Former A.C. Milan soccer star George Weah and Vice President Joseph Boakai lead in Liberia’s presidential election as the electoral commission released provisional results of the Oct. 10 vote.
Weah won 39 percent of the vote, while Boakai got 31 percent, with about 548,000 ballots counted, Jerome Korkoya, chairman of the National Elections Commission, told reporters on Friday. The commission didn’t say how many of the 2.2 million registered voters took part in the poll.
George Tawlon Manneh Oppong Ousman Weah was born on October 1, 1966, in the slums of Monrovia, Liberia. Raised by his grandmother after his parents split up, Weah grew up on the streets of one of the city’s worst slums. Fortunately, he developed into a tall, athletic teenager, and began playing soccer for the Young Survivors youth club at 15. He moved on to other prominent local clubs as his skills progressed, assuming starring roles for Mighty Barrolle and Invincible Eleven.
At 22, George Weah was discovered by Cameroon national team coach Claude Le Roy, who relayed news of Weah’s abilities to AS Monaco manager Arsène Wenger. Wenger flew to Africa to get a look for himself, and then signed Weah to his club.
A raw talent with little formal training, Weah appeared overmatched early in his European career. However, the powerful 6’2″ striker soon caught up to the competition and developed into a potent goal scorer for the 1991 French Cup champions.
A move to Paris Saint-Germain brought more acclaim for Weah, who helped his club win the French Cup in 1993 and the Ligue 1 title in 1994. Virtually unstoppable during the 1994-95 season, he carried PSG to French and Ligue Cup victories and finished as the Champions League’s leading scorer. After the year, he was named the African, European and FIFA World Player of the Year—an unprecedented achievement.
Weah moved to AC Milan for the 1995-96 season and continued his impressive stretch by leading the club to the Serie A title. He scored the most famous goal of his career at the start of the following season, a magnificent effort in which he outraced seven Verona defenders, but that was soon followed by an ugly moment in which he smashed an opponent’s nose with a headbutt.
Milan won the Serie A title again in 1999, but Weah fell out of favor with the club and was loaned to Chelsea in January 2000. The move revitalized the Liberian striker, who scored in his debut and became a key figure in Chelsea’s march to the FA Cup. He spent 2000-01 with Manchester City and Marseille, and then played two seasons with Al-Jazira before retiring in August 2003.
In addition to his historic award trifecta in 1995, Weah was named African Player of the Year in 1989 and 1994, and was voted the African Player of the 20th century by the continent’s journalists. In 2004, he was named to the FIFA 100, a list of the sport’s greatest living players compiled by the legendary Pelé.
Liberia’s Proud Son
Weah became heavily involved in the affairs of his civil-war-torn home country while still in the midst of his playing career. Named a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador in 1997, he took part in educational initiatives to help fight the spread of HIV/AIDS and to rehabilitate child soldiers with vocational training.
Realizing the importance of soccer as a stabilizing force in Liberia, Weah spent an estimated $2 million of his own money on travel, equipment and salary expenses for the national team, the Lone Stars. Serving as player-manager, he led the Lone Stars on an impressive run through the 2002 World Cup qualifying rounds, but the team fell just short of invitation to soccer’s ultimate tournament.
Weah ran for Liberia’s presidency as a member of the Congress for Democratic Change in 2005, but lost in a run-off to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of the Unity Party. In 2011, he was again on the CDC ticket, this time as vice president, but Sirleaf remained in office.
Despite the political setbacks, Weah remains an immensely influential and popular figure in his home country. Since June 2010, he has served as an ambassador for 1 Goal, a FIFA-supported campaign that aims to provide educational opportunities for disadvantaged children. In December 2012, Weah announced that he had agreed to represent Sirleaf’s administration as a peace ambassador.