On June 11 Liberia's most accomplished soccer player, former AC Milan striker George Weah (SI, April 16, 2001), scored three goals in a star-studded farewell match held in his honor in Marseille. It was a homecoming of sorts for Weah, 38. France was one of many stops in the brilliant career of one of the world's top players, perhaps the best ever from Africa and Liberia's most prized export.
Now King George, as he's known to Liberians, is heading home for real, hoping his 3.2 million countrymen will soon call him President. Weah is running for Liberia's top office, which has been vacant since warlord Charles Taylor was driven into exile two years ago. Weah is a political neophyte, but his standing as an icon and a political outsider who can court voters disillusioned with the corruption and violence rampant in the war-torn country make him the front-runner in the October election. His dozens of potential opponents, he says, "never contributed more than what I did to my country."
During his globetrotting career--he also played in England and the United Arab Emirates--Weah often returned to his homeland despite the chaos caused by Taylor's regime. Weah toured schools; spoke out against the use of children as soldiers; single-handedly supported Liberia's national team, the Lone Star; and parceled out millions in donations large and small to the poor. In the past Weah demurred when asked about politics. But last September an alliance of Liberian professionals and expatriates formed the Congress for Democratic Change and begged him to be their candidate. There are worries that his lack of education (he dropped out of high school) and experience will make him vulnerable to manipulation. But Weah says the real issue is rebuilding a country in economic and social ruin. "Because of the Liberian people, I became successful," he says. "I don't think it would be honest of me to run from them." --Phil Zabriskie