electoral commission in court and Weah was allowed to proceed.[74]

Weah obtained a plurality of votes in the first round of voting on 11 October, garnering 28.3% of the vote. This qualified him to compete in a run-off election against Sirleaf, the second placed candidate. However, he lost the run-off to Sirleaf on 8 November, garnering only 40.6% to 59.4% for Sirleaf. Weah alleged that the election had been rigged through voter intimidation and ballot tampering, and many of his supporters protested the results in the streets of Monrovia. However, after assurances that the vote was fair, several prominent African leaders called on Weah's supporters to accept the result with grace and dignity, and Sirleaf became President. The African Union had characterized the elections as "peaceful, transparent, and fair".[75]

Weah's lack of education became a campaign issue. He has been highly critical of those who say he is not fit to govern: "With all their education and experience, they have governed this nation for hundreds of years. They have never done anything for the nation." He initially claimed to have a BA degree in Sports Management from Parkwood University in London, however this is an unaccredited diploma mill, which awards certificates without requiring study.[76] Weah then pursued a degree in business administration at DeVry University in Miami.[77][78]

Weah also remained active in Liberian politics, returning from the United States in 2009 to successfully campaign for the Congress for Democratic Change candidate in the Montserrado County senatorial by-election.[79] Some analysts saw these moves as preparation for a repeat run for the Presidency in 2011,[80] and Weah did indeed later announce his intention to challenge Sirleaf in the 2011 election.[81] 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.[82]

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.[83][84] Following his election, Weah only occasionally attended sessions of the Senate and did not introduce or sponsor any legislation.[85]

In April 2016, Weah announced his intention to run for President of Liberia in the 2017 elections,[48] standing for the Coalition for Democratic Change. After winning the first round of the 2017 election with 38.4% of the vote, he and Joseph Boakai of the Unity Party went into the second round of the election. In the second round, Weah was elected President of Liberia, winning a run-off against Vice President Joseph Boakai with more than 60% of the vote.[86]

President of Liberia[edit]

Weah was sworn in as president on 22 January 2018, marking Liberia's first democratic transition in 74 years.[87] He cited fighting corruption, reforming the economy, combating illiteracy and improving life conditions as the main targets of his presidency.[87]

Domestic policy[edit]

On January 29, 2018, in his first annual message to the national legislature, he reduced his salary and other benefits by 25% with immediate effect. "With the assessment that I gave you earlier of the poor condition of our economy, I believe that it is appropriate that we should all make sacrifices in the interest of our country. According to Article 60 of the Constitution, the salaries of the President and the Vice President are established by the Legislature, and cannot be increased or reduced during the period for which they are elected. However, in view of the very rapidly deteriorating situation of the economy, I am informing you today, with immediate effect, that I will reduce my salary and benefits by 25% and give the proceeds back to the Consolidated Fund for allocation and appropriation as they see fit."[88]

On January 29, 2018, Weah announced he would seek constitutional changes to allow people of non-Negro descent to be citizens and allow foreigners to own land. He called the present situation "racist and inappropriate".[89]

Foreign policy[edit]

Upon his election to office, Weah first made an official visit in Senegal to meet with President Macky Sall, to "strenghten the bond between the two countries". On 21 February 2018, Weah made his first official visit outside Africa, to France, meeting French President Emmanuel Macron. The meeting focused on improving the relationship between France and Liberia and also sought French help for a sports development project in Africa. The meeting was also attended by Didier Drogba, Kylian Mbappé and FIFA president Gianni Infantino. [90]

Personal life[edit]

Weah has three children with his wife Clar Weah: George, Tita and Timothy. Both of his sons became footballers and signed for Paris Saint-Germain,[91] although only Timothy played for the first team.[92] Both played youth internationals for the United States,[93] and Timothy was capped for the full team.[94]

Weah converted from Protestant Christianity to Islam, before converting back. He hopes for peace for Muslims and Christians, and says they are "one people".[95] Currently, Weah again practices Protestantism.[96] In October 2017, he was spotted in the prominent Nigerian church of Pastor T.B. Joshua alongside Liberian Senator Prince Yormie Johnson.[97] Joshua was allegedly a key influence in Johnson's decision to endorse Weah's candidacy in the 2017 Liberian elections.[98][99]

He holds French citizenship and speaks the language fluently.[100]

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External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
President of Liberia
2018–present
Incumbent