The master is back in the game - for one match only
Football fans of a certain age will go misty-eyed at the mere mention of George Weah.
The Liberian laid waste to the defences of Europe through his phenomenal career which saw him at the peak of his profession during spells at Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain, then, most famously, at AC Milan between 1995 and 2000 where he scored unbelievable goals like this:
A spell later in his career saw English football fans blessed with his presence, as he turned out for a pre-Abramovich Chelsea and a pre-Sheikh Manchester City, netting for both clubs, strangely, against Gillingham.
He won pretty much everything: Liberian titles; French titles; Italian titles; an FA Cup; multiple African Footballer of the Year awards and, in 1995, the Ballon d’Or. Sadly, like George Best before him, hailing from a footballing minnow of a country, he never had the chance to play in a World Cup, despite scoring 22 goals in 60 international games.
But that wasn’t the end of the story for big George. During his playing career he became a UN Goodwill Ambassador and a devoted humanitarian for his war-torn country and, at the end of the Second Liberian Civil War, Weah decided to take things up a notch, running for President of Liberia in 2005.
He lost this first time, but continued with his political efforts, eventually being elected in 2017 and being sworn in as president on 22 January 2018, running on policies including fighting corruption, reforming the economy, combating illiteracy and improving life conditions. Fellow African footballing legends Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o both attended the inauguration.
In August, he inducted his former coach and mentor Arsene Wenger into his country’s Order of Distinction, where he was given the title of Knight Grand Commander of the Humane Order of African Redemption - the highest rank possible.
But if you thought all this high statesmanship would mean that Weah had lost the love of a good old kickabout, then you’d be wrong, as he sensationally came out of retirement, at the age of 51, to play for Liberia in a friendly against Nigeria on Tuesday.
The match had been arranged in order for the country to retire their number 14 shirt, worn by Weah when he was playing.
Not for George a ten minute cameo though; he played for 79 minutes, showing regular flashes of his class and touch, before being substituted to a standing ovation
Nigeria fielded a reasonably strong team, featuring Wilfred Ndidi of Leicester and Peter Etebo of Stoke City, while Ndidi’s teammate Kelechi Iheanacho came on as a second-half subtitute.
Sadly, there was to be no fairytale goal or win, with Nigeria running out 2-1 winners.
'Don't wake me up from this dream'— IGBO Facts & History (@IgboHistoFacts) September 12, 2018
John Ugochukwu Ogu @ogujohnugo said after captaining Super Eagles in a 2-1 friendly match win over Liberia in Monrovia.
"He also said having President cum Capt George Weah, the only African Ballon d'or winner in the same stadium was the climax". pic.twitter.com/rtCBcVn5ZD
Arsene Wenger previously called Weah’s life story “a miracle”, saying in January:
“I remember when I saw him the first time at Monaco, coming in a bit lost, not knowing anybody, not being rated by anybody as a player and becoming the best player in the world in 1995 and today becoming the president of his country.”
And he can still play a bit too.