The Liberia Football Association (LFA) on Tuesday, September 11, officially retired the iconic #14 jersey of football legend President George Weah from the country’s national team “until otherwise,” LFA president Mustapha Raji announced in Paynesville.
Mr. Raji made the announcement following the end of an international friendly between the Lone Star and the Super Eagles of Nigeria at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex. The friendly encounter, also a FIFA recognized event, was played to commemorate the symbolic retirement of the iconic #14 jersey.
There have been mixed reactions from the public concerning the event but, Mr. Raji told the Daily Observer sports desk that, before anyone else can wear the #14 jersey for the national team, the football house will have to seek permission from football icon Weah to whom the jersey was retired.
Raji also called on the public not to misconstrue the jersey retirement issue as though the country no longer wants to participate in a final tournament (World Cup, African Cup of Nations). According to FIFA rules, a team participating in a final tournament must register players with #14 jersey from one to 23.
“We have already retired the jersey (#14), so until we can get approval from the person we retired it to, no one will wear the jersey,” he said.
President Weah came out of retirement and featured for the national team by wearing the armband in the country’s 1-2 loss to Nigeria.
To the surprise of many, Weah, 51, played 79 minutes standard football before he was substituted and handed the armband to LISCR FC defender Kemoh Kamara. It was earlier planned that the game would go for a break in the final quarter of an hour for the formal program marking the retirement of the #14 jersey to be held, but the 51-year-old, with so much zest to play but not enough energy, ordered the match to continue.
With President Weah and Liberia’s all time highest goal scorer James Debbah in the starting lineup, the Super Eagles increased pressure on the Lone Star and wasted no time to get the curtain raiser in the 11 minutes.
Forward Henry Oyekuru, who plays for Galatasaray in Turkey, scored the opener after making use of defender John Ogu’s pass. Simeon Nwankwo later doubled the visitors lead 33 minutes down the clock after goalkeeper Tommy Songo failed to clear a cross from a corner kick.
However, after the break, the pace of the game changed with the Lone Star increasing their attacks, but did not get closer to find the back of the net. The host finally got the consolation goal in the closing stages of the game after Semi Ajayi committed a handball in the 18-yard box.
Malaysian-based Kpah Sharman got the consolation for the Lone Star following a spot kick.
Criticisms mar the friendly match
Since the match, social media have been flooded with criticisms, with Nigerians blasting the Nigeria Football Federation and football legend Weah playing at age 51.
Government offices in Liberia were reportedly closed by 3 o’clock PM on Tuesday as officials trooped to the SKD, with majority wearing the iconic #14 jersey to watch the match, which some described as an “historical moment.”
“George Weah is a major disappointment. For someone as exposed, experienced and educated, his constant appropriation of Liberia’s platforms to fulfill his personal objectives is a disgrace. He had no business giving Wenger that award and had no business playing tonight,” outspoken Twitter personality Biola Kazeem tweeted from Nigeria.
However, President Weah’s return to the pitch was also a moment that reminded many about his glorious days on the football pitch. World Football governing body, FIFA tweeted, “He was named FIFA World Player of the Year back in 1995. At the age of 51, Liberia’s George Weah returned to international action in a friendly against Nigeria on September 11.”
He was named FIFA World Player of the Year back in 1995 🏆At the age of 51, Liberia’s George Weah returned to international action in a friendly against Nigeria yesterday 💪 pic.twitter.com/gEZEZzFJTT— FIFA.com (@FIFAcom) September 12, 2018
It was also reported by the media in Nigeria that President Weah rewarded the Nigerian team US$2,000 per player as a gift for honoring his invitation for the friendly game to retire his #14 jersey, according to Sports Nigeria.
“We were paid $2,000 each by the President of Liberia,” Sports Nigeria quoted one of the players whose name was not mentioned.
When contacted, Liberia’s Deputy Minister for Sports, G. Andy Quamie, via text message, replied, “Unfortunately, I am not aware, but I read it in an online Nigerian newspaper.”