Monrovia, Liberia: Liberia President and former football star George Weah awarded ex-Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger with the country’s highest honour in a ceremony on Friday.
The award, it was disclosed, was for services to African football that included launching Weah’s own acclaimed career.
Wenger found Weah playing for Cameroon’s Tonnerre Yaounde and brought him to French side Monaco in 1988.
The move paved the way for the striker at some of Europe’s top clubs, including AC Milan, Paris St Germain and Chelsea.
In 1995 Weah was named World Footballer of the Year and won the Ballon d’Or, still the only African to win either award.
“You proved yourself as a teacher when you revolutionised forever the approach of scouting young talents all over the planet, particularly throughout Africa,” Weah said of Wenger during a ceremony in the capital Monrovia.
Wenger was named a Knight Grand High Commander of the Humane Order of African Redemption, the highest rank in Liberia’s Order of Distinction.
Fellow coach Claude Le Roy, who first told Wenger about Weah’s talent, also received the award on Friday.
Thousands of spectators clapped and cheered as Wenger received his medal in a hall at the national stadium adorned with the national red, white and blue.
Thousands more listened to the ceremony on the radio in the stadium, once a shelter for people displaced by a civil war that ended fifteen years ago.
Weah’s footballing successes helped launch his political career back home.
His unlikely rise, from kicking a ball on the dusty streets of a Monrovia slum to world fame, won him support in one of the world’s poorest countries.
Development in the West African country has been hobbled by the 14-year civil war that ended in 2003 and an Ebola outbreak which killed thousands from 2013-16.
He succeeded Nobel Peace Prize winner Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as president after a landslide election victory in December last year.
“I think Wenger deserves it. If he had not spotted ambassador Weah in those days, he would not have reached this level,” said university student Cynthia Kollie.
Some took issue with the awards, saying the president’s choice was based on personal ties rather than on what the recipients did for the countr “President Weah is bestowing our nation’s highest honour on his two former football coaches who have made no direct impact or contributed to Liberia’s collective interest,” said Martin Kolle, a student.
EARLIER : Arsene Wenger To Receive Highest Honor In Liberia Visit
Former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger is scheduled to visit Liberia, where he will receive the country’s highest honour from President George Weah, Liberia’s Information Minister Eugene Nagbe said.
The 68-year-old will receive Liberia’s Order of Distinction and be given the title of Knight Grand Commander of the Humane Order of African Redemption – the highest rank possible.
Nagbe confirmed Arsene Wenger’s expected visit, saying it would be an appreciation for the Frenchman’s contribution to Africa’s football.
Wenger will travel to Liberia this week to receive the west African country’s highest honour for his role in the development of the football career of president George Weah.
Another of Weah’s coaches in his formative years, Claude Le Roy, is also to be awarded the country’s highest honour, the government said on Monday. The current coach of the Togolese national team, Claude Le Roy, will also get a national honour on Friday. Claude Le Roy coached Cameroon in 1988 and recommended that Wenger should sign George Weah, who was playing for Cameroonian side Tonnerre Yaoundé at the time.
“They will be honoured by the government of Liberia on August 24, National Flag Day for their role in President George Weah’s footballing career,” a spokesman said. “Both coaches will be awarded the honour at an investiture ceremony in Monrovia.”
Arsene Wenger, who resigned from Arsenal in April after 22 years, coached many African stars during that period, and others from his previous managerial stints in France.
President Weah – a former footballer – played for AS Monaco in the French Ligue 1 under Wenger in 1998.
President Weah has said that Wenger “took care of me like his son” when he went to Monaco, adding that “besides God, I think that without Arsène, there was no way I would have made it in Europe”.
The 51 year-old moved to Europe in 1988 and spent 14 remarkable years with Monaco under his acknowledged ‘father figure’ Arsene Wenger, Paris Saint-Germain and Milan before short stints at Chelsea and Manchester City, finishing his European career in Marseille.
It was during his five years at the Rossoneri from 1995 to 2000 that he confirmed his reputation as one of the world’s most fearsome strikers, winning the Ballon d’Or in 1995 and FIFA World Player of the Year in 1996.
Weah joined Chelsea in 2000 on loan and had an immediate impact, scoring a header on his debut in a derby game against Tottenham.
He scored five goals in 14 matches for the club, starting the 2000 FA Cup final against Aston Villa as they beat the Midlanders 1-0.
Weah was voted African Footballer of the Year three times, won Italy’s Serie A twice, the French league once and various domestic cups in both countries.
Meanwhile, Arsène Wenger has indicated he will wait a few more weeks before deciding on his future but admitted he is enjoying his spare time since leaving Arsenal at the end of last season.
Wenger, who stepped down in May after almost 22 years in charge, had initially expected to make a decision after the World Cup. But having worked as a pundit in Russia for beIN Sports, the Frenchman now intends to take a little longer to make up his mind as he takes an extended holiday in Corsica.
“I decided not to decide,” he told reporters. “I was intoxicated for such a long time that I promised myself not to make any decisions before September. [It’s going] even better than I thought. When you have been as busy as I have been, you always fear a little emptiness.
“But I quickly organised myself in this new stage of my life, I do a lot of sport, here I eat with my friends. I talk a lot too, I can sit for hours contemplating the horizon, I read every day, right now a book by Philip Roth called I Married a Communist.”
Wenger also confirmed that Thierry Henry is keen on succeeding Gus Poyet as Bordeaux manager after the Uruguayan was suspended last week.
“Yes, he wants to do it, he is intelligent and he has the qualities,” said Wenger. “The existential question that we always ask ourselves is whether we are ready to sacrifice our life for the coaching profession.”
Wenger has been linked with various posts since leaving Arsenal but has yet to make a firm decision whether he will seek another post as a manager. Now 68, he rejected the possibility of taking up another profession such as archeology or a career in politics.
“For archeology, I do not know enough about soil compositions. Nor politics. What I like about the job of a manager is that we have theories, but on Saturdays we have to show that they work and the result is immediate. In politics, between theory and proof by demonstration, things take a lot longer.”