Reviving Liberian Football

Liberia's famous footballing son George Weah could've inspired a golden generation but war & politics have got in the way. Welcome to IBWM Chris McQuade.

African Football remains in a state of flux, following on from the horrific events in Angola in January 2010 came the magnificently successful FIFA World Cup, where Ghana were a dastardly hand ball away from the Semi-Finals. Since then has been the to-ing and fro-ing of the status of the Nigerian football team and their participation in International Competition and the year rounded off with an African team in the final of the World Club Cup. As Africa looks back on 2010 with mixed feelings they prepare for another year of Continental football.

In 2012 the African Nations Cup will take place and a team who have not participated since 2002 hope to make it back a decade later. Liberia relied then on their most famous son and the first Non-European winner of the Ballon D'or - George Weah - to lead them there. In that time however there has been significant suffering for the people of Liberia as a terrible Civil War gripped the country between 1999-2003. It was only Weah's dazzling ability even in his career's twilight years that kept The Lone Stars on the path to Qualification. As they topped their group and moved onto the finals, it was to be a disappointing tournament as they returned winless. It was to be Weah's last significant contribution to his national team as the team was dissolved, yes, dissolved by their Sports Minister in 2002.

The Civil war in Liberia ended in 2003 and the country has been putting itself and it's sport back together since. Ever the patriot Weah has not been far from the National affairs of his country, even running for office in 2005. Liberia's football team has suffered without his influence and in the war-torn country as they won only twice in two qualifying campaigns coming bottom of their group both times.

In April 2010 the President of the Liberian FA said that football in his country was 'dead' and that Fifa must help to revive it.  However work to revive it had only become concentrated after the fateful events in 2008. In the recently renovated Samuel K Doe stadium 8 Liberian fans were killed in a crush thought to be the fault of overcrowding. Following on from that terrible event, Fifa, the Liberian Government and the Liberian FA agreed to new codes of conduct and regulation to ensure that there was room for development in the national game. Since then Liberian football has been on the mend. Though it must be emphasized that this was not an isolated incident in African football, as in 2009 the relatively well progressed footballing nation of the Ivory Coast suffered a similar tragedy as 22 died in another crush.

In terms of rebuilding, the examples for Liberia to hope to emulate has been the fortunes of Serbia, Bosnia & Herzegovinia and Montenengro. These national teams emerged from the fires of the Kosovo war and the partition of Yugoslavia. Edin Dzeko spoke of being 6 years old at the time of the bombing can remember the aftermath and playing in streets. Since those days all three countries have established themselves as top footballing nations with Serbia qualifying for the World Cup in 2010 as a single Independent nation for the first time. Beyond that One does not need to look further than the success of Montengro in their recent qualifying campaign to see that football can emerge from the ashes of Civil War.

African football is however a world away yet from their European counterparts but if Liberia need inspiration they need only look to the war torn Balkans for proof that it can be done, even if one must clear their pitch of Mines before training can begin.

Liberia must build from youth up if they are to qualify for the competition in 2012 their current squad has 9 players under the age of 25, 3 of whom are 20 years old. In other words they would have been 9 at the War's beginning. These young players are currently plying their trade far away from their home land with the wonderfully named football teams. Not one plays for the Invincible Eleven but as Liberia rarely play in the youth competitions and their league is still in the process of rebuilding under the eye of FIFA their youth must look to other countries to play professionally. Perhaps the most famous of which would be Sekou Jabateh Oliseh who plays for CSKA and - if rumours are to be believed - is attracting the attention of Italy, Spain and England. I'm afraid I'm not an expert on African football so if you know of other exciting prospects such as Sekou or Bill Sheriff please leave a comment.

Also Liberia have been given a kinder group as they had in the run up to 2010. No Algeria or Senegal stand in their way. 2 games into the group they have not yet won, however they face the Cape Verde in their next 2 games and their success or failure will depend on those games. If the youth can show the class that has brought them to some of Europe and Africa’s biggest leagues then they may yet show the signs of life that Musa Hassan Bility so passionately wants.

However football does not cease in the years after 2012, if Liberia is to be once again considered to be a footballing nation they must put their house in order. What has begun must not be allowed to flounder and the existence of peace in the country should spur the Nation on to better things. One must only look to the footballing nation’s who surround them as proof that it can be done. The Ivory Coast reached two World Cup’s back-to-back with Didier Drogba and the Toure brothers paving the way. The aforementioned Ghana won the Under-20 World Championships in 2009 the first African team to do so, many of those players went on to graduate to the national team. The same national team who made it so far in South Africa, it was in fact the star of the Under-20 Championships Dominic Adiyiah, whose header Luis Suarez blocked with his arms.

As for the only African Ballon D'or winner, he plans to run again this year and if successful he may just witness his pride and joy reach the African Nations Cup for the first time without him.

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