USMNT’s Tim Weah arrives on World Cup stage

Tim Weah has reached the World Cup stage with the United States.  (Jeff Dean/AP Photo)
Tim Weah has reached the World Cup stage with the United States. (Jeff Dean/AP Photo)

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The name resonates across borders, generations and genders, having passed through the great cathedrals of European football for a dozen years before spilling over into African politics.

Anyone who has followed the sport in the 1990s and into the new century – or is simply passionate about football’s rich history – knows George Weah, the superstar striker who remains the only African to win World Player of the Year honors .

Nearly two decades after his retirement, he remains a luminous figure. He is, after all, the president – not of a club, company or football federation, but of his native Liberia.

Not that it ever mattered to his son, Tim.

“I just looked at my dad as my dad,” Tim Weah said. “I haven’t begun to realize [he was famous] until people stop him to take pictures at the mall.

On the court these days, 22-year-old Tim Weah carries the family name. This month, barring last-minute setbacks, he’ll do something his decorated dad never did: he’ll play in the World Cup.

Born in Brooklyn and hailing from Queens, Weah is a winger for the US national team, which will open Group B on November 21 against Wales in suburban Doha.

“He lives through me because he never had the chance,” Tim said of his 56-year-old father. “He is excited. He is happy.”

Despite all his sporting achievements during an 18-year career, George Weah failed to qualify for the World Cup with Liberia’s weak schedule. The closest the Lone Stars came was 2002, when they finished one point behind Nigeria for an automatic place.

That absence relegated him to a group of all-time greats, including Northern Ireland’s George Best, Wales’ Ryan Giggs and the multinational Alfredo Di Stefano, who had stellar careers but missed out on the greatest world football event.

Tim Weah (pronounced Way-UH) has made a name for himself, moving from the New York youth scene to Paris Saint-Germain, Glasgow Celtic and, over the past three seasons, title-winning Lille of French Ligue 1 2020-21. .

Eligible to represent four countries — France through residency and Liberia and Jamaica through lineage — he has been on the U.S. program since the U-15 national team.

“I didn’t know anything other than the United States,” he said. “The choice was very simple.

Weah played at the U-17 World Cup in 2017 and made his senior team debut in 2018. In the build-up to the 2022 World Cup, he started eight of 14 qualifiers, marked in Jamaica and contributed to a few other goals.

He’s a different type of player to his father, who was a centre-forward with a mix of strength, speed and a devastating shot. Tim lacks his father’s physique, leaner and more dependent on speed and creativity to stretch defenses from a wide position, create space for teammates and facilitate scoring threats. George Weah has averaged nearly a goal for every two games in his career; Tim has never scored more than three times in a club season.

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Despite his famous father, “what he has achieved speaks for itself,” said American midfielder Tyler Adams, 23, who has known the Weah family since he was a teenager.

“We have to remember,” said USA midfielder Yunus Musah, “Tim is his own player and he’s doing his own thing now.”

Defender Walker Zimmerman recalled hearing about his teammate’s revered relative years ago.

“I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, this is crazy. This guy is royal.’

None of this would have been possible if George Weah hadn’t walked into a branch of the Chase Manhattan Bank in Queens in the early 1990s and been wowed by a customer service representative named Clar Duncan.

George Weah was born in Monrovia, Liberia and has played most of his career in Africa and Europe. But he also regularly visited his family in New York; Staten Island is home to the largest Liberian expatriate community outside of Africa.

Duncan and Weah married in 1993, and as Weah’s overseas career boomed, they started a family in New York. Tim was their third child. He grew up in Valley Stream on Long Island, just outside of Queens, and after the family moved to South Florida for four years, they settled in Queens.

His mother was one of his first coaches. “If I was the coach,” George Weah told the U.S. Soccer Federation in 2018, “maybe Tim won’t play because I’m a very tough coach.”

George Weah was also a very difficult player to defend. With Monaco between 1988 and 1992, he won the first of his three African player of the year trophies. His next stops were PSG and AC Milan for a 6½ year run that included three league titles. In 1995, he was voted European, African and World Player of the Year and top scorer in the UEFA Champions League.

The United States Men’s National Team will be one of the youngest teams at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and will feature many players new to the global tournament. (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

Weah used sport and the national team to help bring joy to a country shattered by civil war. “I decided to be strong and play to improve my country’s negative image,” he told the Guardian in 2000.

Liberia has never qualified for the World Cup and has qualified twice for the Africa Cup of Nations. The current team is ranked No. 150 by FIFA and 46th out of 54 teams in the continent.

Tim Weah appreciates the hurdles his dad went through to become a success.

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“You see a lot of struggle, but in that struggle there is a lot of happiness,” Tim Weah said of Liberia. “It humbles you, coming from a place [in America and Europe] where it’s a fast life and, with a lot of people we meet, it’s just transactional. You go back and free your mind, and it’s such a loving environment.

Elder Weah did not turn his back on his homeland. In 2004, ESPN presented him with the Arthur Ashe Courage Award for his humanitarian efforts, and he used his wealth to help fund the national team.

George Weah attended the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and brought 10-year-old Tim. They attended several matches, including the Spain-Netherlands final, and explored the country. The exposure to high-level football, Tim said, motivated him to take the game seriously.

“It was definitely at a time when I was like, ‘Okay, seeing this, I really want to be in the team the next time I’m at a World Cup,'” he said. declared.

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At 14, Weah was invited to join PSG’s youth academy. His teammates included other future pros such as Yacine Adli (AC Milan), Odsonne Edouard (Crystal Palace) and Boubakary Soumaré (Leicester City).

Three years later, he signed his first professional contract. Most of the two seasons were spent with PSG’s B team, but there were tastes of first-team football, and he shared the pitch with superstars Neymar and Kylian Mbappé.

Regular playing time was hard to come by, so PSG loaned him out to Celtic for the final half of the 2018-19 season. He scored three goals in Glasgow’s club championship run.

Without a firm path to talent-rich PSG, Weah moved to Lille, but hamstring injuries cost him most of the 2019-20 campaign. Returning to full the following season, Weah helped the northern club win their first Ligue 1 title in 10 years and end PSG’s three-year reign.

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At international level, his senior debut came in March 2018 as part of the process of rebuilding the US program with young players after his failure to qualify for the World Cup in Russia. Weah became the first player born in the 2000s to play for the national team. Two months later, he posted his first tenure and his first goal.

Its integration, however, took time.

“Timmy was pretty raw in terms of tactics and such, but he ticked the boxes for pure speed,” said Dave Sarachan, the acting coach at the time. “It didn’t happen right away. I had several conversations with him, talking about being patient. You could tell he would be a guy for the future.

The USA men’s World Cup team will face Wales, Iran and group favorites England in the group stage of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar (Video: Joshua Carroll/The Washington Post)

As Tim’s career took shape, his father delved deeper into politics. A failed presidential candidate in 2005, he was elected to the Liberian Senate before launching a successful presidential campaign in 2017. He is in a six-year term to lead a nation of 5 million people.

During diplomatic trips to Europe, George often visits his son. During the winter and summer holidays, Tim finds himself in Liberia, Jamaica and New York.

Football is not the only family influence that has shaped his life. The music too.

“In our house, my parents played Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, a lot of old Jamaican tunes,” he said.

At home, Tim has built a recording studio and works with his French producer, Fleetzy. He recorded several tracks; his preference is trap soul, a subgenre of rhythm and blues that borrows from rap and soul.

“Football comes first,” he said. “But we have so much free time that it doesn’t take much effort to sit down and write. At the same time, I rest my body, I do something that I like.

Weah was the obvious choice to become the designated DJ for Team USA. A wide variety of music animates the locker room: trap soul, hip-hop, reggaeton, country, as well as “old-school music for coaches”, he says with a smile.

Weah noted the improvisational qualities in football and music.

“You have to be creative both on the field and in the studio,” he said. “You have to think outside the box. You gotta give people what they love, whether it’s stuff [on the field] or catchy lyrics.

In Qatar, the young American team will have to hit the right notes to emerge from a balanced group with England, the Americans’ second opponents, on November 25.

“A team is like a band,” Weah said. “We all have to work together to get the right result. For the sound to be in tune, we all have to play the same chords. Everyone must play together. »

He will do his part in front of his family and in front of a father who never had the chance to play on football’s biggest stage.

“You know, that’s life: some people go to World Cups and some people don’t, so hopefully I can just have the opportunity to do the right thing and have a good World Cup. “said Tim Weah. “It will make him super happy.”

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