MONROVIA, Liberia (AP) — Liberian President and former soccer star George Weah’s plan to honor Arsene Wenger with the West African country’s highest award was criticized by opposition politicians on Wednesday.
Weah, who was elected president of his country last year, plans to honor the former Arsenal manager and another French soccer coach, Claude Le Roy, at a ceremony on Friday after they both played crucial roles in his career.
Le Roy discovered Weah playing for a club in Cameroon in the late 1980s and recommended him to Wenger, then the coach of Monaco in France. Wenger took the advice, signed the Liberian and Weah went on to play for Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan, and became the first and still only African to win the FIFA world player of the year award in 1995.
Liberian sports minister D. Zeogar Wilson said Wenger will be given the Humane Order of African Redemption with the rank of Knight Grand Commander. Wenger and Le Roy, the current Togo coach, are both expected to attend Friday’s ceremony, government officials said.
But Darius Dillon, an opposition politician, criticized Weah for using the nation’s highest honor and the office of the president to recognize people who only played a role in his “personal life.”
“The nation’s highest honor cannot be given to somebody who has not done something directly for the country,” Dillion said.
Other political opponents of Weah have also questioned the decision. Emmanuel Gonquoi of the Economic Freedom Fighters of Liberia called it “a complete waste of time.”
Weah is Liberia’s best sportsman ever and the golden years of his career coincided with the civil war in Liberia.
Wilson, the sports minister, said he disagreed with the criticism.
“During the heat of the civil war the only good thing that came out of Liberia was George Weah and his soccer prowess,” Wilson said. “How can we not honor these guys who made him get where he got?”
Weah dedicated his award to Wenger when he was named world player of the year and has said the former Arsenal coach was the most important influence on his career. He invited Wenger to his inauguration as president in January, although Wenger couldn’t attend.
Wenger has also praised Weah.
“The life of this guy is a real film,” Wenger said early this year. “It’s unbelievable. It can make a fantastic film.”
The 51-year-old Weah retired from soccer in 2003 and turned almost immediately to politics, failing in his first attempt to become president of Liberia in 2005. Weah’s victory by a landslide in last year’s election highlighted his inspiring story — he was born in a slum surrounded by swamps on the outskirts of the Liberian capital Monrovia and overcame early hardship to become an international soccer star and then president of his country.