James Kiawoin, Liberia
Liberia’s proudest moments on the world football stage came between 2000 and 2002. During that time, Liberia’s average ranking in FIFA’s Coca-Cola World Rankings was 83 (Liberia was ranked 66 in July 2001). Liberia qualified for the 2002 African Nations Cup and missed the Japan/Korea World Cup by a single point. The story from then until now has been a constant flux between managerial changes, disappointing results away from home, and an unfamiliar squad every game. Yet, Liberians still believe that the current team will replicate the success of the team that was the highlight of my childhood in a time of war.
Liberia’s footballing success in first part of the century was based on the work ethics and determination of “Weah’s Eleven”. They were nicknamed “Weah’s Eleven” because the team was centered around football legend, George Weah, the footballer turned politician and the winner of the 1995 FIFA’s World Player of the Year Award. George Weah is the only African to have accomplished such feat. “Weah’s Eleven” produced many magical moments in Monrovia and other parts of the continent with the most notable being beating a star studded Nigerian team and humiliating Ghana in Accra. Liberia beat Chad, Sudan, Sierra Leone, Cape Verde and many other teams in that time span. They were unstoppable. George Weah and his colleagues represented hope for Liberia during the peak of the civil war and bragging rights for Liberians whose identities were pegged with the brutal scenes relayed on the international media. Despite the financial hardship that plagued the nation, Liberians would flood the national stadium to watch their team play and many people were glued to their radios on the weekends to join in the spectacle that occurred in Monrovia. After every match, the city would not sleep because people would be up all nights in bars celebrating the unending victories. There were countless songs and T-shirts made to celebrate the team’s heroic performances and every Liberian (no exaggeration) knew the structure of the team. The team made it possible for Liberians to put aside their differences for ninety minutes and proclaim the greatness of their nation. The players received grand welcomes every time they came for international duties or won an away game.
Since our last Africa Nations Cup in Mali in 2002, we have not come near second best in the group stages of the qualifying stage. Liberians are constantly disappointed by the team’s performances and the knowledge of the team became increasingly abysmal. I proud myself for being well informed about issues related to football but I cannot name ten players from the current Liberian national team. Attendances are poor and there is a general lack of interest in the team’s affair except once in a while when they win in Monrovia. No one can remember the last time Liberia won an away game. Football is in a horrible state in Liberia. The national leagues are losing fans by the day to European football. The only league that has a huge following is the county meet—an annual competition between the different regions in Liberia—but even this league cannot match the showing Liberians were used to ten years ago.
The Liberian story highlights a lack of continuity after a run of success but the syndrome is not unique to Liberia. Cameroun, Nigeria, South Africa, Senegal, Morocco and a host of other teams were once great powers in African and world football but today their performances do not tell the story of the past. Cameroun, Nigeria, and South Africa were all absent in the last Africa Nations Cup while Senegal and Morocco did not make it past the group stages. The demise of these teams is a clarion call for massive investments in youth teams and the involvement of young players in the national teams to learn from the already established professionals. The involvement of young players in the team make the transition process smooth and it gives the general public confidence that after a successful generation departs, there will be more than capable heirs to fill the void. There is no doubt that these teams have struggled in this transition process and Liberia is not an exception.
On a positive note, Liberia recently pulled a gritty win against Namibia to put themselves on a strong foundation for qualifications for the AFCON 2013. The venue of the game was Monrovia so I am very skeptical that the renaissance I have been craving for has begun. I have no doubt that a win away from home by the current team would win over many people who believe the country should abandon football and direct the much-needed funds towards reconstruction because results are not going our way. Liberians are hoping to see a win away from home and it will not be easy looking at the standard of football on the continent. Liberians are waiting for the days of old— the days of winning. Hope is good but in a world of reality, an evaluation of hope is a good thing. Liberia’s ability to rise again depends on the stamping out of corruption from the beautiful game, investment by the government and commitment from the players. With these, Liberia will rise again.
James Kiawoin is Liberian first-year student at Colorado College. He is interested in Economic Development and sports on the African continent. He has written 3 articles for AfricanYouthJournals. Read them here, here and here.