By Wleh Bedell
The name George Weah is a household word not just in Liberia, but Africa and the rest of the world. From sheer obscruity to stardom, the greatest footballer the African continent has ever produced by evidence of conquering the football world to win the Ballond D'or (Golden Ball) and the FIFA world footballer of the year awards in 1995, Weah captivated many and remains an iconic figure in the world over. He is someone destined for greatness not just in football but in life. With stints in Cameroun at Tonerre Klara Club after his cameo on the local scene with Invincible Eleven (IE) , the legendary Weah was a terror on the football frontline with the likes of AS Monaco, Paris Saint Germain, AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester City and Olympique Marseille before moving to Al-Jazeera for two years in preparation to say goodbye to the beautiful game on June 11, 2005 at the Stade Velodrom in Marseille where he netted a hattrick in his testimonial or retirement match between his friends and a World Allstars.
While the prodigiously talented player will always be remembered for his success as a footballer, he certainly proved that he is a philatrophist who used his money generated from the pitch where he mesmerized defenders, woo the crowd by scoring jaw-dropping goals, to help his people and was the "Lone Star" during his country's 14 years of fatricidal civil crisis which killed more than 250,000 people.
Weah was the image of his country as international media outlets spoke volumes of not just his footballing prowess but his desire to help his people in refugee camps and the many at home where he helped a lot in settling a plethora of problems. The towering frontman provided scholarships, catered to his people greatly and was the face of his motherland during the period of carnage. He also served as sponsor of the country's senior national team, the Lone Star, organizing camping sites in neighboring Ivory Coast, providing jerseys and other equipments, paying the country's football debt owed the Confederation of African Football (CAF), leading the way to get chartered flights for the team to honor matches, and the generosity is endless with only the most subjective and unrealistic of persons will be so shameless to disappointingly downplay the tremendously colossal efforts of a true son of his motherland. Thus, when the Lone Star qualified for their first African Nations cup in 1996 in South Africa, everyone marveled and were amazed of the story as Weah was at the apex in making the much needed sacrafices for his people and country.
During the disarmament process in Liberia, it was Weah as a Unicef goodwill ambassador who was asked to help talk to soldiers to disarm as he went to the troubled Guthrie Rubber plantation urging those trigger happy Liberians to lay down their arms, a plea they heeded to as their masters who orchestrated the civil holocaust washed from far and near. Weah recently said during one of his campaign thrills, "while they were destroying, i was restoring". This is something many, not only footballers continue to emulate as they see the Great Weah as a model and have since gained inspiration from him as they are known for following in his footsteps. The likes of Samuel Eto' Fils, Didier Drogba, Emmanuel Sheyi Adebayor, Mohammed Kallon and many others have since followed the patriot Weah to give back to their various countries.
Weah remains a bastion of hope and his contribution to the peace process in his motherland served as a catalyst in ending the crisis in bringing lasting peace to the country.
Indeed, the enviable contribution of Weah to peace in Liberia is unmatched from an individual perspective as he had to make adjustment in his work and schedule to show love and take the risk to talk to combatants to lay down their arms in bringing lasting peace to Africa's oldest republic, Liberia. He was also actively speaking from his base for regional and world leaders to act quickly in bringing an end to the war in his homeland, a momumental contribution that led to him winning the Arthur Ashe Courage Award on July 14, 2003. Such award is presented to individuals whose contribution transcends sports. The question remains where were the so-called intellectuals, over night patriots and philantrophist?
Despite the misguided criticism the iconic Weah is awash with, he remains unperturbed and is a kin-pin in the country's politics, something that cannot in anyway just be described as a football star transitioning to politics. Since 2005 when inarguably the most popular Liberian entered into politics, Weah has become an instant hit with his Congress now Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) party, the name Weah continues to resonate and since becoming third time blessed in winning the senatorial seat of Montserrado county after losing in the run-off in 2005 in the presidential race, and six years later losing out to the ruling establishment where he was then running mate to International Diplomat, Winston Tubman, reportedly under controversial circumstances as the CDC boycotted the run-off on grounds of some electoral irregularities, the Devry University product has shown that he has not come to say hello, but has come to stay, to be a top notched politician who is keen to get state power as president through the ballot box.
Indeed, Weah has since made the doubters to eat their words who were rubbishing him as "an unserious politician" in 2005 who could not cope with the rigour of being a politician and would have soon given up, but 12 years and counting, Weah remains a magnetic politician drawing thousands to him, a lethal force, the pick in the pack, the opposition linchpin as he has consistently led the biggest opposition political party to the disbelief of those who were rating him off, and as one political pundit once said "underrate Weah and you will be doing so at your peril" . Ambassador Weah is obviously seen as someone ever focused, resolute, committed and resilient in leading the campaign for a new dawn, a new Liberia where the national cake will be evenly distributed with people once more able to improve their livelihood. Inarguably regarded as one of Africa's greatest sons, not just for his footballing prowess but also his philantrophism and heart to serve his country where he remained one of the bigwigs in the peace process during the dark days of the country's mayhem, Weah once noted to thousands of his partisans that he had done a lot for his countrymen in terms of providing for them, but cannot not do all, and believe one can do a lot for the people while in government as huge resources will be used to cater to them with issues ranging from employment, education, health, agriculture, etc. highlighted. Senator Weah has always being someone who shows love and care for his people and has always being sensitive to their plight. His generous nature has made him popular with his people and has never being that hurriedly made generous-one who is only known during the election process and soon goes in oblivion after the results are announced waiting for another six years to return.
Others have opted to malign Weah as if it is a crime to enter into politics as a means of emancipating his people. But, there is more to the anti Weah sentiments among some who erroneously believe it is their God given right to be at the helm of power in an underdeveloped nation despite lacking behind a huge chunk of the continent as they use the term continuity as a means of wooing voters. Whether there should be continuity in the midst of untold hardship and suffering, massive unemployment, rampant corruption, messy educational system, appaling health sector, tatter economy, incomplete restoration of basic social services and many others is what remains to be seen as the legendary Weah is leading the charge for change which from all indication is imminent. Vice president Joseph Boakai's statement that they squandered a lot of opportunities which could have been utilized, is just a pellucid example of why change is salient more than ever before in Liberia's governance structure. Also, his demeaning and racist statement urging electorates not to vote for a footballer among so many other reasons makes it the right time to honorably retire VP Boakai who bizzarely describes himself as a racing car packed in a garage for 12 years. And as the CDC standard bearer recently said to a multitude of people during a campaign tour, "the future we are talking about for our country, Joe Boakai is not part of that future. " I am saying it here and will say it anywhere. "After 42 years in government what can he ( Joe Boakai) show?" In an interview with FIFA TV, Weah indicated "iam proud to be a footballer. "I brought the message of peace while others brought war". The senator believes that this is the time for new breed of leaders. "I was raised in the ghetto, people styreotype people. "I met and learned from a lot of great leaders including Nelson Mandela", Weah intoned.
The thick-skin patriot, Senator Weah, is unwavering in his quest for state power as the vision to make Liberia great under the mantra "Hope for Change", has since being embraced by so many who are yearning for change in this tiny West African nation. The criticism can continue, but Weah is never bewildered, never dejected, never freightened, never daunted, never pessimistic, as he set his eyes on the ultimate, the top seat in the land, the presidency with the need for change at the doorsteps waiting to come in after October 10, 2017, where there is an aura of optimism of a one round victory for the CDC of George Manneh Weah.
Each time Weah is written off, he is able to stun the form book to deliver. During his heydays as a footballer, Weah was often underated, but against all odds, he was able to surmount the task. When leaving IE for Tonerre Klara Club, he was faced with the mammoth task of helping make the club greater and in a laconic period, Weah conquered Cameroun. At AS Monaco, the towering frontman after making his Ligue 1 debut on August 17, 1988 against AJ Auxerre, never looked back coupled with his champions league debut on October 4, 1988 where he scored in the 37th minute in his side 2-0 win against Valour Reyjavik of Iceland to cancel a 1-0 first leg loss and virtuoso showing with PSG especially in the '94/'95 season where he emerged as top scorer in the UEFA champions league with seven goals, made him a star on the look out for as he shut the mouths of the skeptists. Then at AC Milan he was faced with another weighty task with his Ligue1 rival at Olympique Marseille, Jean Pierre Papin,who had joined Bayern Munich of Germany after a disappointing spell at Serie A club Juventus, became the first to write off Weah, doubting his ability to succeed in Italy judging from the rugged nature of the then world best league. But Weah's response to the French forward via the Gazetta Dello Sport newspaper was simply, "Papin is Papin and Weah is Weah", with the Milan dangerman going on to be the world best footballer. On the international level when they said he was finished, it was Weah at 35 years, 108 days old who rose the highest on January 19, 2002 to score the opening goal at the 2002 African Cup of Nations against host Mali to be the oldest player to score in the African football fiesta.
They can continue to doubt Weah, but he will keep believing and enduring. They can continue berating, lambasting, underating and editing his speeches to make mockery on socio media, but Weah will never give up and will never allow melancholy to take over him as such acts by the opponents will always serve as an impetus to him. Indeed, Weah epitomizes greatness. He will keep pushing and pressing forward, keep knocking, keep asking questions, keep searching and competing as he is poised to succeed Nobel Laureate, madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, as the next president of the Republic of Liberia and they will be left with no alternative but to tell the story.