As President George Weah Celebrates 56th Birth Anniversary October 1, 2022 – GNN Reflects On His Career
George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Gbekugbeh Weah, Liberia’s 24th President was born 1 October 1966, a Liberian politician and former professional footballer who is serving as the president of Liberia, in office since 2018. Prior to his election to the presidency, Weah served as Senator from Montserrado County. He played as a striker in his prolific 18-year professional football career, which ended in 2003. He is the first African former professional footballer to become a head of state.
After beginning his career in his native 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 they won the Ligue 1 in 1994 and became the top scorer of the 1994–95 UEFA Champions League. He signed for AC Milan in 1995 where he spent four successful seasons, winning the Serie A twice. 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. He ended his career with Al Jazira in 2003. FourFourTwo named Weah one of the best players never to win the UEFA Champions League.
Weah represented Liberia at international level, winning 75 caps and scoring 18 goals for his country and playing at the African Cup of Nations on two occasions. He also played an international friendly in 2018, where his number 14 jersey was retired. Regarded as one of the best players never to have played at the World Cup, Scott Murray in The Guardian refers to Weah as “hamstrung by hailing from a global minnow”.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest African players of all time, in 1995, Weah was named FIFA World Player of the Year and won the Ballon d’Or, becoming the first and only player to win these awards while representing an African country internationally. 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”. In 2004, he was named by Pelé in the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players.
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 and was sworn in on 22 January 2018.
Weah was born and raised in the Clara Town district of Monrovia. 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. His father, William T. Weah, Sr., was a mechanic while his mother, Anna Quayeweah was a seller.He has three brothers, William, Moses and Wolo. He was one of thirteen children largely raised by his devoutly Christian paternal grandmother, Emma Klonjlaleh Brown after his parents separated when George was still a baby.
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. He began to play football 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 Invincible Eleven. Before his football career allowed him to move abroad, Weah worked for the Liberia Telecommunications Corporation as a switchboard technician.
After playing in the Liberian domestic league at the beginning of his successful career and winning several national honors (including the Liberian Premier League and the Liberian Cup), 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 from Cameroonian club Tonnerre Yaoundé when he was signed by Wenger – the manager of Monaco at the time – who flew to Africa himself prior to the signing, and whom Weah credits as an important influence on his career. 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. 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 skillful individual “wonder-goal” against Bayern Munich in the group stage, on 23 November 1994. 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. In 1994, he won the African Footballer of the Year Award for the second time in his career.
AC Milan and individual success
Weah joined AC 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. 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.
Weah with AC Milan at the start of 1996–97 seasons
Exhibiting skill, athleticism and goalscoring prowess, Weah became famous at Milan for scoring several notable goals, in particular a solo goal against Hellas Verona at the San Siro which saw him deftly control the ball from Verona’s corner kick just outside his own penalty area, before he set off. With all his teammates back defending the corner Weah made a beeline for goal, leaving his own teammates in his wake] His teammate Zvonimir Boban stated, “It was an incredible run. We were thinking, ‘When’s he going to stop? When’s he going to stop? He’s not going to stop! He’s never going to stop!'”. Weah finished by rifling the ball into the bottom left corner before an exuberant goal celebration.
Due to his 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 African player (by FIFA nationality) to win these awards, and second African-born player to do so after Eusébio. 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. 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. 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 around the world.
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 taunting 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 apologize 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. 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.
Time in England
The most astonishing thing about Weah is that genius on the field and generosity off it come in equal measure. He personally bankrolls his national team. Paying for players to travel to matches, supplying kit, and even offering win bonuses have amounted to tens of thousands of dollars so far. He is his country’s best-known ambassador. Back home, they call him King George and adore him so much they wish he will one day become president.
—Amy Lawrence of The Guardian, writing in April 2000.
Weah signed for 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. Although past his prime, 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, and scored further league goals against Wimbledon and Liverpool. He also scored twice in Chelsea’s victorious 1999–2000 FA Cup netting crucial goals against Leicester City and Gillingham. This led to him starting in the final, which Chelsea won 1–0.
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 Premier League side Manchester City on a free transfer on a two-year contract worth £30,000 a week, declining the offer of a £1 million pay-off from Milan owner Silvio Berlusconi. 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. At City, he scored once in the league against Liverpool (as he did at Chelsea), and three times against Gillingham (again as he had at Chelsea), this time in the League Cup; once in the first leg and twice in the second
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 Pro-League, where he remained until his retirement as a player in 2003, at age 37. He had planned on joining the New York/New Jersey MetroStars of Major League Soccer, but elected to join Al-Jazira on a temporary basis.
Since making his debut for the Liberia national team against Sierra Leone in 1986, Weah played 75 games over 20 years, scoring 18 goals. Representing one of the smaller nations in world football and perennial underdogs, Weah did much 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.
Weah has been named by several media outlets as one of the best players to never play at the World Cup
One of the greatest African players of all time, George Weah was, like his namesake George Best before him, hamstrung in World Cup terms by hailing from a global minnow.
Weah returned to the national team for a specially arranged friendly against Nigeria on 11 September 2018, his final international appearance, playing at the age of 51 while in office as the country’s president. His number 14 shirt, worn at his playing peak, was retired after the friendly, with Weah receiving a standing ovation when he was substituted.
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
During his prime in the 1990s, Weah was regarded as one of the best strikers in the world. He was lauded for his speed, work-rate, stamina, and attacking instincts, as well as his physical and athletic attributes, which he combined with his finishing, technical ability and creativity
A fast, powerful, physically strong player, with an eye for goal, many observers agree that he successfully filled the void left in the Milan attack by club great Marco van Basten. In addition to his pace, acceleration, dribbling skills, and goalscoring ability, as a multi-functional forward Weah was also a team-player who was capable of creating chances and assisting goals for teammates.
Along with Ronaldo and Romário, Weah was viewed as a modern, new style of striker in the 1990s who would also operate outside the penalty area and run with the ball towards goal, at a time when strikers primarily operated inside the penalty area where they would receive the ball from teammates. Among the next generation of strikers who were inspired, Thierry Henry states, “George Weah, Romário, and Ronaldo changed the game for me. It was the first time as a striker I saw players that could score on their own. Pick the ball up anywhere and score. Before as a number nine, people would say ‘stay within the line of the box, don’t move too much, don’t go to the wings, don’t drop, stay.’ Then I saw George Weah. And then I saw Ronaldo. And I saw Romário in a different way before those two. And it was like ‘hang on a minute, someone has lied to me’.”
One such goal that exemplified this ability was against Verona in 1995 where he received the ball in the edge of his own penalty box and ran the length of the field. Scoring such a goal in Serie A – the best defensive league in the world – saw media outlets such as Gazzetta dello Sport running pages of analysis for days afterwards, and calling it the greatest strike of all in Italian football. On his impact on the sport, Weah states, “When I look at my idols – Pelé, Maradona, Beckenbauer, Cruyff – they did a lot of great things. I came into the game and made history too.”
The best player on the planet, at his peak in 1995 he reigned as world, African and European footballer of the year, a trio of crowns never worn simultaneously before or since.
Named African Footballer of the Year three times and the first African to win the Ballon d’Or and be named FIFA World Player of the Year, Weah’s prominence in the 1990s led him to be nicknamed “King George”. Regarded as one of the greatest African footballers of all time, Weah was named African Player of the Century in 1996, and is usually ranked among the three greatest African strikers ever, alongside Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o. In 2013, Milan great Franco Baresi named Weah in the greatest XI he has ever played with. FourFourTwo magazine named Weah one of the best players never to win the UEFA Champions League. A number of publications, including Scott Murray of The Guardian and Kevin Baxter of the Los Angeles Times, in addition to FIFA, consider him to be one of the greatest players never to feature at the World Cup.
The status of Weah in the sport saw him feature in EA Sports’ FIFA video game series where he was named in the Ultimate Team Legends in FIFA 14. During his playing career Weah was sponsored by sportswear company Diadora, and he became famous for his red Diadora boots while playing for AC Milan.