Liberia has decided to retire the country’s number 14 jersey from their men’s national team, the Lone Star, in recognition of former World Footballer of the Year, George Weah.
However the former AC Milan was back on the pitch on Tuesday, probably for one last kickabout in a friendly against Nigeria’s Super Eagles at the SKD Sports Stadium.
Weah, who coincidentally turns 52 on October 1 when Nigeria will celebrate their 58th independence anniversary, led out Liberia’s national team and in the setup was his former teammate James Debbah.
It was a game to celebrate Weah who is now Liberian president and the 51-year-old played for 79 minutes in the 1-2 defeat to Nigeria who had quite a handful of their top players including Leicester City duo Wilfred Ndidi and Kelechi Iheanacho as well as Henry Onyekuru, Simeon ‘Simy’ Nwankwo and Israel-based John Ogu who was captain on the night.
Two first half goals by Nigeria through Onyekuru and Nwankwo meant the Weah and his team trailed at the break before Kpah Sherman’s late goal from the spot made the scoreline a little respectable as the curtains fell on the career of one of African great footballers.
The former Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City man took time to speak about how he emerged from the shadows playing in Cameroon for Yaounde-based outfit Tonnerre Kalara Club (TKC). Weah spent 1987 with Tonnerre and was an instant hit at the Cameroon club where he scored 14 goals in eight appearances. His performance did not go unnoticed by European scouts.
Weah credits former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger and former Cameroon head coach Claude Le Roy for part of his success. Reports in Cameroon suggested that Arsenal scouts had met Le Roy in a bid to watch Stephen Tataw but Weah instead stole the show and the door to Europe opened for the the starry-eyed Liberian forward. Something Weah does not forget.
The former Liberian captain also recalled his time playing Nigerian side Iwuanyanwu Nationale (now Heartland) over two legs in the African Cup of Champions Clubs (now CAF Champions League). Though the Nigerian club progressed to the next round, Weah till date remains satisfied with his performance in the second leg in Yaounde.
Weah also did not forget to add how he was influenced by the achievements of some former Nigerian players. He particularly singled out Stephen Keshi (now late) and mentioned Friday Ekpo among others.
“I was happy (back then playing for Tonerre Kalala) as it was my first time playing as a senior professional. I did not know my value when I was on the ground until I went to Cameroon. At that time I met some good players in Nigeria including (Stephen) Keshi. At that time they were still playing. Even Friday Ekpo and others. I was inspired by them. So when I went back to Cameroon, and I wanted to work harder to be like them because in Liberia it was moving around the streets, there was no opportunity. So that was my opportunity.
“What I took from that game was that I performed and people came to see me from Monaco – Arsene Wenger and Claude Le Roy. In the return leg, I destroyed Iwuanyanwu Nationale (now Heartland). That gave me a ticket to go to Europe. But I think what is important is exposure. I wish that every young player should have the opportunity to go away because there they begin to develop. There, they will face more challenges that can better their lives,” Weah said.
Weah ventured into politics in 2005, just two years after quitting football. He announced his intention to vie for the presidency in his country in same year but lost to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who many political analysts feel was better prepared than Weah who lacked formal education at a time Liberia was recovering from a second civil war.
Undeterred, Weah decided to pursue a degree in business administration at DeVry University in the United States and then returned to politics in his country to be elected into the Senate in 2014. Two years later, Weah ran for presidency and after a run-off defeated the then Liberian vice-president Joseph Boakai.
Weah made more than 60 appearances for Liberia in internationals and played for Africa Sports, AS Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea, Manchester City, Olympique Marseille before calling time at UAE club Al-Jazira.
In 1995, Weah won the FIFA World Player of the Year, the African Footballer of the Year and the Ballon d’Or.
© The Predictor NG