The incredible success story of ex-soccer international George Manneh Weah can be likened to the surprising success of Chinua Achebe’s main character Okonkwo in his classic book, “Things Fall Apart.”
“Looking at a king’s mouth,” said an old man, “one would think he never sucked at his mother’s breast.” That statement was about Okonkwo, who had risen so suddenly from great poverty and misfortune to be one of the lords of his clan.
And like George Weah, anyone who knows his story is aware of his grim struggle against poverty and misfortune; of growing up in a slum community of Clara Town, so there was no luck there.
Gifted with an average intelligence, Weah pursued what he loved best, and the only benevolent aspect was that he had several good people to provide him the support. In the final analysis, if ever a man deserved his success that man is Weah, as the evidence has shown.
Evidently, Providence took side with him in 1986 when he accepted the invitation from Mohammed Konneh to play semi-professional in Tonnerre, Yaounde, Cameroon. So at an early age, Weah chose to leave his country to start his career in Cameroon; and that was not luck. The 50th-anniversary celebration of the Liberia Football Association, under former Grand Kru Senator Cletus Segbe Wortoson, brought Tonnerre Klara Club of Yaounde, among other clubs to play in Monrovia.
At the most, as the Ibos (of Nigeria) say (apologies to Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart”), his chi or personal god was good. In fact, the Ibo people have a proverb that says “when a man says yes, his chi says yes also.” Weah said yes very strongly, so his chi agreed. And now that he has been elected president, it also means that his clan (Liberians) also agreed, because they judged a man by the work of his hands.
To sum up the George Weah story: He did not have the start in life which many men would usually have. Besides his old grandmother who struggled to educate him, there was no father figure in his life to ensure he attained basic education, and excessive hunger rendered him uninterested in it, but he found refuge in soccer. “It was what Oppong loved best,” admits a local resident of Clara Town, interviewed for this story. So as Weah’s talent as a soccer prodigy gradually emerged sportswriters named him as the ‘wizard dribbler.’ Weah’s humbleness surfaced and did what his coaches, including Jallah Duncan and Mohammed Sithole Fernando (both of blessed memory), told him to do.
Coincidentally, the political atmosphere was ripe for the game, for President Samuel Kanyon Doe (also of blessed memory) was prepared to spend enough resources to build heroes for Liberia, sending the national soccer team, Lone Star, including George Weah to Brazil, for training.
Guiding Weah and company’s gradual rise to stardom was Paul E. Mulbah, then LFA Chief of Operations, former LFA and IE President Samuel Burnette (of blessed memory), and Willard A. Russell, former LFA president, Tonia Klay, Kadiatu Diarra (now Mrs. G. Findley), among others.
The enduring power of sports led Liberians to make Weah their king at last, and so it is hoped that Weah, with the reins of power in hands, will also invest in the sector that has brought him so much fame so that he can also develop many more Weahs, Debahs, Joe Nagbes, Dominic Brapohs, Boye Charles for Liberia.
Another lesson is the fact that the ‘opportunity’ is now open for ordinary footballers, once described derisively as ‘gronas’ (street kids) by educated Liberians, to recognize that combining education and sports, the country can create heroes for the common good of all.