by Jack Simpson
In a sport where the IQ of a player is usually only matched by the number on the back of his shirt, and taking a stand usually involves a courtroom somewhere, a life in politics after football is usually perceived as an unexpected one. Nonetheless, it is not a route never trodden and there have been cases when footballer’s have traded in their boots for debates. The Daisy Cutter looks into six footballers that have left a life in the six yard box for a life on the soap box to become politicians.
George Weah’s ascent from Monravia’s poorest slums to international superstardom, has long provided a source of inspiration throughout Africa. A career that culminated in his winning of as World Player of the Year award in 1995, he is widely regarded throughout Africa as their greatest export. This adulation resounded even more so in his home nation Liberia. After years of civil war and despotism under the leadership of war criminal Charles Taylor, 2005 saw the first democratic elections in Liberia for 25 years. Weah decided to utilize the popularity he had gained and run as the Congress for Democratic Change party’s presidential candidate in 2005. He was initially successful. A resounding popularity with Liberia’s youth saw him gain victory in the first round of voting. Yet, questions were raised regarding his intellectual and administrative ability and the second round of voting saw him beaten by 18% of the vote to the current president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. This did not end his career in Liberian politics and in 2010 he unsuccessfully ran as vice president.
In the space of eleven years the affectionately known ‘Titi’ Camara made the unlikely journey from Kop hero to Guinea’s Sport’s Minister. Achieving cult status at Anfield after his tearful response to scoring on the day he found out his father had died, Camara was not prolific but well loved in Liverpool. After an unsuccessful spell at West Ham and time in the Middle East he returned back to his native Guinea to become the country’s Sports minister. A former national team coach and Guinea’s greatest ever goalscorer Camara certainly had the credentials. However, it was reported a donation of £32,000 to aid the successful presidential campaign, of the now leader Alpha Conde, made him the perfect candidate for the role. After serving for 21 months in the government Camara’s political career ended in October after he became a casualty in a cabinet reshuffle.
An avid football fan Sadi Gaddafi used his wealth to buy himself a football career in Libya and Italy. A backdrop of biased officials and corruption allowed him to notch up over 100 appearances in Libya’s top league as well as 20 international appearances. Not satisfied with this he decided to try to make it in Europe. So in 2003 controversial Perugia chairman Luciano Gaucci took the unlikely step in signing 30 year old Gaddafi. While his playboy lifestyle was that akin to any top flight footballer, his performance on the pitch wasn’t. Moving from Perugia, to Udinese and then to Sampdoria, Gaddafi only managed two substitute appearances during his three years in Italy. This would serve as a strange prologue for his later activities. After hanging up his boots his attentions were turned back to the increasing pressure being put on his father’s grip on power in Libya. When war broke out he ensured a hands on approach, and has subsequently been accused of terrible war crimes. As the Gaddafi dynasty toppled he, unlike his father, was able to escape to neighbouring Niger where he remains today pleading political asylum.
In Ukraine the path from celebrity to politician is a common route. Heavyweight boxer Vitaly Klitschko, footballer Oleg Blokhin and Eurovision winner Ruslana all provide successful examples. A conversion to politics for ‘Golden Boy’ of Ukrainian football Andriy Schevchenko should not have been unexpected. After a career that saw him become one of the most prolific strikers in Europe he ended his football career fittingly with a brace against Sweden in this Summer’s Euro Championships. Ending on a high, this was used as a launch pad for his political career. Weeks after retirement he pledged his allegiance to the relatively new Social Democratic Party Go Forward-Ukraine!. The Party invested much in Schevchenko, naming him second on their electoral list only behind their leader. However, politics has been a baptism of fire for the former European footballer of the year. His decision to support a party that only has marginal support has been met with large media criticism, whilst accusations of receiving money for his political support have tarnished his reputation with some.
A pioneer of Scandinavian football and one of his country’s most famous politicians, Albert Gudmundson is still regarded as one of Iceland’s favourite sons. His studies brought him to Scotland where, whilst training with Rangers, he was spotted by then Arsenal manager George Allison. A move south of the border saw him become only Arsenal’s second foreign player. However, problems with gaining a work permit in Britain prevented Gudmundson from signing a contract with the Gunners. Instead he looked to mainland Europe where he forged a successful career in French side Nancy and Italy giants AC Milan. Returning home to Iceland in 1954 his high footballing profile and contacts across Europe allowed him to begin a successful importing business and become president of the Icelandic FA. This paved a way for a swift rise in Icelandic politics. Joining Iceland’s Independence Party in 1970 he would be elected into parliament within 4 years and become minister of finance within ten. His popularity was underlined in 1987 when, after becoming disillusioned with the Independence party, he created his own party that within the space of three years managed to foster over ten percent of the vote. After his death in 1994 he was commemorated with a statue that stands outside the Icelandic FA in Reijkavik.
Ahmed Ben Bella
The Arabic Fidel Castro, Ahmed Ben Bella went from triallist at Marseilles to the first president of independent Algeria. Born in Algeria, a career in the army saw Ben Bella moved to the South of France and Marseilles. He quickly became talked about in footballing circles and Marseilles stepped in to give the young Algerian a trial. He impressed during his debut in the Coup De France scoring in a victory against FC Antibes. Immediately offered a contract he turned it down for what he saw as a more important role fighting Mussolini in Italy. After serving with honour, he was shocked at the treatment of Muslims in French Algeria on his return after the war. Following the harsh repression of Muslim uprisings in 1945 Ben Bella took action. He would never play football again, instead, dedicating his efforts to securing an independent Algeria. He joined the underground Organisation Speciale Liberation Front and would spend the next decade organising the struggle against French repression in Algeria. Independence was achieved and Ben Bella’s popularity ensured that he was instilled as independent Algeria’s first leader. Initially popular, bad decisions led to his overthrow and a house arrest and then exile that would last over 22 years. When he was finally allowed to return to Algeria his fervour for politics continued and he would split his time, up until his death this year, between Lausanne and Algeria.