South Florida is the adopted home of all types of international men and women of mystery: from Latin American strongmen to drug runners, movie stars to criminals on the lam. It's where people go to disappear until the charges are dropped or the checks have cleared. Then bam! they reemerge like a long lost celebrity sex tape.
Take George Weah. Unbeknownst to most Miamians, one of the greatest soccer players in recent history has been living in Pembroke Pines for years.
Now the star striker is bursting back onto the public stage by running for vice president of his native Liberia, where he and his running mate hope to beat the Nobel Peace Prize-winning incumbent like -- what else? -- a rented goalie.
Weah was born in a slum of the Liberian capital of Monrovia. In 1988, at the age of 22, the powerfully built forward caught the eye of French manager Arsene Wenger by scoring 24 goals in 23 games in a local league.
Weah moved to Europe, playing for Wenger's Monaco, then Paris St. Germain, AC Milan, Chelsea, Manchester City, and Marseille. In 1995, he became the only African player to win FIFA's World Player of the Year award. In 114 games for Milan, he scored 46 goals -- including this one, considered one of the best ever:
After retiring in 2004, Weah moved to Pembroke Pines, where he lives in a gated lake community (we were turned away at the gate and decided against swimming the moat).
While Weah is mobbed every time he goes back to his native Liberia, soccer-ignorant South Floridians don't recognize him. Family members say he still plays from time to time in Brian Piccolo Park. Weah couldn't be reached by phone in Liberia.
In 2005, he made a shocking return to Liberia when he ran for its presidency, narrowly losing to current president -- and recent Nobel Peace Prize winner -- Ellen Sirleaf Johnson in a runoff. After the loss, Weah retreated to Pembroke Pines and earned a degree from Devry.
Now he's back on the ballot in Liberia, this time as the vice presidential running mate of Winston Tubman.
Accusations of voter fraud marred the first round, which Weah and Tubman's Congress for Democratic Change narrowly lost to Johnson. After threatening to boycott the election, the CDC has agreed to participate in the November 8 runoff election.
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But with the laureate Johnson still ahead in the polls, Weah could be once again forced to demolish his opponents in Piccolo Park rather than Liberian politics.
Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.
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