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Newsmakers
August 31st, 2005 6:39PM

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By Paul Kennedy, Managing Editor
Soccer America Magazine

LIBERIAN ELECTION
Mr. George goes to Monrovia

With less than two months to go before elections, former soccer superstar George WeahÆs bid to become Liberian president was in danger of being derailed by opponents.

Electoral officials were considering a petition to disqualify Weah on the grounds that he holds French citizenship. The Liberian-born Weah took out French citizenship while playing in France - which his opponents argued meant he had renounced his Liberian citizenship since the West African country doesnÆt allow dual citizenship.

''What they are saying is a joke,'' the 38-year-old Weah told Reuters. ''I am a Liberian, I cannot go to court to reclaim my Liberian nationality. I have not renounced my Liberian citizenship. Even if I had a French passport, I have not renounced [my Liberian citizenship], so I cannot go to court.

''Why is it now that the people who say I am not a Liberian are coming out? Why did they not come out when I was captain of the national team, and when I served as a goodwill ambassador for this country?''

As captain, Weah underwrote the expenses of the Lone Star, the Liberian national team. He has been a representative promoting the U.N. childrenÆs agency UNICEF.

WeahÆs efforts were further complicated by a decree by the Liberian government that banned all public demonstrations before the Oct. 11 election designed to return Liberia to democracy after 14 years of civil war.

The decree followed a call by the pro-Weah Yana Boys Association to hold a mass street demonstration to protest the attempt to disqualify Weah, whose Congress for a Democratic Change (CDC) party is one of 27 parties offering candidates for president.

Weah said there had been a ''spreading of rumors, gossip, propaganda, misinformation and the brewing of tension,'' and he needed CDC supporters to set the record straight.

WeahÆs climb from the shantytowns of Monrovia, the Liberian capital, to stardom in Europe made him a hugely popular figure in Liberia.

LiberiaÆs civil war began on Christmas Day 1989 and continued until president Charles Taylor flew into exile in Nigeria in August 2003. A transitional government has ruled ever since.

WeahÆs career coincided with the civil war that took the lives of an estimated 200,000 Liberians. ItÆs been said his success was the only positive development in the West African nation in two decades.

He debuted for French club Monaco in 1988 and later played for Paris St. Germain, AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester City and Marseille. In 1995, Weah became the first African to win the European Player of the Year award. After a brief stint in the United Arab Emirates, he retired in 2002 and moved his family from New York, where his wife, Clare, was raised, to Miami.

After retiring, Weah, popularly known as ''Mr. George,'' opened businesses in Miami and Monrovia, the capital of Liberia. Most importantly, he launched Clare TV (named after his wife) and two radio stations, which have given him great clout.

Liberia was founded by freed slaves living in the United States who returned to Africa in the early 1800s, and it gained its independence in 1848.

Weah says itÆs time Liberia, AfricaÆs oldest independent republic, changed.

''Look, weÆve been independent 157 years and yet weÆve never developed,'' he told the Paris magazine France Football. ''I dream of big things for our country. It has to regain its dignity. Modestly, I believe IÆm best placed to do the job.''

WeahÆs critics argue he doesnÆt have the education to lead his country, though many of his countrymen believe that isnÆt necessary.

''Look at how all the intellectuals wrecked our country,'' a Liberian told the BBC earlier this year. ''How could George do any worse?''

SILVER SCREEN
Henry in Spike Lee film?

Arsenal star Thierry Henry, already one of the most successful pitchmen on English television, might be taking his talents to Hollywood.

The Frenchman has reportedly been offered a role in director Spike LeeÆs new film, ''The Inside Man'' with Denzel Washington, Jodie Foster and Clive Owen.

Henry, whose ''Va-va-va-voom'' ads for the Renault Clio were among the most popular in the history of British advertising, met Lee through mutual friend Tony Parker, the French star of the NBAÆs San Antonio Spurs. Henry has traveled with Parker during the NBA playoffs, in the English offseason, and he met Lee, a huge NBA fan.

''Spike reckons Thierry has the talent and charisma to be a star,'' Lee biographer Kaleem Aftab told the London Mirror. ''IÆve seen them together and itÆs like a couple of kids just fooling around. ThierryÆs invited Spike to his box at Arsenal many times, and this is SpikeÆs way of returning the favor.''

ROONEY ENGAGEMENT
Fiancee shows off her tastes

After David Beckham, Wayne Rooney generates the most press attention among English soccer stars.

To the dismay of British tabloids, Rooney is engaged to be married, theoretically meaning the end of his wild partying.

RooneyÆs fiancee, 19-year-old Coleen McLoughlin, hopes to emulate Beckham and his equally famous wife Victoria, the former Spice Girl Posh, by creating their own coat of arms.

Heraldry dates back to the 1100s in Britain, where a coat of arms was created so a knightÆs followers could recognize him in battle.

Anyone can have a coat of arms, but the design must be approved by the College of Arms.

Elements to a coat of arms have changed since Medieval days. The BeckhamsÆ crest shows a white swan perched on what looks like the crown of the Premier League trophy.

McLoughlin says their crest, which will cost more than $5,000, will reflect her love of shopping and chocolate.

''It will have a Chloe bag and shoes on it, and some Maltesers - my favorite sweets,'' she told Closer magazine.

(This story originally appeared in the August 22, 2005 issue of Soccer America Magazine.)



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