George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah is a Liberian humanitarian, politician, and retired professional footballer who played as a striker. Regarded as one of the greatest African players of all-time and as one of the best forwards of his generation, in 1995 he was named FIFA World Player of the Year and won the Ballon d’Or, becoming the first African player to win these awards. In 1989, 1994 and 1995, he was named the African Footballer of the Year, and in 1996, he was named African Player of the Century. Known for his acceleration and dribbling ability in addition to his 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. After starting his career in his home country of Liberia, Weah spent 14 years of his professional football career playing for clubs in France, Italy and England. Arsène Wenger brought him to Europe when he signed for Monaco in 1988. Weah moved to Paris Saint-Germain in 1992 where he won Ligue 1 in 1994 and became the top scorer of the 1994–95 UEFA Champions League. He signed for Milan in 1995 where he spent four successful seasons, and won the Italian Serie A twice. His most notable goal in Italy saw him run the length of the field against Verona. He moved to the English Premier League towards the end of his career and had spells at Chelsea and Manchester City, before returning to France to play for Marseille in 2001, and subsequently ending his career with Al-Jazira in 2003. At international level, he represented Liberia at the African Cup of Nations on two occasions. An idol in Africa, Weah has been heavily involved in politics in his homeland Liberia. He 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 for vice president on Winston Tubman’s ticket. Running as a Congress for Democratic Change candidate, Weah was elected to the Senate in 2014.
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Weah signed for English 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. 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 campaign, 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 English 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.
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As successful as he was at club level, Weah was not able to bring over that success to the Liberia national team. In total, Weah played 60 games for Liberia over 20 years, scoring 22 goals. As one of the smaller nations in world football and perennial underdogs, Weah did everything he could in order 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. Along with all-time greats in the sport such as Alfredo Di Stéfano and George Best, Weah is regarded as being among the best football players who never got the chance to play at a World Cup.
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Manchester City F.C.
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During his prime in the 1990s, Weah was regarded as one of the best strikers in the world, despite not being to be able to score as many goals as other prolific forwards of his generation. In spite of that, Weah was lauded for his work-rate, class and attacking instincts, as well as his physical and athletic attributes, which he combined with his finishing, technical ability, creativity and skill. A fast, powerful, physically strong player, he successfully filled the void left in the Milan attack by club legend Marco van Basten. In addition to his pace, dribbling skills, and goalscoring ability, Weah was also a team-player who was capable of creating chances and assisting goals for teammates. Along with Ronaldo and Romário, Weah was seen as a modern, new breed of striker in the 1990s who would also operate outside the penalty area and run with the ball towards goal, during a time when most strikers primarily operated inside the penalty area where they would receive the ball from teammates. Named African Footballer of the Year three times and becoming the first African to be named FIFA World Player of the Year, his prominence in the 1990s led him to be nicknamed “King George”. Weah received further recognition in 2004 when he was named by Pelé in the FIFA 100 list of the world’s greatest living players. In 2013, Italy and Milan legend Franco Baresi named Weah in the greatest XI he has ever played with. As well as being regarded as one of the greatest African footballers of all time, during his career Weah also stood out off the pitch for his initiatives to fight racism in football.
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Due to his successes, goalscoring, and 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 native African player ever to win these awards; 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 all around the world. Pelé won the same award as the South American Player of the Century, and Johan Cruyff as the European Player of the Century.
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Weah has tried to use football as a way to bring happiness and promote education for children in Liberia. In 1998, Weah launched a CD called Lively Up Africa featuring the singer Frisbie Omo Isibor and eight other African football stars. The proceeds from this CD went to children’s programmes in the countries of origin of the athletes involved. Weah was President of the Junior Professionals, a football team he founded in Monrovia in 1994. The team is now defunct. As a way to encourage young people to remain in school, the club’s only requirement for membership is school attendance. Many of the young people, recruited from all over Liberia, have gone on to play for the Liberian national team. In 1998, a documentary about Weah’s footballing career with Milan was broadcast on The A – Force BBC-TV; it was made by Pogus Caesar, a British award-winning producer and director. The Diya Group chairman and Indian entrepreneur Nirav Tripathi announced a multimillion-dollar partnership with George Weah in 2016 whereby global football academies would be established to help assist youth in both impoverished and emerging nations. The motivation for the academies is cited as a shared experience between both Tripathi and Weah in how sport can transform lives in their nations of both India and Liberia, which both still suffer from severe poverty.
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Following the end of Second Liberian Civil War, Weah announced his intention to run for President of Liberia in the 2005 elections, forming the Congress for Democratic Change to back his candidacy. While Weah was a popular figure in Liberia, opponents cited his lack of formal education as a handicap to his ability to lead the country, in contrast with his Harvard-educated opponent, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Analysts also noted Weah’s lack of experience, calling him a “babe-in-the-woods”, while Sirleaf had served as minister of finance in the Tolbert administration in the 1970s and had held positions at Citibank, the World Bank and the United Nations. Weah’s eligibility to run for Presidency was also called into question as it was reported that he had become a French citizen in his footballing career at Paris St. Germain, but these complaints were rebuffed by the electoral commission in court and Weah was allowed to proceed. Weah obtained a plurality of votes in the first round of voting on 11 October, garnering 28.3% of the vote. This qualified him to compete in a run-off election against Sirleaf, the second placed candidate. However, he lost the run-off to Sirleaf on 8 November, garnering only 40.6% to 59.4% for Sirleaf. Weah alleged that the election had been rigged through voter intimidation and ballot tampering, and many of his supporters protested the results in the streets of Monrovia. However, after assurances that the vote was fair several prominent African leaders called on Weah’s supporters to accept the result with grace and dignity, and Sirleaf became President. The African Union had characterized the elections as “peaceful, transparent, and fair”. Weah’s lack of education became a campaign issue. He has been highly critical of those who say he is not fit to govern: “With all their education and experience, they have governed this nation for hundreds of years. They have never done anything for the nation.” He initially claimed to have a BA degree in Sports Management from Parkwood University in London, however this is an unaccredited diploma mill which awards certificates without requiring study. Weah then pursued a degree in business administration at DeVry University in Miami. Weah also remained active in Liberian politics, returning from the United States in 2009 to successfully campaign for the Congress for Democratic Change candidate in the Montserrado County senatorial by-election. Some analysts saw these moves as preparation for a repeat run for the Presidency in 2011, and Weah did indeed later announce his intention to challenge Sirleaf in the 2011 election. After a series of failed alliances with other opposition parties, the Congress for Democratic Change chose Weah as its 2011 vice presidential candidate, running with presidential candidate Winston Tubman. In 2014, he ran for election to the Senate as a Congress for Democratic Change candidate in Montserrado County. He was overwhelmingly elected to the Liberian Senate on 20 December 2014. Weah defeated Robert Sirleaf, the son of President Sirleaf, becoming the first Liberian international athlete elected to represent a county in the Legislature. He won a landslide victory, receiving 99,226 votes, which represented 78.0% of the total votes from the 141 polling centers, while Sirleaf, his closest rival received 13,692 votes, which is nearly 11% in the election marred only by a low turnout. Weah was elected President of Liberia in the 2017 election, defeating the incumbent Vice President Joseph Boakai.