George Weah: From football star to Liberia president

Ex-AC Milan striker won 61 percent of votes to defeat ruling party candidate and Liberian Vice President Joseph Boakai.

    Weah grew up in poverty honing his football skills in Monrovia's slums [Thierry Gouegnon/Reuters]
    Weah grew up in poverty honing his football skills in Monrovia's slums [Thierry Gouegnon/Reuters]

    George Weah

    • Born in 1966 in Monrovia, Liberia
    • Signed for Monaco in 1988
    • Scores wonder goal for AC Milan against Verona in 1996
    • Retires from football in 2003
    • First attempt at presidency in 2005
    • Wins Senate seat 2014
    • Wins Liberian presidential election 2017

    As a footballer, George Weah won accolades few could hope for, picking up the Ballon d'Or and seizing African Footballer of the Year on multiple occasions, alongside a raft of team honours.

    Fewer still would dare dream of leading their countries; but after winning around 61 percent of votes in Liberia's presidential election, Weah, from the Congress for Democratic Change party, is set to do just that.

    His footballing talent was honed in the slums of Monrovia, the capital of Liberia, an experience that saw him catch the attention of French club Monaco - for which he won the French Cup. 

    French giants Paris Saint-Germain soon came knocking.

    Later, Weah played for Italy's AC Milan, winning the Serie A title twice before whittling out the tail end of his career with stints at Chelsea and Manchester City, among others.

    Known for his dribbling ability, Weah's most illustrious moment on the pitch came when he single-handedly dismantled an entire team, winning the ball from a Verona corner against AC Milan, and keeping a hold of it until he had placed it in the opposition net with half a dozen players trailing behind him in vain.

    Political career

    At the peak of elite football, the world of politics seemed distant.

    But it wasn't long after his sporting career had drawn to a close that he made his fist foray into political life.

    Weah led the first round of voting for Liberia's 2005 presidential election, which took place after decades of civil war and instability but eventually lost to the Unity Party's Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who became Africa's first female president.

    Defeat was a bitter pill for the former AC Milan star to swallow; Weah initially rejected the result claiming fraud.

    His first step towards the presidency came in 2014, defeating Sirleaf's son Robert Sirleaf for a seat in Liberia's senate.

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    Weah built his political success on an anti-establishment platform, promising economic opportunities to young people.

    In a country with where 70 percent of the population is under 35, and around 80 percent live on less than $1.25 a day, the message was well received.

    2017 election

    Weah cruised to victory in the 2017 presidential vote, beating Johnson-Sirleaf's vice president, Joseph Boakai.

    Potential legal challenges his defeated rivals might launch in the wake of the vote are the only remaining hurdles between the former footballer and the top office.

    Though his sporting stardom propelled his popularity, Weah's allies were keen to stress that his campaign relied on more than just celebrity.

    Speaking to Al Jazeera before their runoff win, Weah's running mate Jewel Howard-Taylor said his roots in Monrovia's deprived neighbourhoods were as important as his footballing career.

    His second attribute is his vision. Coming from a ghetto to reach where he did, he must have been committed and hardworking to become the best

    Jewel Howard-Taylor, vice president elect

    "Let's look at what it takes," Howard-Taylor responded when asked if she was concerned about Weah's lack of political experience.

    "Football, first of all, is a team sport," she continued. "If George Weah was an individualistic person, the team would never have had a chance of winning.

    "His second attribute is his vision. Coming from a ghetto to reach where he did, he must have been committed and hardworking to become the best." 

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    That's a sentiment shared by Nigerian sports journalist, Oluwashina Okeleji.

    "For a man to score goals it is easy, but to run a country is a very different challenge," he told Al Jazeera.

    "As a politician, he spent around 10 years trying to get himself into power ... I think the people who mandated him with their vote, trust in him and they believe in him.

    "I believe George Weah can actually deliver."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News


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