MONROVIA – As George Oppong Weah prepares to transition from football player to president, there will be many stories told and written of his ascent to the highest office in his country. Few will capture the essence of the man. Still, we will try.
In May 2001, Nigeria’s Super Eagles squared up against Liberia in a pivotal 2002 FIFA World Cup qualifier in Port Harcourt. Leading the Lone Star charge was 1995 FIFA World Player of the Year George Weah, whose sheer force of football talent and financial will was threatening to carry them over the line.
Weah’s drive and inspiration had seen them turn an opening day loss at Sudan into a four-game winning streak, claiming the scalps of Nigeria, at home in Monrovia, and Ghana, away in Accra.
A result against the Super Eagles would have put Weah’s team in control of the group and all but assured them of a place in Japan and Korea. Weah poured his personal financial resources into the campaign, ensuring that players’ flight tickets and allowances were paid.
On the field, as he had done all campaign, Weah was a general, egging his troops on by personal example and force of will. Unfortunately, Nigeria had rookie Joseph Yobo on that day. The youngster was tasked with the unenviable task of minding the experienced forward.
Yobo did such an effective job that a frustrated Weah was forced to resort to physical tackles against the youngster, as Nwankwo Kanu and Victor Agali secured a 2-0 win for Nigeria.
Weah stormed into the post-match press conference, fuming ,and laid into Nigeria’s man-marking tactics, especially when asked about his physical clashes with Yobo. “It’s a man’s game,” was his short-fused response. “He kicked me so I kicked him.”