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George Weah

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  • 8 months later...

George Weah plays for Liberia against Nigeria, aged 51


I remember going to a game with him playing ,think it was maybe cup game against Leicester  i done Poyet to score 1st and Chelsea win 3-1 , alas Poyet scored 1st , Leicester drew level , Chelsea went 2-1 up and with about 10mins to go, Weah clean through ,1 on 1 sliced 1 wildly wide ,final score 2-1 done me out of over a grand grrrr


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8 hours ago, mccg said:

George Weah plays for Liberia against Nigeria, aged 51


 Poyet scored 1st 



One of my first favourite Chelsea players (I was 5 when he signed, lolol). My father loved him!

Can we find a clone, please? (Vecino, just because they both are Uruguayans, is NOT one)


Sorry about yer wager loss, mate.:(

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1 minute ago, Vesper said:


One of my first favourite Chelsea players (I was 5 when he signed, lolol). My father loved him!

Can we find a clone, please? (Vecino, just because they both are Uruguayans, is NOT one)


Sorry about yer wager loss, mate.:(

Yeah i remember watching him scoring on his debut against Sunderland i think (you only 5 makes me feel old lol)and thought this guy will be fun, done wonders for my fantasy footie lol. Agree a clone would be nice 4sure! Yeah think me and bro would have extended our stay if the wager was won, triple grrrrr!

Heres some fun with Poyet ...



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15 minutes ago, mccg said:

Heres some fun with Poyet ...

Used to love Gus. Never fucked about was all business. Cant think what he might have done without his injury when he came. But was pissed when he went to Spuds Had a good head on him.

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1 minute ago, Unionjack said:

Used to love Gus. Never fucked about was all business. Cant think what he might have done without his injury when he came. But was pissed when he went to Spuds Had a good head on him.

The big interview: Gus Poyet – "After I played against Chelsea for Spurs, I remember thinking, 'Oh, what have I done?'"

Yeah seemed to be a real character in and out of the team

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20 minutes ago, mccg said:

The big interview: Gus Poyet – "After I played against Chelsea for Spurs, I remember thinking, 'Oh, what have I done?'"

Yeah seemed to be a real character in and out of the team

Remember that interview. Truly was a great goal. Him and Magic Box together were made for each other.

Yeah must say he really pissed me off when he celebrated after Spuds beating us. Wanted to hit him badly.

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7 minutes ago, Unionjack said:

Remember that interview. Truly was a great goal. Him and Magic Box together were made for each other.

Yeah must say he really pissed me off when he celebrated after Spuds beating us. Wanted to hit him badly.


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9 minutes ago, Vesper said:


Quality.Would love to see Zola's stats from free kicks ie goals,hit target etc , nearly every time i remember we got a free kick in the zone it felt like he would score , hope it rubs off around the team his quality

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  • 1 year later...

George Weah in England: An FA Cup, a Rolls Royce and an abrupt ending



Pre-match in the away dressing room at Stamford Bridge and, as copies of the team sheet for the afternoon’s FA Cup quarter-final were distributed among Gillingham’s players, the nervous excitement briefly gave way to gallows humour. The visitors scanned the names selected by the Chelsea manager Gianluca Vialli.

I don’t fancy yours much.”

He’s only picked the two World Cup winners, then.”

Well, this’ll be a doddle.”

Gillingham, under Peter Taylor’s stewardship that February afternoon 20 years ago, were destined for promotion from the third tier. Their previous manager, Tony Pulis, used to tell them they had one or two “cream” players in their number and the rest are “ham and eggers” — honest workers upon whom he could rely. This, though, was an away tie against a team with cream throughout.

Andy Hessenthaler’s eye drifted down the list past Marcel Desailly and Gianfranco Zola to Didier Deschamps, his opposite number and the man who had captained France to World Cup glory 19 months previously. Hessenthaler decided, then and there, to make off with the midfielder’s No 7 shirt after the final whistle.

“My father-in-law’s got that one mounted at home,” he tells The Athletic. “It was phenomenal. Pinch yourself time. But you go further down their line-up and you get to the fella at the bottom. George Weah. And that’s when you’re grateful you’re not playing centre-half.

“You have to remember his status back then. We’d watched him for years scoring all sorts of unbelievable goals for AC Milan, making defenders look like idiots. He was an absolute legend and, even at that age with his career winding down, he still had an aura. I mean, it’s George Weah, isn’t it?”

The striker, then 33, carried that reputation out on to the pitch. It fell to Barry Ashby and Guy Butters to deal with him that day, something they achieved admirably up to the break, by which time Chelsea’s lead was still one goal. Thereafter, the centre-halves’ afternoon rather deteriorated. Five minutes after the restart, the tie was as good as over as Weah looped a header over Vince Bartram to extend the hosts’ lead to three.

“There was one ball played over the top into the corner, and I’ve turned and sprinted towards it thinking Weah was going to come bombing past me at any second in pursuit,” says Butters. “I’ve torn after it, slid in sensing he was on my shoulder, and belted it out of play. ‘God, I’ve done well to beat him in a straight sprint. I’ve still got it’. But when I turned around, he was still on the halfway line. He hadn’t even bothered running.

“That was his reputation preceding him. That fear that he was going to embarrass you. But he’s ended up winning the territory anyway. And made me look a right Charlie, too. Yeah, I remember George all right.”

Weah, a title winner in Liberia, France and Italy, and voted African Footballer of the Year three times, spent a little over nine months in English football at the back end of his illustrious career. The man currently serving as the 25th president of Liberia played 24 times in that period, for Chelsea and Manchester City, and was not the on-field force he once had been, but his name still carried a mystique that was inescapable.

His arrival was cited as evidence of an on-going shift in status between the Premier League and Serie A. It drew even greater focus on the league’s development and encouraged other players, particularly from Africa, to follow in his footsteps.

In the end, his time in England will be remembered best for a late winner against Tottenham Hotspur on his Chelsea debut, an FA Cup triumph at Wembley, an acrimonious falling-out with a manager and three outings against Gillingham which, in truth, probably reflected his decline in status. He scored four times against the Kent club, and which other current head of state can boast that?

By the turn of the millennium, Chelsea and Gianluca Vialli had issues to address. Relatively smooth progress in the Champions League had not been mirrored in domestic competition. The team were in danger of slipping out of contention in the race to qualify again, with their problems born of a lack of cutting edge.

The manager had called time on his prolific playing days at the end of the previous season. Chris Sutton, a £10 million signing from Blackburn Rovers, had managed a solitary league goal to date. Even Gianfranco Zola, still so effervescent in European competition, had not scored since the opening day of the Premier League campaign.

In that context, Weah’s potential availability at AC Milan was a godsend.

The veteran, scorer of a hat-trick at the leaders Lazio in early October, had been enduring his difficulties under Alberto Zaccheroni having steadily slipped down the pecking order behind Oliver Bierhoff and Andriy Shevchenko. He had featured only once in the Champions League and not at all in Serie A since late November. Jose Mari, a Spanish forward, had been signed from Atletico Madrid for a hefty fee in the new year, forcing the Liberian to consider his options.

Weah’s preference was to move to Roma only for Milan’s vice-chairman, Adriano Galliani, to rule out strengthening a rival. “In this way, they have ruined my life,” bemoaned Weah at the time.

Vialli sensed his opportunity. He sanctioned Bjarne Goldbaek’s £650,000 sale to Fulham and asked Marcel Desailly to sound out his former club-mate. Weah was in bed when the Frenchman phoned and delivered his sales pitch on life in London. Suitably encouraged, the Chelsea chief executive Colin Hutchinson was dispatched to Italy to discuss a loan move until the end of the season. He found the process smooth, noting Weah to be “a likeable guy”.

Yes, if given the choice, the Liberian would have opted instead for a reunion with Arsene Wenger – under whom he had enjoyed such success at Monaco, and to whom he had dedicated his Ballon d’Or in 1995 – but Arsenal were oblivious to his availability. And so, on the morning of Wednesday, January 12 2000, Weah boarded a plane bound for London to undergo a medical at Chelsea’s somewhat basic Harlington training complex.

george weah chelsea spurs debut

Weah at Stamford Bridge before making his Chelsea debut against Spurs (Photo: Francis Glibbery/Chelsea FC via Getty Images)

By the same evening, having spent half an hour with his new team-mates and registered his loan 90 minutes before kick-off, he would be sitting on the bench at Stamford Bridge preparing to make his debut in the febrile atmosphere of a derby with Tottenham Hotspur.

“It was such a big surprise for us all,” says Gus Poyet, a useful scorer from midfield in Vialli’s side. “But Gianluca knew the situation. He’d been one of the four strikers himself a year before and would have been used to having four around, so was probably looking for that extra player to help.

“George Weah, the best player in the world a few years before, had that powerful part of the game and an ability to score goals. There was no doubt he’d be good for English football. It was not like he was coming to play for a side with an old-fashioned style of play, either. We were a European, cosmopolitan team. I’d imagine it was a very easy decision for Gianluca to make.”

It is only with the benefit of hindsight that the decision to recruit Weah could be pinpointed as the beginning of the end for the Italian’s tenure in south-west London: not because it backfired on the pitch but, rather, as a result of whom it ended up marginalising.

The fall guy for the visit of Spurs had been Zola. The Italian had gone 18 league games without a goal and, to make way for the new arrival, it was the playmaker who was omitted from the match-day squad, delaying his 150th appearance for the club. It was the first time he had been dropped since joining Chelsea. “There is no way I can be happy if I am not playing,” he said at the time. “After everything I have done for Chelsea, I don’t think I deserve this treatment.”

So incensed was Zola that he did not attend the fixture and therefore missed Weah springing off the bench, sporting a rather snazzy pair of gloves, just before the hour-mark with the contest still goalless. Or the substitute barging through Stephen Carr and Stephen Clemence three minutes from time to reach Dennis Wise’s clipped cross and guide the winner beyond Ian Walker.

Zola apologised to the squad for his uncharacteristic fit of pique back at Harlington the following morning, shaking his team-mates’ hands before their warm-down session and insisting he had no axe to grind. He would go on to feature regularly for Chelsea over the remainder of the campaign, eventually scoring again in the league in mid-April. But a wedge, on a professional level at least, had been driven between him and Vialli.

There were subsequent pushes to sign first Savio at Real Madrid and, later, West Ham’s Paolo Di Canio over the summer – neither successful – which reflected the manager’s scepticism over Zola’s long-term future at the club. The hierarchy was left weighing up whether to back a popular and talismanic player or their head coach. The politics were certainly one factor behind the sacking of Vialli the following September.

Yet, in the aftermath of a win over Spurs that had thrust Chelsea back up to sixth in the table, the move for Weah felt far more of a masterstroke. His immediate impact had not been lost on his former Milan team-mates, who were in the process of surrendering their scudetto to Lazio. Paolo Maldini called the striker late that same night, apparently telling him “we need you back, we miss you” and bemoaning the void the charismatic forward had left behind. It was his new club who were now benefiting from the feelgood factor.

“I’d chat with Jody Morris, Eddie Newton, Michael Duberry and Celestine Babayaro, and all they’d talk about was him,” says Frank Sinclair, who had left Chelsea for Leicester City in 1998 but would end up in direct confrontation with Weah on the striker’s first Premier League start. “They couldn’t believe it. All I heard was ‘what a signing’, and ‘he’s unbelievable in training’.

“When he was our manager at Chelsea, Glenn Hoddle used to tell us about Weah. He was at Monaco under Wenger at the time and George (then with the Cameroonian club Tonnerre Yaounde) walked in asking for a trial. This went on constantly for a couple of weeks, pestering the manager, but nobody knew who he was. Eventually, he gets his way, joins in training and Hoddle said they’d not seen anything like it. His first touch, his ability on the ball… that says a lot, especially coming from Hoddle, who was incredibly gifted technically.”

There were concerns at first that Weah might struggle with the physicality of English football. Chelsea’s fitness coach, Antonio Pintus, had expressed doubts over whether he was strong enough to thrive. Yet Weah insisted his forte was his mobility and resisted the medical staff’s calls to bulk up. Pintus duly devised an exercise programme which would help raise his match sharpness given he had only featured twice at Milan since November. Four goals in his first seven appearances in all competitions suggested that hard work paid off.

“He was so educated, so nice, so calm,” says Poyet of a team-mate who had been appointed a UNICEF goodwill ambassador in 1997 and went by the moniker “King George” in his homeland. “He got on very well with everyone from the beginning.

“Then there was the quality of play. I remember how he had this ability to pass his right leg over the ball, making a dummy. You knew he was going to do it, but you’d be done by the dummy anyway. He was very, very special. He may not have scored a huge number of goals, but he helped us improve as a team.

“I took advantage of him. So many of my goals that season (there were eight after Weah’s arrival) owed something to him. He understood the game so, when I was coming from deep, I was able to exploit the spaces he left to score.”

Weah’s presence even benefited Sutton, whose confidence had been shattered by that goal drought and the weight of expectation generated by the mind-boggling fee paid to Blackburn. The suspicion had been that Weah had ultimately been recruited to replace the misfiring Englishman. As it transpired, they looked far more comfortable in partnership. It is a measure of the respect in which he held his team-mate that Sutton named one of his Kunekune pigs “George” having, according to Weah, swerved the chance to attend one of the striker’s Fellowship Bible meetings to buy livestock.

“He was the one player I felt could get the best out of me and link up with me,” wrote Sutton in his autobiography, Paradise and Beyond. “My game got better with George. He knew I was on a bit of a downer, and he tried to help me. I started to enjoy my football more when he came. When he walked into a room, he had amazing stature. A lovely person. On a night out, he was great company.”

Weah had settled quickly in a new city, club and culture. “The first thing he did was get involved with the English players,” says Poyet. “He bonded with Dennis Wise, Chris and the younger ones, John Terry and Jody Morris. He became part of the culture. He looked for the British guys and was in there straight away, bang! It was great to see from a player like him.

gus poyet george weah chelsea

Poyet (left) and Weah celebrate Poyet’s goal against Leicester City in January 2000 as Sutton looks on (Photo: Gary M Prior/Allsport)

“I remember when we recorded the FA Cup final song in London later that season, he was a big part of it. He left with the British players afterwards to go for a few drinks in the city. It was important for George to do that, but it was very clever as well. He knew he was probably only coming for a short time, so he got to know the British culture.”

Given he was ineligible in Europe, it was the FA Cup that proved the highlight of Weah’s time at Chelsea. His goal had helped dispatch Sinclair’s Leicester in the fifth round. “He was almost unstoppable that day,” says the former centre-back. “His ability to pick up pockets to receive the ball… he was so difficult to mark because he was always on your shoulder in clever positions. And when he got the ball, oh my. I remember when he was running with it, going past two or three players, and the pace and the stride on him made me think: ‘God, imagine what he must have been like when he was in his mid-twenties.’”

Butters’ Gillingham would be put to the sword, 5-0, in the last eight. “He was constantly moving the ball,” says the former centre-back. “It was exhausting, playing him. The slightest mistake and that’s it, he was away. After an hour, you’re absolutely knackered and hanging on.”

There was a smart finish across Sander Westerveld in a 2-0 win over Liverpool, and only a pair of league defeats as Chelsea ended up securing UEFA Cup qualification by finishing fifth, before Weah started alongside Zola in the FA Cup final against Aston Villa. Sutton had talked himself out of the team and club by then, with Tore Andre Flo on the bench. Weah might have proved a match-winner only to spurn two fine chances to force Vialli’s team ahead, with Roberto Di Matteo eventually scoring the game’s only goal.

“George loved that day, for sure,” says Poyet. “It was a very special trophy for him. I remember the way he celebrated afterwards — with the lid of the cup on his head. He was a very happy man, no doubt.”

He had a winner’s medal with which to return to Monrovia that summer. A spokesman for the Liberian president, Charles Taylor, had expressed publicly back in January the hope that the country’s favourite son would have “something to show the people” upon coming home. By then it had been made clear that Chelsea’s rebuild on a budget would not extend to making his move from Milan permanent. His time in London had run its natural course. But he was not done yet with England.

Not quite, anyway.

Nicky Weaver was out on the training pitch at Manchester City’s Platt Lane complex, the new league season a little under three weeks away, when he heard the throaty purr of the engine. A black Rolls-Royce drew to a halt. “It was a super flash car, and out stepped George Weah,” recalls the former goalkeeper. “He was wearing all the bling. There’d been all the rumours flying around that morning but none of us was sure whether to believe them or not. Then this mega superstar has rocked up. At City.

“It was almost like Ronaldo was signing for us, that kind of magnitude. A monster, monster name, and I don’t really know how we managed to get him. We were all a little bit starstruck at first, but he was such a good lad. A nice fella, very humble.

“The Rolls-Royce actually belonged to his agent, apparently, and you wouldn’t have known you were talking to a megastar or former World Player of the Year most of the time. It was only occasionally little things reminded you. I remember somebody pointing to his watch and saying it looked nice. He just said: ‘Oh yeah, Donatella Versace gave it to me’. He obviously moved in high circles. He must have turned up at City and thought, ‘Who are these cowboys?’”

At the time, this felt a strange fit. This was the club whose local derby only two years previously had been against Macclesfield Town in the third tier. Even the previous season, they had lost at home to Stockport County before finishing second, behind Charlton, in what is now the Championship to secure elevation back to the top flight under the management of Joe Royle after a four-year absence. To prepare for the challenge ahead, Royle had signed hard-working players (Alf-Inge Haaland and Steve Howey) and even seemed to have his stardust in the figure of Paulo Wanchope, signed from West Ham. Convincing an international superstar to join seemed unlikely.

But times had changed for Weah. In the summer of 2000, Chelsea had opted against securing him on a long-term basis and, rather than remaining on the periphery at Milan, he waived the £1.4 million he would have been due over the final year of his contract and accepted a free transfer.

One of his former clubs, Monaco, flirted with the idea of offering him terms, while Bologna and Roma, under Fabio Capello, sounded out his Italian representatives over the possibility of extending his stay in Serie A. He was offered to Celtic and Rangers. Yet it was Mohamed Al-Fayed’s Fulham, fresh from a top-10 finish in their first year back in the English second tier and under the management of Jean Tigana, whose interest was firmest.

They contacted Ian Anderson, the player’s London-based agent, and opened talks over personal terms. It was only when news of the move was leaked in the press that Royle, yearning for a marquee signing, made his own move. “It was all Joe,” says the former City director, Dennis Tueart. “George was on his way to Fulham and Joe hijacked the deal. We were signing Wanchope but Joe felt he needed a bit more. I did say at the time we should make sure the team were good enough to get the ball to him because I didn’t think he was going to be the old George Weah who drops deep and runs the channels. But Joe explained his ideas so I was happy to support it — if we could afford it.”

The deal was thrashed out by Royle, along with Tueart, the deputy chairman John Wardle and the chief operating officer Chris Bird in the absence of the chairman, David Bernstein, who was on a rare summer break. In terms of wages, it was the most expensive in the club’s history. Weah signed a one-year contract worth up to £35,000 a week, with an option for a further 12 months. Anderson was paid £100,000, with a similar agent’s fee due should City take up the second year. “Nowadays, Christ, bloody apprentices get better than that, but it was heavy money for us at the time,” Bird tells The Athletic. “When we signed Nicolas Anelka in 2002, we only paid him about £35,000 a week, too.

“George’s record spoke for itself. The only things you wondered about at the time were his age, at 33, and, given we’d only just come up, what were his other options? Was it just his last hurrah or was he serious? But when you met the man, you realised he was absolutely dead serious about making it work.”

For Royle, this was a statement of City’s intent. Even Weah sounded enthused, claiming “we will go into Europe”, even if there was a good deal more realism behind the scenes. “It was the draw of the Premier League for George, more than anything else,” says Bird. “We were a work in progress. What came across to me, certainly in the personal conversations I had with George, was he understood humble beginnings and how you’ve got to fight for everything. He just got that.

“I was still handling all the media, too, and managed his first press conference. We went into this little bar area, the Blue Room, and everybody sat around him asking their questions. He answered every single one. He was a delight. This guy had been there and done it. He was a very intelligent man and he just knew how to conduct himself. An absolute diamond. Nothing seemed to faze him.”

That included an on-field photocall at Maine Road alongside Wanchope to unveil the new shirt with a life-size, gun-wielding model of Lara Croft, complete with rather disconcerting pneumatic breasts. Eidos, who manufactured the Tomb Raider series, was the club’s sponsor at the time with its executive chairman, Ian Livingstone, a long-standing City fan. “A new shirt, Lara Croft, and we’ve got George Weah as well… the stars were aligned,” adds Bird. City went one better in mid-November ahead of their first competitive Manchester derby with United since 1996 and invited Lucy Clarkson, the fourth Croft model from the games series, to meet the players pre-match in the dressing room.

Yet, by then, Weah was no longer on the scene.

The unravelling would prove rapid. He suffered from having missed pre-season, a reality that set him back from the outset. One of his few outings was in a testimonial game for Denis Irwin against Manchester United at Old Trafford, just three days before the start of the Premier League campaign, in which he failed to control a pass four minutes in. As he lunged to retrieve the loose ball, he planted the studs of his right boot into the inside of Irwin’s left ankle. The Irishman, clearly irate, brushed away the apology and, having hobbled on for almost half an hour, ended up retreating from the field immediately after Teddy Sheringham had put United ahead. For the neutrals, it was an inauspicious start.

george weah denis irwin manchester city manchester united

It would be compounded by events at the Valley on the opening afternoon. City, back in the big time and up against the team who had pipped them for the Championship the previous season, were thrashed 4-0. Wanchope had only returned from international duty with Costa Rica on the day before, and his body clock was clearly skewed. Weah, in contrast, just looked off the pace.

Royle was left wondering whether his most lavish summer signing might best be suited to a role off the bench. In his opinion, the veteran simply didn’t have the legs to cope. It was a shocking conclusion to feel compelled to draw after only one outing.

“George saw us as a team who had just been promoted and probably expected to walk into the side but, as Joe said, he wasn’t really fit enough,” says Weaver. “In training, you saw glimpses of what he could do, but his fitness levels just weren’t there. They never really got there, either. If we ever did running in training, he was miles behind. Even in the warm-up, he’d be tailing off behind.

“We only saw flashes of the great George Weah. On match day, there’d be the odd touch here and there, but I don’t think the fans ever saw a performance that made them think, ‘Wow’. He never really ripped anyone inside out or anything like that. He’d lost that edge, that half a yard. He couldn’t get up to the rigours and demands of the Premier League.”

“We knew we’d be fighting against relegation,” says Gerard Wiekens, a regular in the City team for five seasons in which they were always either promoted or went down. “We were probably defending in games 80 per cent of the time. That was not his game. So he struggled.

“Look, he was a lovely guy. His son Timothy (now playing at Lille in Ligue 1) was a small boy at the time and would sometimes come round to my house to play with my kids. But it was really hard for George to make an impact on the pitch.”

Royle was concerned about potential divisions in the dressing room caused by the disparity in pay between those players who had secured City’s back-to-back promotions and the big-money new arrivals. He worried that resentment might fester and harm team spirit, particularly if Weah — as the most high-profile of the signings — failed to make an impact. A more encouraging display in a 4-2 defeat of Sunderland at least papered over the cracks. Wanchope scored a hat-trick that day. At least he had struck up an immediate rapport with the Liberian.

“I used to watch George Weah, Marco Van Basten and Romario so, for me, it was really special to have George as a team-mate at City,” Wanchope tells The Athletic. “I was a kid who had followed in his steps, always watching videos of his goals. I was quite nervous in my first conversation with him because he was such a hero of mine, but we could talk about our time in international football, the travel, our games. I still found it shocking that he never had the chance to play at a World Cup, and he told me I was in a privileged position to be able to do that one day (Wanchope featured at the 2002 and 2006 tournaments).

“I learned many things from him. At that time he was in his mid-30s but still training hard, talking to the young players, and on the pitch, he made everything easy. You don’t need to talk too much. You just make eye contact and that’s it.”

The problem was that, while his mind was as sharp as ever, Weah’s body was struggling to keep up with the frenetic nature of the English game. He would not complete another full Premier League match after the dispiriting 2-1 home defeat to Coventry towards the end of August.

The manager, conscious that Weah had just returned from international duty in Africa, telephoned the player on the eve of the next match, at Leeds, to inform him that he would be among the substitutes. Royle recalls the forward accepting the decision, and could point to a subsequent positive contribution off the bench against Liverpool at Anfield — where he scored his only Premier League goal for the club — as justification for his selection policy. With the benefit of hindsight, though, there was to be no real recovery from that snub. The relationship between star player and manager deteriorated thereafter.

At least the two-legged League Cup tie against Gillingham, hardly a priority competition, was an opportunity for Weah to work on his match fitness. His goal salvaged a draw at Maine Road, and he scored twice just after half-time at the Priestfield Stadium in the return to put the visitors ahead on aggregate. But a late equaliser forced the tie into extra-time and, with City having used all three of their substitutes, an exhausted Weah was forced to plod through the closing stages making clear his frustration.

“I know he scored twice that night, but it was as if he was a bit disinterested,” says Butters of his third encounter with Weah within seven months. “His attitude was very much, ‘Give me the ball and I’ll score a goal, but I don’t want to do all the shitty work. That’s your job, not mine’. So unless the pass was into his feet, laid on a plate, he didn’t want to know. There was no graft in his play.

“Paul Dickov was there, again, running his balls off for them. A complete pain in the arse to play against, closing you down, hassling you, not giving you a second to think. Dickov made my life a lot harder, to be honest.

“Maybe Weah just didn’t want to be there, in Gillingham on a Tuesday night. It probably says a lot about his natural ability that he still scored twice, but I thought you could tell by his body language that he wasn’t going to break his neck for City. And we’d learned a bit about him by then. Barry Ashby and me, we’d be going tight up to Weah and treading on his heel, ‘Oh, sorry mate’. Little reminders to level the playing field. The novelty had sort of worn off.”

It was depreciating for Weah, too. He started the subsequent top-flight game at Maine Road, departing 20 minutes from time and promptly watched Alan Shearer score Newcastle’s winner. In the dressing room post-match, Royle expressed his dissatisfaction with the team’s performance only to notice Weah and Wanchope conducting their own private inquest into the defeat in a corner as he was addressing the group. This, Royle made clear in front of the group, was unacceptable behaviour.

“I used to go in the dressing room after every game just to check the temperature and then, obviously, go and do the press conferences with Joe, and I could sense something heated had gone on,” says Bird. “George and Paulo were very close, and they shared the same opinion about the way the team were performing, and the way Joe was managing them.

“They just didn’t see eye to eye. Joe says it how it is. He was just absolutely focused on what he needed to do, that Everton ‘dogs of war’ mentality. George was a superstar. He’d come in and was probably not delivering what Joe needed. I doubt George had ever come across someone like Joe Royle, a hard-nosed British manager who knew what it was like to be a centre-forward for City and to manage in the Premier League. I think they both lost respect for each other: George wasn’t used to being spoken to the way he was spoken to by Joe, and Joe didn’t respect George because he hadn’t got the reaction he wanted. There wasn’t a lot of love lost between the two.”

Royle considered the post-match altercation with Weah “one of those heat-of-the-moment exchanges that occur frequently in every dressing room after a defeat” and was surprised when the player’s agent, Anderson, telephoned requesting a meeting at Platt Lane the following midweek. Again, the manager deemed those talks “perfectly civilised” but, where Weah had clearly expected then to start the subsequent home game with Bradford City, Royle opted instead for the industrious Dickov.

He recalled Weah conducting “a silent protest on the bench… without the slightest inclination to warm up”. The manager did not even bother to name him among the substitutes as his team won at Southampton the following week, by which time their relationship had fractured beyond repair. He would never pull on the City shirt again.

“Joe fell out with Paulo Wanchope and George Weah, totally different personalities to what he had been used to managing,” says Tueart. “We’d had Championship and League One players to get us into the Premier League and then brought in Paulo, George, Alf-Inge and Howey. Joe struggled because, with his skill set, he wasn’t used to them. We later brought in Kevin Keegan whose skill set was handling big players. He loved it.”

Tueart was present alongside Bird and Anderson at the meeting which confirmed a parting of the ways after Weah had spent only 10 weeks at the club. It cost City £500,000 to terminate the contract early. “It was a very abrupt ending… uncomfortable,” recalls Bird.

In a statement released that night, Royle expressed regret that the move had not worked out but praised Weah’s professionalism. The player, however, released his own statement, claiming Royle had been “disrespectful” and left him feeling like “the worst player that ever existed”, which rather trumped the official line.

“I’m not willing to subject myself to feeling small in front of the younger players that I hope to be an example and an inspiration to,” he said. “I will not accept being at a club where the manager names me in the team and then calls me five hours later to tell me that I am not in the team. In my opinion, that is unprofessional and shows a lack of confidence in me.

“I’m not upset because I’m not playing. I do accept because of my age that I won’t play all the game. I didn’t come for the money. I could have stayed at AC Milan but, instead, I sacrificed £1.4 million from them to come here. I didn’t leave that for somebody to tell me to shut up and fuck off. I was made to feel old and of no real use to the club. I felt I was being used for publicity to attract other players. I respect the people I work with and I expect the same in return. My reasons for leaving are the lack of respect, the lack of communication and the dishonesty shown to me by Joe Royle.”

The manager refuted those claims and pointed out — quite justifiably — that Wanchope and Weah had hardly been treating him with much respect while talking among themselves at the back of the room during his post-match inquest. “At no time was it my intention to make an example of them in front of the other players,” he said. “I had nothing but respect for George Weah and for his record in the game.”

Two days later, and much to City’s surprise, Weah joined Marseille.

“That disappointed me a bit, to be perfectly honest,” adds Tueart. “If I remember correctly, there’d been mention of George retiring. I asked Joe if he wanted me to put in a clause whereby, if he moved anywhere, we would be remunerated. But given the suggestion was he was going to retire, it didn’t seem worth putting anything like that into our agreement. All we could do was carry on because we had to get some positivity back in the dressing room.”

That, ultimately, proved beyond them and City slipped out of the top flight after only a season, with Royle sacked in late May.

Weah’s nine-month dalliance with the English game was over. He would play 19 Ligue 1 games that season, scoring five times before moving to Al-Jazira in the United Arab Emirates. He retired in 2003 at the age of 37, those memories of regular collisions with Gillingham fading fast. His career in the years since has taken him from the Priestfield to the presidency.

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