By Rodney Sieh
MONROVIA – Liberia has had a lot of prospects who have taken up other nationalities when it seemed they could have made it to the big stage. But when things did not go according to plan as their stocks fell, returning to the reality of playing for their homeland became the only other option.
After scoring 20 goals in 92 appearances for Fulham FC in the English Premiere League, and appearing for the Dutch Under-21 squad which won the 2006 European Championship in Portugal, Collins John’s stock was rising so high that the Zwedru-born Liberian footballer flirted with the idea of abandoning his homeland for Holland. But John’s who went on to make two appearances for the senior national Dutch squad, had to endure dip in form, disciplinary issues and his failure to top his form at Fulham which threw him down the ladder. His last recorded stint was with the Pittsburg Riverhounds, a third tier team in the Eastern Conference of the United States Soccer League.
Alex Nimley, formerly of former EPL champions Manchester City was on the ups, landing a spot on the England Under-20 team before falling off the radar through Middlesborough, Coventry City, Crystal Palace and more recently Port Vale where he had an unhappy spell.
When George Weah Jr., aged 16 at the time, scored for the United States U20 National Team in 2003 – a 75th minute goal that even a match against the 2-2, in Bradenton, Fla,.the early signs were that he would be recruited for the US Men National team in the not so distant future but like Freddy Adu and many other youngsters out of Africa with potential, the junior Weah whose mother is an America, stock declined as a string of injuries made it difficult to follow his father’s footsteps despite spells with the U18s of Serie A power AC Milan.
Some publications even flirted with the idea that the junior Weah had three options: Play for his father’s homeland, Liberia, his mother’s citizenship, the U.S. or for France where his father holds a dual French/Liberian citizenship.
The Junior Weah’s appearance for the U.S. U-20 at the time was not “cap-tied” to the U.S. due to a FIFA statute that came into force on January 1, 2004. The statute allows youth players to play as a youth international for one country and then apply, prior to his 21st birthday, to play for another country. Even if Weah, Jr. plays for the U.S. U20s in an official FIFA event, such as CONCACAF U20 qualifiers and/or the FIFA World Youth Championship in 2005 and 2007, he would still be eligible to play for Liberia or France. If Weah, Jr. were to play in an “A” international match – or in other words, with the senior team – for the U.S. prior to turning 21 he would then be cap-tied to the U.S.
But Weah never made to the U.S. senior team. He did make the rounds though, failing trial spells at the Czech Slavia Praque in 2007 due to injury. In 2010, he signed up for Wohlen in Switzerland where he made his debut on February 24, in a 1–0 home loss against Thun as a substitute. He joined FC Baden in 2011 and on February 3, 2012, joined Kaliaka Kavarna on a one-and-a-half-year deal, after a successful trial with the Bulgarian A PFG club.
Last May, Weah made his debut for Paris Saint Germain’s second team in the Championnat de France amateur, coming on as a 87th minute substitute as his side lost 2-0 to RC Lens. Johns is no doubt regretting his choice of changed nationalities but both Weah Junior and Alex Nimley have a window of opportunity to rediscover forms playing for their homeland.
While Weah Junior’s call-up by head coach James Debbah has made international headlines, his trail of broken international spells is unlikely to give him a starting role in Debbah’s selection against Togo. For football enthusiasts, the selection of junior Weah now 27 – and out of his prime; raises the stakes for Liberians playing abroad and flirting with other nationalities.
The most recent, Inaki Williams of Atletico Bilbao in the La Liga, who was one of several players called by Debbah for the Togo duel; is said to be toying with the idea of playing for his father’s homeland, Ghana or his birth land, Spain. Liberia may not be on the radar of Williams, who scored against Lionel Messi’s Barcelona in the Kings Cup recently. But the recent call-ups by new coach Debbah could serve as a turning point for others leaning toward taking the gamble. Those include the senior Weah’s other son, Timothy, who is in the U.S. under-15 team and also in PSG’s youth programme, and Collins John’s younger brother, Ola is still in his prime as a player for the Portuguese club, Benfica.
Thorn between countries is nothing new to football and is a decision that youngsters are forced to make, sometimes prematurely at the height of their prime. But for every success stories like the Boateng brothers – Kevin Prince and Jerome, one sticking to Ghana and the other choosing Germany, there are the not-so-successful ones as in the case of the likes of Alex Nimely and Collins Johns whose decisions have proven, that sometimes the greater gamble is to stick with the safety nest of the homeland. source www.frontpageafrica.com
George Weah Jr. Pic: www.snipview.com