The gulf between working as a telephone technician in poverty-stricken Liberia and the luxurious lifestyle of an Italian association football (soccer) star is enormous, but striker George Weah of AC Milan appeared to have bridged it quite successfully. In 1995-96 he achieved the triple honour of being elected European, African, and World Footballer of the Year, the first player ever to achieve such a treble. In October 1996 he was named Commonwealth Sportsman of the Year. Two months later he received a six-game ban for head butting an opponent, an unusual event for a player known for his good conduct on the field.
Weah was born in Monrovia on Oct. 1, 1966, and left school at age 15 to work as a phone technician. He played for several minor teams in Liberia before joining the country’s most popular team, Invincible Eleven, in 1986. There he established himself as a centre-forward with goal-scoring ability and not a little technique and was noted for his clever footwork. Standing 1.84 m (6 ft) and weighing 76 kg (168 lb), Weah was the ideal build for a central spearhead. After a spell with Africa Sports Abidjan in Côte d’Ivoire, the Cameroon club Tonnerre Yaoundé signed him to a three-year contract.
Within six months AS Monaco made a tempting offer, and Weah signed with that French League team for five years. In four seasons he scored 47 goals, winning a French Cup medal in 1991 and European Cup-Winners’ Cup runners-up honours in 1992. Weah was then transferred to Paris St. Germain for £ 3 million. During his second season with it, the club won the French championship. Sections of the club’s supporters, however, were critical of him; there were racist chants directed his way; and he had differences with the coaching staff. In the summer of 1995, AC Milan paid £6.5 million for Weah, and in his first season there, it won the Italian League championship. At the time of his triple award, he had scored 131 goals in 310 competitive games in France and Italy.
Although Liberia did manage to reach the final stages of the African Nations Cup in 1996, it was not a success for Weah, who was accused of being more interested in meeting South African Pres. Nelson Mandela than in playing for his country.
Weah, a deeply religious Muslim, was generous with his money back home. He personally paid the £ 5,000 debts owed by the Liberia Football Association to both the African Confederation and the world governing body. He also negotiated a special sponsorship deal for the Lone Stars (Liberia’s national team) and financed a junior team. A national hero at home, he had four postage stamps issued in tribute to him. (JACK ROLLIN)
“Weah, George Oppong” Encyclopædia Britannica
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