Can President Weah revive Liberian football?

The Herald

MONROVIA. — When a former Ballon d’Or winner was elected as the country’s President, most Liberians would have thought their fortunes on the football pitch would be transformed.

Four and a half years on, stakeholders are still hoping George Weah can dribble past mounting problems and help lift the national game.

The 55-year-old was sworn in as President in January 2018, promising to turn the economy around, fight corruption, reform education and healthcare, and create tens of thousands of jobs for the poor.

But, most of the way through his six-year term in office, some of his biggest supporters believe football’s financial struggles and lack of development, infrastructure and investment stem from the West African country’s broken economy.

“The government has other priorities like education, the challenging health sector among others,” Liberia Football Association (LFA) technical director Henry Browne told BBC Sport Africa.

“In the 1980s and ‘90s, every government entity infused money into football, which is not the case now.

“We are still behind in terms of adequate financial support. Expectations are high on the government from other sectors, but I think it needs to increase its support so that we can start to compete.”

Many had expected Weah to be as successful a President as he was a footballer.

The former Liberia striker made his name in Europe at Monaco, Paris St-Germain and AC Milan before brief spells at Manchester City and Chelsea.

On the eve of his inauguration, then-LFA boss Musa Bility predicted a bright future for football. After all, Weah promised to make “transforming the lives of all Liberians” the “singular mission” of his presidency.

Bility also sat on the Confederation of African Football’s executive committee, but was given a 10-year ban by Fifa in July 2019 for breaching its code of ethics.

Liberia was embroiled in civil war during the 1990s, but the national team had some of their best days, with Weah leading them to the African Cup of Nations finals in 1996 and 2002.

While still a player, he served as the national team’s technical director between 2000 and 2002 and launched an unsuccessful bid to run the LFA after retiring in 2004, before turning to politics a year later.

It is now two decades since the Lone Stars appeared at a major tournament and the country’s national stadium, the Samuel Kanyon Doe (SKD) sports complex, was one of several deemed unfit to hold international matches by Caf and Fifa last August.

Liberia have a better chance than ever of making the next Nations Cup finals in Cote d’Ivoire in 2024, with their qualifying group reduced to three teams after Zimbabwe were removed.

But, after an opening defeat by Morocco, the financially-stricken LFA are searching for a new coach after deciding not to extend the contract of Peter Butler.

Former Lyon and PSG player James Debbah — also Weah’s cousin — shared the international stage with the President for more than two decades but sees politics as very different from football.

“We were successful when he was on the field,” Debbah (52) said.

“It is a lot more different now trying to reconcile everyone, bringing former professional players to work at the Ministry of Youth & Sports and trying to get the country back on track.” — BBC Sport Africa.

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