In the wake of reports that President George Weah is to award his former football coach, Arsène Wenger, Liberia’s highest honor, the former Arsenal coach has out-rightly denied having knowledge of receiving any honor in the country.
Wenger made the statement yesterday during a brief interview with journalists shortly after he arrived in the country at the Roberts International Airport, in Lower Margibi County.
“I am not aware of any honor. I just came here to visit, because I promised George that one day, I will visit Liberia, and in return, I do not expect anything like award or honor. I am happy to be here,” Wenger replied to journalist Julius Konto’s question.
Earlier on Tuesday, Information Minister Eugene Nagbe told the British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC) that an award ceremony will be held in the country where the 68-year-old football manager will be inducted into the country’s Order of Distinction, and will also be given the title of Knight Grand Commander of the Humane Order of African Redemption-the highest rank possible in Liberia.
The Grand Order of the Most Venerable Order of the Knighthood of the Pioneers of Liberia is an order presented by the government. The order may be presented to Liberian or foreign citizens for outstanding and distinguished service in international affairs, government, religion, art, science or commerce, and also for singular acts of philanthropy and deeds of heroism and valor.
The news sparked controversy in the country, with several Liberians saying that the country’s highest honor should not be given to an individual for what they might have personally done for the Mr. Weah prior to being elected President of Liberia.
But the award is not only about the personal connection between the President and Wenger. The information minister told the BBC that award also recognizes that Wenger “has contributed to sports in Africa, and has given many Africans opportunities.”
It was Wenger that took Weah to Europe, signing him for Monaco in 1988. After four years, Weah moved to Paris Saint-Germain in 1992, where he won Ligue 1 in 1994, and became the top scorer of the 1994-1995 UEFA Champions League.
He signed for Milan in 1995, where he spent four successful seasons, winning Serie A twice. His most notable goal in Italy saw him run the length of the field against Verona. Weah then moved to the Premier League towards the end of his career, and had spells at Chelsea and Manchester City, winning the FA Cup at the former before returning to France to play for Marseille in 2001, and subsequently ending his career with Al-Jazira in 2003.
At the international level, Weah represented Liberia at the African Cup of Nations on two occasions, winning 60 caps and scoring 22 goals for his country.
He is regarded as one of the best players never to have played in a World Cup. Widely regarded as one of the greatest African players of all time, in 1995, he was named a FIFA World Player of the Year, and won the Ballon d’Or, becoming the first, and to date only African player to win these awards.
In 1989, 1994 and 1995, he was also named the African Footballer of the Year, and in 1996, he was named African Player of the Century.