Liberian President and former football star George Weah is being criticised for his plan to award former Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger the West African country’s highest honour, AP reports.
Weah, who was elected president of his country last year, plans to honor Wenger and another French coach Claude Le Roy at a ceremony on Friday.
They both played crucial roles in Weah’s 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. 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 Zeogar Wilson said Wenger is to be given the Humane Order of African Redemption with the rank of Knight Grand Commander. Wenger is expected to attend Friday’s ceremony.
But Darius Dillon, an opposition politician, criticised Weah on Wednesday for using the nation’s highest honour and the office of the president to recognise people who only played a role in his “personal life.”
Over the past week, debate in Liberian newspapers and radio shows has mounted over whether the award – usually reserved for individuals who have made an exceptional contribution to Liberia – is right, according to AFP.
“This Knight Grand Commander of the Humane Order of African Redemption title, which the nation can bestow upon Liberian and non- Liberian alike , should not be about the personal connection between the President and Wenger or Le Roy,” Liberian newspaper Front Page Africa wrote in an editorial.
In the streets of Monrovia, some Liberians questioned the timing of such a ceremony, as the poor West African nation grapples with runaway inflation and a host of other economic woes.
“This honouring should not have been prioritised now,” said George Sackie, a 35-year-old teacher.
“Such titles should be given to someone who has served the nation in a distinguished manner,” said Daniel Neufville, an analyst at Ataryee community centre in Monrovia.
The government maintains, though, that both men helped Liberia through helping Weah.
“If Arsene Wenger and Le Roy had not exposed George Weah he would not have been the pride of an entire nation today,” said Andy Quamie, deputy minister of youths and sports.
“They helped Liberia in a distinguished way by helping someone who has become president of our nation … Consequently, Arsene Wenger and Claude Le Roy contributed highly to our nation’s pride.”
Weah was feared as a quick, rangy and versatile forward who was deadly from long range and devastating in front of goal.
In an interview with AFP in 2014, Weah described Wenger as “My coach, my mentor, my father figure.” Weah ’s wife Clar is an ardent Arsenal fan.
After Weah was elected president in January, he invited Wenger to his inauguration, but the Frenchman, in what turned out to be his last season as Arsenal manager, was unable to attend.
Weah’s odyssey “is an unbelievable story,” Wenger added. “But it’s down to the fact that one thing that was common in George’s attitude is being strong mentally, absolutely unbelievably convinced that he has a mission.”