The Qatari World Cup Is Robbing Football of its Heroes
I'll never feel the same about <i>that</i> George Weah goal.
George Weah holding the Ballon d'Or in 1995. (Photo via)
The most amazing thing about George Weah's 1996 goal against Verona, is how, when he picks the ball up in his own area – you already find yourself screaming at the opposition to start fucking defending. He may be several towns over from their goal, but his first touch is so aggressive, so full of intent, that you can already tell what he's going to do. Sure, maybe armed with the 18 years of hindsight we now have, Verona's midfield may have fouled the man more quickly – felled the leggy genius – but they didn't. Instead George Weah strode across the entire pitch, from his box to theirs – using pace, strength and imagination in the same way Yaya Toure will do next season for PSG.
Of course, at school when we talked about it, we said, "he dribbled round the entire team" – which on reflection isn't true. He didn't so much go round every individual as he severed his way brutally through the collective, like a strongman ripping a phonebook in half. The month before, David Beckham had redefined Hollywood goals for my generation by dropping one over Neil Sullivan's head from the halfway line, but if you wanted to be cool, if you wanted to be more Stevie Hyper D and less Roni Size – Weah's was the goal to talk about.
Which is part of the reason Qatar can really fuck off. This weekend the Sunday Times revealed evidence that the tiny state had paid FIFA officials to influence the vote which eventually sent the 2022 World Cup their way. It was hardly surprising – this is a country the size of Yorkshire who share one thing in common with the good people at FIFA – the urge to ruin football completely.
And they're starting with the scorer of my favourite goal. Sadly, according to the investigation, George Weah – a former World Player of the Year, the greatest African footballer ever, the original Arsene Wenger protégé, the man who once paid for all the kits and flights for his Liberian international teammates, the guy who most certainly didn't call Graham Souness and recommend signing Ali Dia – was allegedly one the dicks who got bribed. Allegedly, glamorous Qatari cultural imperialist Mohammed Bin Hamman, a kind of international footballing jewel thief – and one time President of the Asian Football Confederation – offered Weah some cash at the precise moment that George decided he was a MASSIVE advocate of hosting the World Cup in a place so hot that FIFA's own medical staff seemed kinda worried the players would explode into flame before half-time.
Qatar and FIFA deserve one another. The migrant workers reportedly mistreated in order to build Sepp Blatter's stately pleasure dome are just another badge on the blazers of men so delusional, that they commissioned a cinematic hagiography so vile, it's like something Leni Riefenstahl would have knocked up. (See above, vomit, move on.)
But, while these two are perfectly matched at the bottom of their black hole of treachery, it's the other people – the other icons who've been pulled in by the gravitational power of loadsa money that break my heart. Tim Roth for one.
Hearing allegations of George Weah's bribes are deeply miserable. As is knowing that Zinedine Zidane and Pep Guardiola – the two coolest bald men since Picasso – have sadly spent much of the last few years as ambassadors to Qatar, flying around the planet standing in front of people and lying about how Qatar's involvement with football isn't the absolute pits. Sure, Zidane is basically a crazy, arrogant, occasionally violent millionaire – but the way he kicked a ball made me believe he was something more. And Pep! Surely nobody who likes passing that much could be all bad, I thought – I was naïve.
The thing is, these days, it's not a question of a Qatari influence, after all its just a matter of time before they own the entire sport. They already have their names on Barcelona's shirt and they own the Ligue 1 champions Paris Saint-Germain. Everything and everyone in football is for sale and Qatar are paying the highest prices.
So yeah, the alleged bribery is not surprising news, but the sad thing for me is that seeing Weah's name on that Sunday Times list actually does ruin his wonderful goal for me. Watching Zizou slowly turning into Michel Platini and selling his sport down the tubes, actually makes me kind of like Marco Materazzi. And yes, to be honest, these days I'd be perfectly happy to see Pep's delicate Bayern disintegrate into the swamps of thuggish Real-like opposition who basically realised what Sam Allardyce has known for donkeys; that they don't like it up 'em.
Of course, it's football. It's an industry of bastards propped up on the passions of a planet and everyone involved is tainted, but Qatar are a step too far. Obviously, there are bigger crimes being committed – disgusting human rights abuse for one – but it's also worth noting that they are perverting football's most enduring attribute – the legends. They are turning heroes into villains, they are ripping the posters from my bedroom wall, and they are pissing on my Panini sticker album.