By - Victor Kekereekun
George Weah, Born on October 1, 1966, George Manneh Weah he started his footballing career in Liberia before ex-Arsenal coach, Arsene Wenger, took him to Europe where he signed for Monaco in 1988. He moved to the French side PSG in 1992 long before oil money made the it the ridicule of the world it is now.
George Weah won the French League in 1994 and became the top scorer of the 1994–95 UEFA Champions League. In 1995, he signed for Italian giants AC Milan, after they had lost the Champions League final of that year to Ajax, where he spent four successful seasons – and won the Italian Serie A twice. He later moved to England towards the end of his career and had spells at Chelsea and Manchester City, before returning to France to play for Marseille in 2001. He subsequently ended his career with Al-Jazira in the UAE 2003. On the international scene, he hails from Liberia with petite international records in the round leather game. However, that doesn’t go without saying he represented Liberia at the African Cup of Nations on two occasions.
The incumbent Liberian President’s exploits in France and later in the colours of AC Milan earned him an award that has continually eluded any other quality African player. George Weah was at his best when he won Ballon d’Or in 1995 and since then no African player has been able to win the prestigious award.
The Ballon d’Or, which was originally only for players from Europe, was expanded to include players from any origin plying their trade for European clubs, and Weah became the first non-European to lift the prestigious Golden Ball. The Liberian beat Jurgen Klinsmann and Jari Litmanen to the award following his great performances for Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan.
Throughout his career, Weah proved he was not the ordinary footballer. He is still the one and only player ever to hold the African, European and World diadem for the best footballer at the same time (1995).
Which African player who would have had this honour beside Weah? This may sound rhetoric but it is on record that beside the Liberian, only Cameroonian Samuel Eto Fils could stand on the podium in 2005 as third best in the world – also as the closest African to Weah’s achievement to be acknowledged on the global stage.
Didier Drogba, Nwakwo Kanu, Austin J.J Okocha, Abedi Ayew Pele, Roger Miller – these are some African players who gave good accounts of themselves abroad but their quality could not win them the Ballon d’Or.
Both Samuel Eto’o and Nwankwo Kanu made strong marks for themselves during their playing days. One could as well say they had no luck on their side to stake a name in Ballon d’Or history. They won all the possible available trophies in their glittering careers, won the hearts of many and played the game to the highest point of their careers.
A quick glance through their illustrious careers;
Samuel Eto’o’s Gallery
Honours: African Cup of Nations (2): 2000, 2002, Cameroon Olympic Team, Olympic Gold Medal (1): 2000; Young African Player of the Year: 2000, African Player of the Year: 2003, 2004, 2005, 2010, FIFPro World XI: 2005, 2006, UEFA Team of the Year: 2005, 2006, African Cup of Nations Top Scorer: 2006, 2008, UEFA Champions League Best Forward: 2006, La Liga Top Scorer: 2006, African Cup of Nations All-Time Top Scorer, RCD Mallorca All-Time Top Scorer, Cameroon All-Time Top Scorer, 2005 FIFA World Player of the Year Third, UEFA Champions League Final Man of the Match 2006, FIFA Club World Cup – Golden Ball 2010, CAF Starting XI in the Africa Cup of Nations Egypt 2006.
Nwankwo Kanu’s Gallery
Honours: 1993 U-17 FIFA World Cup Winner. African Footballer of the Year: 1996 & 1999. African Cup of Nations : 1994 (Nigeria); Barclays Premier League : 2002, 2004 (Arsenal); Community Shield : 1999, 2000, 2003 (Arsenal); Eredivisie : 1994, 1995, 1996 (Ajax); European Super Cup : 1996 (Ajax); FA Cup : 2002, 2003 (Arsenal), 2008 (Portsmouth); FIFA Club World Cup : 1996 (Ajax); UEFA Champions League : 1995 (Ajax); UEFA Europa League : 1998 (Internazionale)
Right now, Weah has won more than the Ballon d’ Or in his native Liberia as he was elected the President of Liberia in 2017.
He is the first ever world footballer of the year to become president of a country. Even though he didn’t win the World Cup, but for becoming the President of Liberia, he is won more than the ‘World Cup’
Whilst playing for Liberia in the throes of civil war, King George, as he is fondly called, single-handedly picked up the bills of the national football team and almost led them to the 2002 World Cup – they were beaten to the ticket by Nigeria by one point.
After joining the political terrain in 2005, Weah was told he could not win mainly because of a lack of education.
He moved to revoke that claim with a Business Administration degree from the DeVry University in 2011 and for good measure, added a Masters degree in Management from the Keller Graduate School of Management in 2013.
Weah, known for his close control and lung-bursting runs on the football pitch, said just as he played football naturally, he believes he has been called to help the Liberian people.
“I feel I have been called to service,” Weah told the BBC after he was declared winner in the Liberian Presidential election in 2017.
Football can be a powerful political tool. If anyone cares to disagree then just point him or her in the direction of West Africa, particularly Liberia, where Weah dribbled his way into government house – even as African football diadem.
Of the current African crop, Mohamed Salah is the best bet to follow in Weah’s footsteps someday and – perhaps – is the closest thing we have to Weah himself. Like Weah, Salah was born, bred and developed within African football borders before moving to Europe. That is an increasingly rare pathway for young African prospects to follow.
He is joined in that regard by fellow Red Sadio Mane, who came through the prestigious Generation Foot academy in his homeland of Senegal before being picked up by Metz and later Red Bull Salzburg.
Salah broke records left, right and centre during his debut season at Liverpool, and was named the 2017 CAF African Footballer of the Year as a consequence, before claiming the 2018 edition as well. He finished in sixth place in the final 2018 Ballon d’Or ranking, receiving 188 points, while his teammate Sadio Mane ended up in joint-22nd spot with three points.
Salah is only the fifth African to be voted into the top 10 in Ballon d’Or history, bettering Riyad Mahrez’s seventh-place finish in 2016.
Samuel Eto’o, who finished in third in 2005 and fifth position in 2009, and Didier Drogba, who just missed out on the podium with his fourth-place finish in 2007, were the only other two Africans, along with 1995 winner George Weah, who finished in higher positions than Salah.
Nonetheless, after winning the UCL with Liverpool and claiming a joint golden boot in the English Premier League in the 2018-19 season, Mohamed Salah and Sadio Mane stand a chance to attain a never-seen feat in Africa since Goerge Weah’s playing days. They are both contenders for the 2019 Ballon d’Or honour – and a triumph for either Egypt or Senegal will a huge added advantage for either men.
Till another Ballon d’Or winner emerges from Africa, Weah is not your ordinary African footballer, who just wanted to play football to escape the harsh reality of poverty and his childhood. He dreamed he could make a name for himself and help his country and he initially did through his prowess on the football pitch – and now in office as a president.
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