No one with a famous father starts with a blank slate. It is not necessarily a burden, but it is a reality. The bonds are forged from birth. Those links create immediate perceptions, whether the person knows you or not.
For a blossoming young player like Tim Weah, those instant reactions are magnified. His father, George, is the president of Liberia and the 1995 FIFA World Player of the Year. Their shared last name carries decades of history. It reflects a career at the highest levels of the game by one of the best African soccer players to ever step foot on a field and weaves the tapestry of two nations within it.
There is no escape from those intricate ties. And Tim Weah does not want to do so. He is proud of his father and those achievements. But the weight people ascribe to that relationship -- the outlandish expectations some observers place squarely on the 18-year-old shoulders of the Paris Saint-Germain and U.S. Men’s National Team forward -- isn’t there either.
“A lot of people think it's a lot of pressure, but I take it day by day,” Tim Weah told ussoccer.com. “It's interesting. It's not pressure at all. You know, I use it to my advantage when I'm on the field. A lot of people, a lot of players are scared because they think that I am this fierce player, because of the last name that's on my back. For me, it was just normal. I'm just like any other player. I work hard for what I have. Skills don't come just like that. You have to work on it.”
Few people with that sort of lineage possess that perspective, particularly at such a young age. It is a viewpoint ingrained in him by his parents since childhood. They encouraged young Tim to explore what interested him and seek out things he enjoyed. Inevitably, the quest led them to a soccer field in south Florida.
“Because in our house, we had a pool table, you could play on the pool table. When you got interested in playing soccer, then we had to look for soccer,” George Weah told ussoccer.com last year. “So we enrolled [Tim] in a soccer program in Miami. His mom [Clar] was the coach -- she did it voluntarily -- and his sister was the assistant.”
During his childhood in Pembroke Pines, Fla. and Queens, N.Y., Weah pursued soccer with a passion. He spent a couple of years with the New York Red Bulls Academy -- future U.S. Men’s National Team midfielder Tyler Adams was one of his best friends -- before he embarked on a series of trials overseas in search of a contract. He found one with French giants Paris Saint-Germain in rather unexpected circumstances.
“I got a trial for a team here, Toulouse, a first division team that’s usually mid to bottom of the table,” Weah said. “I was actually going to sign there. They loved me and they took me to a tournament. We ended up playing PSG and that's where I got scouted. PSG texted my mom a few days later and was like, ‘Can we have him come down and try out and play a few games?’ The rest is really history.”
Weah joined the PSG Academy in 2014 and spent the next few years honing his craft. Following in his father’s footsteps – George played for PSG from 1992-96 -- his last name fit in the firmament of a club glittering with stars, but he toiled away in search of a breakthrough in relative obscurity. He did not lean on his last name or sail through the process. He climbed rung by rung based on his own merits.
“Everything that he does, the credit goes to him,” George Weah said. “You know, no one would say it’s because he had a normal father who is the former world's best player. He's a strong kid and he has a strong mentality.”
Even after he earned a professional contract in 2017, Weah kept his perspective. He worked hard every day to carve out a role in a squad teeming with stars. His work continues after training as he works on his passion project, music. Weah creates music in his apartment and refines his skills to lay the foundation for a future where he might produce his own trap soul tracks in New York and Liberia.
“My day job is obviously football, but at the end of practice I probably rest a little and then right after that I'm out of the studio working on music and writing,” Weah said. “I’m writing music, working on beats, and listening. It takes a lot of time.”
Weah applied that diligence as he wrestled with his decision to represent the United States at the international level. The familial pull towards Liberia is strong, particularly for the son of the president and a national hero. But in the end, Weah says he always wanted to wear the red, white and blue of the USA.
“I've always loved Liberia,” Weah said. “I always go back and help. I feel that that country is a part of me because my dad was born there and grew up there. But I was born in America. I was born in New York. I grew up in the system. I grew up playing for the national team since I was 12 years old. You know, all my friends are still there. I just have the love for the country, just like [my dad] has love for his country. I have the same type of love and the pride and the joy I got for playing for my country.”Those feelings manifest through his application and his energy every time he steps into camp. United States U-17 MNT head coach John Hackworth noticed Weah’s desire to make an impact every time he earned a call-up to his side ahead of the FIFA U-17 World Cup last year.
“Tim was coming from PSG, so he would come into either events or camps,” Hackworth said. “We didn’t get to see Tim as much. The one thing about Tim is that when he came in, it was like he was in there the whole time. He seamlessly fit in with our group.”
The instant chemistry showed when Weah took the field in India. His contributions in the run to the quarterfinals centered on a hat trick in the 5-0 victory against Paraguay in the Round of 16. The hat trick -- the first ever recorded by a men’s national team player in the knockout stages of a World Cup - included a stunning strike where he collected on the left, cut inside deftly and lashed into the far corner.
“I took the ball, I did this little thing with my foot that I see Neymar do a lot in training and it was just such a quick thinking situation,” Weah explained. “I thought I could just hit it. I saw it going and I was like, ‘oh my God, this is going to be hot on Twitter.’ The third one was just like the cherry on top of a milkshake.”
By producing at the highest youth levels, Weah paved his way for accelerated progression. He started to make inroads with the first team at PSG - he made his first start for the club in the season-ending 0-0 draw with Caen on May 19 - and took his full international bow with a late substitute appearance in the 1-0 victory against Paraguay in March. With the cameo, Weah became the first player born in 2000 to appear for the MNT.
“Even when I used to create my player on FIFA … I used to use USA because I had so much pride for the country,” Weah said. “Getting the chance to wear the official jersey and have the crest across my heart was an amazing feeling. I felt completely blessed and completely honored to play for such a great country with such a huge amount of history and getting the chance to play for them at such a young age.”
He added to that history in May, becoming the fourth youngest player to score for the MNT in a 3-0 win against Bolivia before starting a week later in a hard-fought 2-1 defeat at Ireland.
Even with those milestones already ticked off the list, Weah remains grounded about the challenges ahead. Hackworth noted how Weah’s upbringing still plays a part in how the blossoming forward approaches the challenges ahead.
“I had the privilege to meet his parents,” Hackworth said. “Tim comes from a family that instilled a lot of values and a lot of ethics in him from a young age. The thing that always struck me when I was around Tim is that he didn’t want his last name to be what brought him into an event or what made people talk about him. He wanted to talk about his first name, Tim. That’s a little different because it’s easy to take advantage of the opportunities because of your name. He wanted to prove himself and that he was earning every opportunity that he got.”
It is why the first reaction from the father is exactly as expected - “I'm proud because he's my son,” George Weah said - and why the second one from son naturally follows that path.
This isn’t a story about some young player trying to ease into the game. This is about a genuine prospect trying to grab and push for every last opportunity afforded to him through his ability and his persistence.
It isn’t a blank slate, but it is a canvas with plenty of room for new memories. It is now down to Weah to chart his own course with the United States and make his own indelible mark on the game in the years ahead.
“I'm proud because he's my son.”
- George Weah
“… it’s easy to take advantage of the opportunities because of your name. He wanted to prove himself and that he was earning every opportunity that he got.”
– John Hackworth