Will Placing the National Team Players on Government Payroll Improve Football in Liberia?

MONROVIA, Montserrado – Following the national football team’s recent 1-0 victory against the Warriors of Zimbabwe in the ongoing 2019 African Nations Cup qualifier, President George Weah announced a plan to place players on the government’s payroll.

The win over Zimbabwe placed the team at the second place of the table in Group G, a move that has rejuvenated the country’s hope to qualify for the continental tournament which will be hosted in Cameroon.

“We have a labor force here that we don’t pay attention to. Everybody talking about their rise and nobody talking about national team rise,” the president said during his announcement.

“[The] national team is not being paid, but they struggle. But in the labor force, everybody wants an increase, or they want something. So, let us think about making this labor force on the payroll.”

As a former soccer star, the president said he played on the national team for more than 20 years, between 1986 and 2002, and was paid US$123.23 as salary, like other players.

He said while the amount was not enough, players of the national team were encouraged by being on a payroll.

“It encouraged us to kill ourselves for the nation. We can motivate our team to even do better. I want you to know that our government will do everything for you to succeed. Liberia is the only country in the world [whose] national team players are not on [a] payroll,” he said.

The president also referenced France where he spent eight years playing for Monaco, Paris Saint Germain, and Marseille. He said players of the French national team were on payroll.

“I used to play with my friends in France, when we all go to play, I used to be [the] only person with no check. This is our country. We are proud of this country. You [Lone Star players] are defending us and we will make sure that you also benefit,” he emphasized.

While the move by the president may attract talented youth to soccer and improve the performance of the national, research shows that not even the big footballing nations including France, England, and Brazil have their players on payroll.

According to one of the biggest sports statistics website, Total Sportek, professionals playing for the French, Belgian, English, Spanish, German, and Brazilian national football teams get paid through appearance fees, with the amounts differing based on match and tournament results.

Total Sportek also noted that players of the English national team were being paid £1,500 (US$1,908) for winning qualifiers and friendly matches, £1,000 for draws, and £500 for defeats.

As a former world soccer player of the year, the president’s decision to include national team players on the government payroll may also be his strategy to develop football under his administration. But doing so would increase expenditures for a government already starved for cash. It would also be difficult to implement under the current system through which players are summoned for the national team.

Currently, there is no set team. Rather, players are called to play for the national team based on current performance and they remain national team players until they retired from international football. Therefore, if all players of the nation are placed on government’s payroll, it means players who are unattached or are not called for national duty because of performance at their clubs would continue receiving salaries from the government because they could be called at any time to play for the national team.

It is also likely that such would only be prioritized by Weah’s administration, and future governments might not sustain the program.

Even if the president’s plan is enacted, it will have no effect on the development of grassroots football. It would, therefore, lack any long-term benefits.

Instead of setting player salaries, other African countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, and Guinea have taken a different approach in investing to develop their national teams. Those countries have players in the top leagues across the world because of their grassroots development programs which help to properly groom players and give them access to international opportunities and experience. Nigeria, for example, can boast of players currently playing in the English Premiership, the German Bundesliga, and Spanish La Liga because of their grassroots football setup.

The Pepsi Academy, the Kwara Football Academy, and the Papilo Football Academy, owned by former Nigerian international, Nwanko Kanu, are among the many football academies in Nigeria that have helped Nigeria’s national team and footballers succeed hugely in Africa and across the world.

Like Nigeria, the Right to Dream Academy, West African Football Academy have played majors roles in the development of football in Ghana. Through its grassroots football development programs, Ghana has had players playing across Europe that make up the country’s teams that is competing with some of Europe’s top footballing countries.

However, Liberian football has struggled over the years due to a lack of grassroots football development. It has become difficult to find Liberian footballers playing in the world’s top leagues because of the poor foundations they have had in Liberia. Liberians playing in Europe can only be seen in the second-tier leagues and in lower ranked countries. The bulk of them are going to Asia.

With the presence of good grassroots program, it is believed that Liberia can contribute players in the top leagues and will build a strong national team. An example of raw Liberian talents is Liberian born Canadian international Alphonso Davies who has been signed by European giant, FC Bayern Munich.

Davies was born to Liberian parents but developed his talents at the Vancouver Whitecaps academy in Canada before playing in the Major League Soccer where he was spotted and chased by many big clubs, including Manchester United of England. The 18-year-old turned down many offers and joined Bayern Munich, where he will start playing January.

Davies’ progress through grassroots football is proof that there can be more Liberians playing in the top leagues in the world that can contribute to the national team if grassroots football is given serious attention, rather than placing national team players on government payroll which might last for a short period of time and only benefit players who are already at the peak of football.

Featured photo courtesy T. Kla Wesley Jr.

T Kla Wesley Jr.

T. Kla Wesley Jr. is a member of the Sports Writers Association of Liberia.

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