As a player, George Weah became the first African to win the FIFA World Player of the Year award when shining for Italian football giants AC Milan. A decade and a half later, he has been in South Africa to witness the continent's first FIFA World Cup™ in his role as an analyst for SABC, the South African broadcaster.
Weah, who today combines football and political interests with studying business management in the United States, had, he recalls, "told the world that South Africa was ready for the World Cup" in his role as a bid ambassador. He has been delighted to see that pledge fulfilled by the events of the last month. Here the former Liberia captain tells FIFA.com why this FIFA World has inspired Africa even if the continent's teams proved a disappointment.
FIFA.com: What are your impressions of Africa's first FIFA World Cup?George Weah: I've been here for the past three weeks now. It's one of the most organised World Cups I've ever seen. Everything is fantastic, everything's in order. Security is good, the stadiums are fantastic, the fans are incredible, the games are wonderful, and the fact that the games have had a lot of surprises has made the World Cup a beautiful one.
As an African what does it mean to you to have the world's attention focused on your continent?First of all we are all proud as Africans. Africans have been perceived as not being able to organise, so to organise a World Cup and bring people together, they can see we have a culture of organisation and that is one of the greatest things that has happened to us. This World Cup has united Africans. Africans from everywhere came to the World Cup and have given their support. We know it will leave a legacy.
Is it realistic to talk about a legacy not only for South Africa but for the whole of Africa?I think the World Cup has had an impact. A lot of people came here and can see this happening in Africa. The fact South Africa is developed and has organised a World Cup is something other African countries can be inspired by. What we are seeing here is so fantastic, it is overwhelming.
The fact South Africa is developed and has organised a World Cup is something other African countries can be inspired by.
Only Ghana of the African teams got past the first stage. Where did the others go wrong?Africa's performance as a whole was a disappointment. I was happy Ghana got through although they might have gone out too if they'd lost by another goal or two against Germany in their last group game. We could have done better but were not fully prepared. You could say the level we reached is where we should be but I hope next time we will really prepare and be ready to confront the world and go far. Let's go back to the drawing board and rectify the mistakes that stopped us going further.
What lessons can the African teams learn?We have to believe in our own game and our own culture and play our own style. We don't have the players for the kind of tactics that we play with. The only team that had done well at the African Cup of Nations was Ghana and they proved to be the best African team.
What did you make of Ghana's journey to the last eight?I was not too impressed with Ghana's football because they were not using attacking methods to win – to win the tournament you have to score more goals and they were not scoring a lot. They were too defensive. They scored few goals and conceded even less. I hope next time they come with a lot of strikers to make the difference.
What did you think of Asamoah Gyan, who finished as the top African scorer?I would congratulate Gyan but as a striker he has to be more opportunistic. He relied too much on penalty-kicks. He scored a wonderful goal against the USA but he has to play like he really wants to score because he is always outside the box. My advice to him is to stay in the 18-yard box. I saw that he scored 13 goals last season for his club in France and he needs to work more – as a striker you have to get in the penalty box.
How did you view the South Africa team's campaign?I think they play as a team. I was not looking at any individuals, but I think they have good players, they have young guys who have the strength and will to progress. If they maintain that and work on it, they can make a mark in Africa.
Finally, you played much of your club career in France and Italy – what was the problem for those two national teams?I don't know how they prepared but it was disappointing. I know Italy play very controlled football but when it comes to a tournament if you can't score you have a problem and they didn't play to score. They were defensive but to win a game it is about scoring. I don't know what happened for the former world champions to come here and leave after the first round. With France, of course, we saw what happened. There was a little bit of disunity. The France I knew were always united, always a collective team but not this year so I hope that they rectify that.