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The football legend who wants to be Liberia’s president

Liberians are voting to choose a successor to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who is stepping down after serving 12 years as Africa’s first elected woman leader.

The nation will be choosing between former international footballer George Weah and the current Vice President Joseph Boakai for its new president.

But who is George Weah?

Here’s everything you need to know about the striker-turned politician.

Who is George Weah?

The 51-year-old grew up in poverty in Liberia.

He was raised by his grandmother in one of the worst slums of Liberia’s capital Monrovia, but he went on to have a glittering football career in the 1990s.

He played for a number of different teams in Africa before being transferred to Monaco where he was coached by Arsene Wenger.

He also played for Paris Saint-Germain, AC Milan, Chelsea and Manchester City.

He is the first and only African player to have won both FIFA’s World Player of the Year trophy and the Ballon d’Or.

George Weah playing for Chelsea against Spurs in January 2000
George Weah playing for Chelsea against Spurs in January 2000

What is his political background?

Weah is running for the presidency for the second time.

He ran in 2005 and formed the Congress for Democratic Change but was defeated by current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Then in 2011 he came second as a vice presidential candidate.

He is currently senator for Montserrado County in Liberia after being elected in 2014.

General Director of French sport daily L�Equipe and France Football Francois Moriniere, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, President of the Amaury Group Marie-Odile Amaury, African football legend George Weah and FIFA Secretary General Jerome Valcke pose for a family photo after the creation of the FIFA Ballon d'Or (Golden Ball) award during a FIFA and France Football joint press conference on July 5, 2010 in Sandton, near Johannesburg. AFP PHOTO / STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN (Photo credit should read ST
He is the first and only African player to have won the Ballon d’Or

What is his party and what is he promising?

His party is the Congress for Democratic Change.

Its core values include grass roots democracy, social justice and transparency.

Weah has put emphasis on education, jobs, infrastructure and health care.

Coming from an under-privileged background, Weah is trying to give people hope for the future.

“Like many of you, I have been a victim of poverty,” he has said.

He has pledged to create 50,000 jobs in the first 150 days.

 International soccer player and trainer of the Liberian Lone Stars national team George Weah (R) gestures as he speaks to teammates during a training session, 09 January 2002 in Bingerville near Abidjan. The Liberian team is preparing there ahead of the 2002 soccer African Nations Cup, to be played in Mali from January 19 to February 10. (other player is unidentified) AFP PHOTO ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
He is also passionate about football at a local level

What else do we know about him?

His passion for football and his country shine through in his generosity.

He has contributed millions to Liberia’s national Lonestar team, personally paying for team kits, plane tickets and accommodation during tournaments.

He appears to have also passed on his footballing skills to his son, Timothy, who signed a professional football contract with Paris Saint-Germain in July.

Former international Liberian football star turned politician George Weah, greets supporters during a campaign rally in Monrovia on October 8, 2017, three days ahead of the country's elections. Liberians go to the polls on October 10, to pick their first new president in 12 years as Ellen Johnson Sirleaf closes the page on two terms dominated by post-war reconstruction and the Ebola crisis. / AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
He has a loyal following in his home city of Monrovia

Does he have a chance at winning the election?

He won 38.4% of votes in the first round on 10 October, while his opponent Boakai came second with 28.8%.

This triggered a run-off as neither made it past the 50% needed for an outright win.

Weah has the support of the current president Ms Sirleaf, but critics say she is manipulating him so she can continue to push an agenda when she steps down after 12 years in power.

Ms Sirleaf initially said she would support her vice president, but she has toned down support for either candidate amid allegations that she preferred Mr Weah.

Weah is also accused of having too vague a political platform by critics who talk about his lack of experience in politics.

However, Weah has a faithful youth following, which is important because a fifth of Liberia’s electorate is aged 18 to 22.

Liberian Vice President and presidential candidate Joseph Boakai prepares to cast his vote at a polling station in Monrovia during presidential and legislatives elections on October 10, 2017. Liberians began voting on October 10 to replace President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, in a contest set to complete the country's first democratic transition of power in more than 70 years. / AFP PHOTO / ISSOUF SANOGO (Photo credit should read ISSOUF SANOGO/AFP/Getty Images)
Vice President Joseph Boakai, Weah’s rival

He also has a loyal following in his hometown of Monrovia.

Shoeshiner Andrew Janjay Johnson, who works in the local market, says Weah can build a better life for the people of Liberia.

“I believe that whenever we give him a chance, he will be able to give a better Liberia to the youth and the homeless,” he said.

George Weah has a vision for his country, and is confident he can take his success from the pitch to the presidency.

“You know I’ve been in competitions, tough ones too, and I came out victorious. So I know Boakai cannot defeat me,” he said.

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