African footballing great George Weah has recalled how Arsene Wenger helped him combat racism after he moved to France, and acknowledged how the current Arsenal coach was a “father figure” for him at Monaco. The 51-year-old, who enters the final runoff ballot of the Liberian presidential elections on Tuesday, joined Monaco from Cameroonian heavyweights Tonnerre Yaounde in 1988 after being recruited by Wenger, and has credited his former mentor as supporting him through an initial teething period.
“When I moved to Monte Carlo I didn’t play for the first six months,” Weah told The Guardian, “but I was determined to showcase my talent, to prove to those back home, who thought that my coming to Europe was a waste of time, that I was a good player. “[Wenger] was a father figure and regarded me as his son,” Weah continued. “This was a man, when racism was at its peak, who showed me love. He wanted me to be on the pitch for him every day.”
Weah had already won Liberian titles with Mighty Barrolle and Invincible Eleven before moving to Monaco after the Cameroon coach – Claude Le Roy – had recommended him to Wenger. “One day, I was quite tired of training and told him that I was having a headache,” Weah continued. “He said to me: ‘George, I know it’s tough but you need to work hard. I believe that with your talent, you can become one of the best players in the world.’
“So, I listened and kept going on,” he concluded. “Besides God, I think that without Arsène, there was no way I would have made it in Europe.” The duo enjoyed success at the Club of the Principality, winning the French Cup in 1991, with Weah also winning the first of three Africa Footballer of the Year awards in 1989.