Born to Lose, Built to Win – The Short Story of George Weah

Posted in Guest Posts,Life and Culture on December 18th, 2013 By Tinashe Mabasha

The only African footballer to win the FIFA Player of The Year Award

The first famous black footballer I can remember was John Barnes. He was the fast, athletic left winger for England and Liverpool. I think my dad along with other dads in Zimbabwe supported John Barnes and Liverpool as a result. As much as I hate to admit it, I followed suit. Barnes was subjected to racism during career in England and I think paved the way for a number of black footballers in England. He may not have been as talented as Eusebio but in the last 30 years he was one of the most significant black football players.

This leads me to a forgotten African hero and probably the most significant African footballer in the in recent times, George Weah. George Weah grew up in Monrovia, Liberia. He was raised by his grandmother after his parents split up. He was a late bloomer and began playing football for the Young Survivors Youth Club. From there he progressed to the Mighty Barrolle and Invincible Eleven. At 22, Weah footballing exploits peaked interest from French manager, Arsene Wenger, who at the time was manager of French Ligue 1 club AS Monaco. Wenger flew to Africa to assess Weah personally and signed him shortly afterwards.

It took some time for Weah to adjust to French football as he had received very little formal training. Once he was up to speed he became a potent striker for Monaco. In 1992, Weah moved to Paris Saint Germain (PSG) and then his career took off. Weah was instrumental in leading PSG to a French Cup in 1993 and a Ligue 1 title in 1994. The 1994 – 95 season was a career year for George Weah. He was the UEFA Champions League’s top scorer and he led PSG to a French and Ligue Cup double. He moved to AC Milan in the summer of 1995 and continued with his scoring exploits. At the end of 1995, Weah became the 1st and only African football player to win the FIFA Player of the Year award. He won the award over European superstars, Paolo Maldini and Jürgen Klinsmann. He was also named as African and European Player of the Year, which was an unprecedented feat. Weah’s goals helped AC Milan win Serie A titles in 1996 & 1999. Weah ended up falling out of faviur with the club and being loaned out to Chelsea in the English Premier League (EPL). A more focused Weah, helped Chelsea win the FA cup that season.  After his Chelsea stint, Weah played two more years before retiring.

Besides his impact on the football field, Weah made massive contributions to his home country of Liberia. He was a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1997 and was part of HIV/AIDS educational initiatives. Weah also personally funded the Liberian National Football Team during their 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifying campaign. His contributions led to him running for the Liberia presidency in 2005, which he ended up losing in a run off.

Weah may be forgotten now as he is not involved in football. Many young people may not know who he is and his unprecedented achievements. I probably even forgot about this amazing footballer, person and a true African hero in my youth. Weah didn’t have the personality and character of Didier Drogba or Thierry Henry but he was consummate professional and he consistently pushed himself to get better.

He made me proud to be African and he allowed me to share in his success. Along with his FIFA World Player of the Year award, his transfer to AC Milan was a proud moment. A multiple European Cup Champion like AC Milan thought an African footballer could make the grade. Looking at George Weah’s success in the mid-1990s was truly inspirational for any child growing up in Africa and may have allowed the African youth to go after their dreams. Weah was a classic case of “Born to lose, built to win”. He was never supposed to have anything growing up in the slums of Monrovia. He was never supposed to become anything. But I’m glad he did. Liberia and Africa needed a positive story in the 1990s.

-Tinashe (@NashCarter)

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