Weah prepares for presidential bid

Former Liberian world footballer of the year aims for second attempt to become president.

    Weah was at the height of his footballing powers while at AC Milan [GALLO/GETTY]

    The photos of George Weah's football past are rapidly disappearing from the walls of his seaside villa, replaced by mementos of academic achievement and pictures of the Liberian goalscoring great with political figures.

    Weah, who won the Fifa world player of the year award in 1995, went into politics in 2005 and ran for president of his native country that year.

    Although he beat 21 other candidates to win the vote in the first round, he lost to eventual president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the second round.

    Many believe his lack of formal education was the reason for the defeat, and Weah appears determined not to let that undermine his chances in the 2011 election.

    Weah received a high school diploma in 2007, and said he has since been studying business administration at Devry University in Miami.

    In an interview with the Associated Press news agency in the eastern Paynesville suburb of Monrovia, the 43-year-old Weah denied his desire for more education was based on his hope of becoming president.

    He insisted he wanted "to improve my potential and because I think it is the right thing to do."

    Liberia, which has emerged from years of fighting and unrest following more than a decade of civil war, is plagued by wrecked industries, poor roads and limited electricity even in the capital.

    Born and raised in a Monrovia slum, Weah was a star striker for AC Milan and won the top Fifa award while at the Italian club.

    Civil war

    He also played for Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, Marseille, Chelsea and Manchester City before going into politics in a country founded and colonised by freed American slaves and nearly torn apart by the civil war started by former president Charles Taylor, who is on trial in the Netherlands on charges of murder, rape, sexual enslavement and recruiting child soldiers.

    "I like George Weah but not as Liberia's president. He can be of better service to Liberia by helping to improve football"

    Maria Cooper, businesswoman

    But Weah's lack of knowledge about political activities did not prevent his good showing in the 2005 presidential poll, even if he and his youthful Congress for Democratic Party alleged that ballot-stuffing was one of the reasons he lost.

    "We were a young party, organised just four months before the election," Weah said.

    "Things that were lacking have been put into right perspective."

    Since that loss, Weah said he feels his decision to get a higher education has prepared him for future political challenges.

    "I was seeking again to go to the convention so that I can run on the people's ticket, and I have been petitioned to run," Weah said before a veterans football match.

    Support for Weah is visible on the faces of many Liberians, including roadside sellers and passers-by – one of them a university student who argues why the former sportsman is needed as president.

    'Basic things'

    "He's not a Harvard or Cambridge product, but at least he knows the basic things human beings need to survive. He knows that a society of hungry people is doomed," James Kieh said.

    "And once Weah is able to put these in place, this is one of the things Liberians are yearning for."

    Although Weah now lives on an estate with a giant swimming pool, many Liberians still remember him spending his youth playing football in the slums.

    "He is a humanitarian. He's a man who caters to people," said Panpee Wreh, an old friend of Weah and youth football coach.

    "From the 1960s, when he and I grew up together, I knew he was going to become someone great."

    Not everyone agrees.

    "I like George Weah but not as Liberia's president," said Maria Cooper, a local businesswoman.

    "He can be of better service to Liberia by helping to improve football, that is today winning fortunes. This is where he belongs."



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