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Last Updated: Friday, 11 November 2005, 13:19 GMT
Profile: George Weah
George Weah, 39, is widely acclaimed as Africa's greatest ever footballer after being crowned World Player of the year in 1995 but he seems to have failed in his bid to become Liberia's head of state.

After gaining most votes in the first round of presidential elections, he is trailing a long way behind Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf with 91% of the votes counted in the run-off.

He was counting on his status as the world's most famous Liberian to win the polls, hoping he could be a figurehead for the country's rival ethnic, political and armed groups to rally round.

But as a politician he is a novice - a "babe-in-the-woods", one analyst said.

His life story - from a Monrovia slum to international celebrity - provides a rare beacon of hope and inspiration to Liberia's many thousands of young people who see little future except for a life of poverty.

"Weah's been through hard times like us," said Emmanuel Toe, 26, who fought in the 14-year civil war which ended in 2003, leading to these first post-conflict polls.

"I know he's not well educated but those with education have done nothing, just stolen money."

In an example of the kind of reconciliation Liberia desperately needs, many of the young men brutalised by being forced to fight for rival factions during the 14-year war, have now united behind "Oppong" - as Mr Weah's supporters love to call him.

Several former warlords who contested the polls have also rallied behind Mr Weah.

'High-school drop-out'

After playing for some of the world's most famous clubs - AC Milan, Chelsea, AS Monaco, Paris Saint Germain, Olympique Marseille and Manchester City - he brings rare glamour to the grind of daily life in Liberia.

During his years playing in France, it was reported that he had taken French citizenship and this almost scuttled his presidential aspirations.

George Weah
With all their education and experience, they have governed this nation for hundreds of years. They have never done anything for the nation
George Weah

Some of his rivals took him to court, saying that as a foreign national he was disqualified from contesting Liberia's presidency. But the elections commission ruled that they did not have the evidence to back up their arguments.

He has, however, obviously been planning his move into politics for some time.

Former President Charles Taylor, who stepped down in 2003, suspected Mr Weah wanted his job when the footballer refused to remove his sunglasses in the president's presence - seen as a sign of the utmost disrespect.

He often paid out of his own pocket for the cash-strapped national football team to travel to matches abroad and this can now be seen as extremely good public relations.

More recently, he has used some of the money he earned in Europe to set up a radio and television station in Liberia to get his message across.

But many educated Liberians dismiss Mr Weah as a "high-school drop-out" - he says he has an online Associate of Arts degree in Sports Administration.

'Fire engine'

The elite is especially worried by this education divide because many ex-fighters have confessed to killing people during the war simply on the basis they had gone to school.

Some take this argument one step further, saying that with his lack of education, he would have become a pawn in the hands of his political advisors.

Guide to Liberia and its recent turbulent history

Mr Weah's critics say they see around him many of the faces who used to surround military leader Samuel Doe, whose disastrous rule in the 1980s led to the outbreak of war.

But Mr Weah is sharply critical of the educated elite, who say he is not fit to govern.

"With all their education and experience, they have governed this nation for hundreds of years. They have never done anything for the nation," he says.

But it seems Liberians are worried by Mr Weah's lack of experience.

A sub-text to the educational argument is the divide between the descendents of freed slaves who set up Liberia in 1847 and the indigenous inhabitants, who feel they have been exploited ever since.

Mr Weah is from the Kru ethnic group, with his origins in south-eastern Grand Kru County, one of Liberia's most under-developed areas.

Mr Weah's wife is from Jamaica. While eying the presidency and waiting for Mr Taylor to step down, he resided in Ghana and New York where he still has assets.

His house in Liberia is a modest affair in the countryside outside the capital, Monrovia.

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