Liberia’s President George Weah became as soon as a world footballer and mild most frequently performs on Saturdays because the BBC’s Mike Thomson chanced on when he became invited to glimpse a kick round where some players gave the affect hesitant to tackle the country’s chief.
The choice that came within the early hours became sudden. “The president’s automobile is outdoor,” I became steered, “or no longer it’s in a position to eliminate you to his excellency’s soccer match.”
I carry out no longer most frequently receive invites to glimpse heads of issue kick balls about but that itself wasn’t the surprise on this occasion. It be unbiased that frail Fifa World Footballer of the Year, George Weah, now president of Liberia, became imagined to be in Madagascar. Obviously plans had modified.
After a hurried chunk of toast we sped off by strategy of a mild waking Monrovia earlier than arriving at the Ministry of Defence.
Had the motive force got lost, I puzzled? But skedaddle ample, as we drove by strategy of the protection gates, there within the support of an austere gray constructing, became a huge soccer pitch.
Considered one of many first players I saw became a tall, middle-frail man sporting dusky shorts and a blue number 14 shirt.
‘I am the supreme dribbler’
After ambling , without seeming to interrupt a sweat, he beckoned to a member of his personnel.
Seconds later a commentator screamed over the PA system: “His excellency is on the ball… he’s going for diagram… oh, what a circulation!”
So, skedaddle, this became certainly the frail AC Milan, Chelsea and Monaco star, became chief of Liberia.
But why, I puzzled, whereas staring at his facet, The Weah All Stars, eliminate on one other native personnel made up of frail professional players, became no person looking to tackle the, now lower than lean, George Weah?
At half of time I wandered over to the presidential dugout and asked the man himself if this became the pause result of some extra or less presidential decree.
“No, no, no,” he replied impulsively.
“They’re insecure to brand me on myth of I am the supreme dribbler and within the occasion that they fight, they’ll dislocate about a of their body. I am very cherish.”
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Which will seemingly be but a pair of minutes later, his personnel’s coach, frail Arsenal participant, Christopher Wreh, came up with a lovely assorted clarification.
After telling me proudly that the president’s personnel has never, ever, lost a match, he added:
“No-one tackles him. We blueprint inform the personnel that you carry out no longer recede into a tackle with the president. You steer positive of contact – no contact with the president.”
This might perhaps furthermore again mark why even at the age of 52, George Weah remains the personnel’s top diagram scorer. His personnel won 3-1 that day.
Rent a crowd?
My next stumble upon with the president, to focus on his first three hundred and sixty five days pretty than work, became issue for 11:30 native time four days later.
Although 11:30 soon grew to change into 12:30, then 13:30 slid into 14:30 and mild no imprint of the president.
Within the waste, dressed in a white tunic and trousers, Mr Weah breezed into the room announcing: “Gents, or no longer it’s miles time for lunch.”
By this level my most frequently heroic cameraman, Phil Darley, became having a ogle anxious. Although no longer relating to the interview. The peril became that his flight house to London became scheduled to leave in lower than three hours’ time.
But he stored this to himself as we climbed aboard amid a 10-automobile convoy and sped off, blue lights flashing, to the president’s chosen restaurant.
We roared by strategy of the capital, sending native drivers scuttling to the roadside, as our motorcade swept previous.
Within minutes of arriving at a lovely modest-having a ogle issue advance the centre of metropolis, a crowd of adoring fans had gathered outdoor, chanting the president’s praises.
Became this some extra or less Monrovian hire-a-crowd or firm proof, one three hundred and sixty five days on, of the president’s enduring recognition? It became no longer easy to be skedaddle.
Spherical an hour and a half of later, lunch over, our prolonged motorcade thundered support correct by strategy of metropolis.
And, after a rapid discussion relating to the delights of Liberian cuisine, my interview with the president within the waste got below components.
How, I asked him, did he seek his first three hundred and sixty five days pretty than work, why had many of his ministers mild no longer declared their assets and what had came about to extra than $100m (£75m) – worth of authorities money that has it sounds as if gone lacking?
The president regarded as if it might perhaps per chance well eliminate these indigestion-inducing questions in his accelerate.
Seven things about George Weah:
- Born 1 October, 1966, grew up in a slum in Liberia’s capital
- Signed by Arsene Wenger to Monaco from Cameroonian club Tonnerre Yaoundé
- Made Monaco debut in 1987, went on to play for AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Chelsea
- Easiest African to eliminate Fifa World Player of the Year
- First ran for president in 2005, shedding to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
- Graduated with a trade degree from a US college after being accused of lacking training
- Inaugurated as president in January 2018
Be taught extra: George Weah’s scorecard after one three hundred and sixty five days
When all became over, he asked when we had been flying house. Cameraman Phil, by now in a issue drawing advance terror, replied: “In lower than an hour.”
“The man desires a automobile, lawful away,” barked the president.
And, whereas one in every of his officers called the airline, Phil became impulsively bundled into but one other safety automobile and rushed, lights flashing as soon as extra, to the airport.
It be most frequently said that each person’s smartly that ends smartly.
But you might perhaps per chance furthermore no longer hear that from Phil.
Irrespective of his high-spin, sirened, screeching walk for the aircraft, he overlooked his flight as a minimum.
So, even for the legendary George Weah there are evidently limits to a president’s powers.