24 February 2005

Liberia: Filling Weah's Shoes

Monrovia — Despite starring for the US Under-20 side, George Weah Jr. hasn't given up on playing for Liberia. He says he will make a decision at the appropriate time under FIFA regulations.

George Weah may be out of competitive action but many would still agree that the Liberian legend is doing the things he knows best to keep his legacy alive even after his demise.

Weah and his Old School side

Last July, Weah and his son, George Weah Jr., who was signed to AC Milan in 2003 were in action for the first time in Atlanta for the same team, Old School International in the annual Monrovia Classic tournament.

The team was established few years back by George Weah to provide recreation for him and other friends who have retired from active football duties. The likes of Ghanaian legend, Abedi Pele and Nigeria's Teriba West have played on the team.

This time there were no big names on the team except George Weah Sr. And little did the capacity crowd at the Chamblee's North Dekalb Stadium in Atlanta, USA know that Weah Jr. was going to create an impression on your minds. Among the memorable of this 16-year old's dazzling performances on the pitch was his ability to outpace, dribble and challenge defenders who are far older or of his father's age.

George and son

In one of the many exciting moments, the young lad who had earlier been shackled by the defenders, did manage to get away from his markers midway in the second half to receive a pass on the right flank from his father. He trapped the ball in midair, dribbled past two onrushing defenders before delivering a low cross in the six yard box. But the ball was cleared from the danger zone after it had passed the goal area after the strikers failed to arrive in time to slot home.

The father was by then the central defender. As his son was creating havoc for their opponents but without any significant assistance from other attackers, Weah slowly relinquished the position to play midfield and eventually forward to sharpen up their attack.

And for the little Weah, although he did not score, his creativity and flair kept the crowd cheering each time he touched the ball. It also brought back memories of his father's glittering performances during his prime. Both were delighted to play together especially on the family team.

Weah said he took part in the tournament to expose his son to playing among fellow Liberians and as well as give him the opportunity to exhibit his potential. "I've always showed him my moves and other techniques both from my many video clips and during our training sessions". Weah disclosed.

The Liberian legend said it was time to see him put those attributes into realities on the pitch. With his face beaming with smiles and hope, Weah said he's investing into his son's football career to keep his legacy alive and to keep the family name worthy of praise in the world.

"I've always made it clear to him that to be successful, he has to be humble, discipline and always be willing to learn", he noted. He said those virtues are the building blocks and hallmark of any successful and well respected sports personalities.

The former World, European and African footballer of the year also hinted that a second child named Anthony, who is one year younger is gradually taking after him and could join his brother pretty soon.

The George Weah Jr., nick-named "Champ" because he was born on the same day in 1986 when his father led his Liberian club, Invincible Eleven to the national league title, said it was happy feeling and rewarding experience to play on the same team with his father.

"His passes were great and I hope I can pick up from where he left off in his career". The young Weah said. He said he's aware that it's a huge responsibility to take over the mantle from his father. But with dedication to the game and discipline he will triumph.

On playing for the US Under-20 side, the little Weah said he loves the environment and that it was "a blessing" to play with Ghanaian-born sensation, Freddy Adu on the squad.

Asked why he had chosen the US over his native Liberia, the young Weah said " I would love to play for Liberia. But right now, they haven't got any youth programs". He said at the appropriate time under FIFA's new regulations, he would make a decision whether or not to play for Liberia.

This was also buttressed by his father George Weah, who said it was a great experience to have his son play on the US team due to the lack of youth programs in war-ravaged Liberia. "I would love to have him play for Liberia in the future, "but it is a decision not by pressure to be made by Champ himself".

About his first season with the Italian club, the young Weah admitted it was abit difficult due to the many distractions from fans, who mobbed him during training and matches. But he's confident that he'd overcome the pressure of being the son of a football legend who had made his marks in the wonderful world of football.

Weah has worked to demobilize Liberian child soldiers in his homeland and reintegrate them into civilian lives and the communities. In his acceptance speech, Weah said "I'm trying to reach the children and encourage them to go to school. We must give them a chance to reach their goals".

Weah, who became a Goodwill Ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund, UNICEF in 1997 has also made several visits to Liberia to promote HIV/AIDS prevention and polio vaccination.

Weah will formally retire in June in a ceremony to be held in France, where the legend came to the limelight after playing for AS Monaco and Paris Saint Germaine before going to lead Italian footballing giant to the Series A championship 1996.

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