By Roland Mulbah
Yesterday October 1, 2015, marked the 49th Birthday of Africa’s greatest footballer, George Oppong Manneh Weah, now Senator of Montserrado.
The deadly forward during his days who achieved so many prestigious awards as he captivated millions round the world with his dazzling football artistry has since transitioned into politics as he frantically searches or hunts for the top seat of Liberia, his native land, through legal means, democratically.
As the footballer turned politician, Weah, celebrated another Birthday, The Inquirer Newspaper, which compiled the” A-Z of Weah”, has crafted another piece, Top 19 Moments of Weah.
It may be debatable as the legendary Weah had had some many top moments which makes it seemingly impossible to class them in terms of which is more salient; you can however go through this one with much interest.
International Debut-It is often said that it is the dream of every player to play for his country’s national team. Through this, players in every part of the world have and continue to work harder in improving their game to be selected to play for their countries. Cognizant of this, Weah worked tirelessly in wearing his country’s red, white and blue outfit. On July 26, 1986, Weah made his international debut against Guinea’s Sylli Nationale in the opening of the Six Nations Tournament to mark the official opening of the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Stadium in Liberia. The winger Weah came on as a second half substitute in the match that ended goalless.
Trip to Brazil-After the Six Nations tournament which the Lone Star ended in third place courtesy of a goal from overlapping full back Simon Mattor against Togo’s Sparrow Hawks, the then President of Liberia, Samuel Doe, opted to improve the national team, and ensured that arrangement for the Lone Star training in Brazil was honored as Weah and more than 20 other players travel to the spiritual home of football, Brazil, to undergo basic football rudiments and exposure, something that helped set the tone for the Great Weah and others.
Move to Cameroun-Due to innovation from the Liberia Football Association (LFA) authorities at the time, several clubs were invited to Liberia to participate in the “LFA 50th Anniversary Tournament” in 1987. And due to the exploits of the wizard dribbler in that competition, Tonerre Klara Club of Cameroun lured the services of the Invincible Eleven (IE) danger man. The yellow boys did win the cup courtesy of a win by Sierra Leone’s Fisheries against Tonerre of Cameroun via a goal from former Sierra Leone’s national team Coach Otto Mensah to enable IE win the tournament with Weah later moving to Cameroun to start another chapter of his career at Tonerre.
Domestic League Debut in Europe-After less than a season, Weah was lured by Association Sportive de Monaco that were then coached by French man Arsene Wenger as a result of a recommendation by fellow countryman Claude Le Roy who was then Coach of Cameroun’s Indomitable Lions. Le Roy was certainly impressed with the exploits of the Liberian virtuoso form in Cameroon, and when he Weah was lured by Monaco, a star had arrived in Europe. Monaco-Liberian import then made his Ligue 1 debut on August 17, 1988, in a 1-2 loss to A.J. Auxerre.
Liberia 2-Ghana 0-The Black Stars of Ghana has always been a weighty opponent for Liberia as the rivalry dates back to many years. And with Ghana paired against Liberia for the 1990 World Cup preliminaries, the Lone Star of Liberia got a stunning 0-0 first leg result on August 7,1988 in Accra, and in the return leg two weeks later, specifically August 21, 1988, at the SKD in Paynesville, Liberia did the unexpected to drub their opponents 2-0 with Weah opening the scoring early in the first half from a free kick to completely beat goalkeeper Mohamed Odoom and James Salinsa Debbah got the cushion in the dying embers via a brave solo effort to send Liberia to the group stage that comprised Egypt, Kenya and Mali. After “operation Eliminate Ghana” worked, the chants after the match were “Oppong opened it, Debbah closed it”. Meaning Weah nicknamed Oppong opened the scoring and Debbah closed it. Indeed, the Lone Star had announced itself as Abedi Pele and teammates were ousted.
European Debut:Weah made his European Cup, now European Champions league debut on October 4, 1988, and got a goal in his side Monaco 2-0 second leg elimination of Icelandic side ValurReyjavik with the Liberian talisman netting in the 37th minute to make it 2-0 in cancelling a 0-1 first leg loss.
African Footballer of the Year 1989: An impressive Weah won the African Footballer of the Year crown in 1989, the first of three African footballer of the Year awards. The Monaco forward won the award with a vote of 133, beating goalkeeper Antoine Bell of Cameroun and French club Bordeaux with 105 votes and Zambian striker KalushaBwalya of Dutch club PSV Eindhoven with 49 votes.
BallonD’or Winner ’95-Then as a player of AC Milan of Italy, Weah won the BallonD’or in 1995 as he became the first and in fact only African to win such prestigious award. He became the best player in the world. In fact, the BallonD’or then was for the best player in Europe. He won such award and won the FIFA World Player of the Year and the African Footballer of the Year to cap a memorable hat trick. Weah won the BallonD’or with 144 votes ahead of Bayern Munich German danger man JurgenKlinsman with 108 votes and Finland and Ajax forward JariLitmanen with a vote of 67. But, it was at Paris Saint Germain that Weah got a huge chunk of the credit as he led the club to a surprised semi-final and became the European Champions League top scorer with seven goals, scoring against the likes of Bayern Munich, Spartak Moscow and Barcelona.
African Nations Cup Debut–For the first time, the Lone Star of Liberia with their lone star, Weah, qualified for the African Cup of Nations in 1996 in South Africa. The Lone Star was placed in a group comprising defending champions Nigeria, Gabon and then Zaire. But, the teams in the group became three as Nigeria withdrew from the tournament due to political reasons. Weah then led the Lone Star in its debut match against Gabon on January 16, 1996, a match Weah and co won 2-1. Midfielder Kelvin Sebwe scored a penalty as early as the 5th minute after Weah was upended and Massar, Jr. made it 2-0 nine minutes after the interval before Gabon reduced the arrears through Nzeng in the 59th minute in the South African city of Durban.
Magical Goal Against Verona–On September 6, 1996, Weah scored what can be described as his best goal and one of the best in history. It was an Italian Serie A’ match which was a solo goal against Verona at the San Siro. It was quite a glorious goal that is one of the most watched on youtube as Weah was able to slalom his way past seven opposing players before scoring as he became more popular with the Milan fans.
English FA Cup Winner- Weah, who was on loan to Chelsea from AC Milan, added the English FA Cup winning medal of 2000 to his award cabinet. On January 19, 2000, the AC Milan man on loan at English side Chelsea helped the Blues lift the historic cup when they pinned Aston Villa 1-0 on January 19, 2000 at the Wembley stadium, courtesy of a strike from Di Matteo in the 73rd minute. Weah who started the match, was substituted for the Norwegian striker Tore Andre Flo as Chelsea under the Italian GianlucaVialli lifted the world’s oldest football trophy which began in 1872.
Nigeria Tumbles in Monrovia-On July 9, 2000, Weah as Technical Director and marksman led a somewhat deplete Lone Star to an astonishing 2-1 win over Nigeria Super Eagles in a 2002 World Cup qualifier at the SKD. Without some key players, Weah rallied the team as they defeated Nigeria that had stars like NwankoKanu, Austin Jay JayOkocha and Sunday Oliseh. Christopher Wreh got both goals beforeKanu’s equalizer.
Liberia Beat Ghana in Accra–It was another surprised result. The Lone Star of Liberia famously known as “Weah XI” destroyed the Black Star of Ghana on January 28, 2001 at the Accra sports stadium 3-1. With George Weah as Technical Director and leader on the park, the Lone Star got their goals from the late Frank Seator, Oliver Makor and Musa Shannon as the red, white and blue outfit got a heroes welcome home.
Nations Cup Opening Goal- As a 36 year old, Weah led Liberia to its second African nations Cup finals and scored the first goal in the tournament via a booming header from a corner on January 19 2002 against hosts Mali. Seydou Keita made sure Mali shared the points as he netted the equalizer in stoppage time.
Arthur Ashe Courage Award– On July 14, 2003, Weah was honored with the Arthur Ashe Award. Such award is given to individuals whose contributions transcend sports.
Testimonial–On June 11, 2005, Weah officially said good bye to football after more than two decades on the pitch doing marvels. A testimonial or farewell match was held at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille, France with several legends including Yazid Zinedine dane, Arsene Wenger, Samuel Eto’O, Didier Drogba, etc. were in attendance. The eye catching performer on the day was little Champ Weah, Jr., son of the legendary George Manneh Weah. The lad at the time scored a brace at the colorful testimonial.
Presidential Elections Runner-Up-After quitting the beautiful game, Weah entered into politics and on October 11, 2005, participated in the presidential elections of Liberia with his Congress for Democratic Change Party. After winning the first round, but did not get the mandatory 50% + 1 as per the constitution, Weah went into the Runoff on November 8, the same year, but lost to now president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of the Unity Party.
BallonD’or for Peace–Liberia’s Peace Ambassador George Weah on June 22, 2013, assembled legends of the African game to play a match for peace and reconciliation at the SKD in Liberia. Greats including Roger Milla, Austin Jay Jay Okocha, Richard Kingston,Patrick Mboma, Mohamed Kallon, etc. were all in attendance as the SKD turned in a frenzy.
FIFA Hall of Fame- On November 8, 2013, Weah was inducted into the FIFA Hall of Fame “Salon de Fama (World Football Hall of Fame) in Pachuca Mexico.
Happy Birthday Senator George Manneh Weah!