Timothy Weah swaggered into the press conference at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on Monday night. The red and blue of the stars and strips were jauntily draped over his broad shoulders. Just minutes ago, in the ground below, he had scored only the second hat trick of this FIFA Under-17 World Cup and only the third by an American ever at this level. The strikes, including a screamer from the edge of the box, had seen U.S. complete a 5-0 demolition of Paraguay and enter the quarterfinals for the first time in twelve years.
“Question for Tim Weah,” asked a reporter. “Have you got a text from your father?”
From the moment he decided to be a footballer and possibly before it, Weah has been doggedly tailed by this very persistent marker. Not by a defender of a rival team but by his own very famous last name. The 17-year-old has a promising career in his own right. He is a striker for the U.S. U-17 team and has been signed by Ligue 1 giants PSG. He has even dabbled in music to create an identity of his own. Yet try as he might, he can’t shake off the inevitable comparisons to his father. As the son of former FIFA Player of the Year and Ballon D’Or winner George Weah, that almost certainly had to be the case.
Speaking to ESPN, U.S. coach John Hackworth had mentioned how he had hoped the World Cup would prove to be an opportunity for the youngster to step out of his father’s shadow.
“At this age he has a lot of potential,” said Hackworth. “He is one of those guys who you can say has a lot of lofty expectations on him because of his name. But he isn’t his dad, he is Tim. He needs to make his own way. This tournament can be an opportunity for Tim to make a name for himself and maybe we stop talking about his dad in the background.”
Yet, even when he arrived in India with the U.S. national team for the U-17 World Cup, his identity has continued to be that of George Weah’s son. The constant comparison to an illustrious predecessor can be a stifling burden for any youngster. For his part, Weah has worn that mantle respectfully, answering questions on his famous kinship with good humor.
At press conferences, he has been asked whether he discusses football with his father (he doesn’t, although they watch games together) and even about his father’s bid to be president of the African country of Liberia (he supports the campaign).
Tim Weah Maja Hitij – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Weah had been patient even when his own form seemingly failed to do justice to his pedigree. In the U.S.’s three league games of the World Cup, Weah had not scored. In the final of his side’s group fixtures, against Colombia, Weah didn’t even make the XI in a match his side would lose 3-1.
But he started against Paraguay. The South American team were table toppers after the group stage and in great form with wins against one of the pre-tournament favourites Mali.
It would take Weah just 19 minutes to seize control of the match. A cross from Ayo Akinola was intercepted by a stretched left foot at full gallop and deflected past keeper Diego Huesca. That was the typical striker’s goal, scored as a result of positional awareness. Weah would continue to threaten. A diving header off an Andrew Carleton cross would find the keeper in the center of the box. Just three minutes later, he would have his second. Hemmed in by two defenders coming down the right flank, Weah stopped dead, turned and hammered in a Thierry Henry-esque curler from 20 yards out.
“The second goal was special. As a striker I don’t get to score a lot of beautiful goals,” Weah said. “After I scored I didn’t know how to react for a few seconds. The blood was pumping but I couldn’t believe what I had done. I didn’t have a lot of time to think about it but the form with which I hit that strike was perfect. It was a one-in-a-million shot I would think.”
It wasn’t quite his father’s pitch length dribble and strike for Milan against Verona from 20 years back, but it will surely find a place in the highlights package of the 2017 World Cup.
Weah would add another more traditional striker’s poke following two goals from team-mates Josh Sargent and Andrew Carleton. The tap-in wasn’t as glamorous as his first two efforts, but once again, it was converted with clinical ease.
The U.S. team will certainly be hoping for more of the same as they head to Kolkata to play either England or Japan. Having long made waves based on his famous father, Weah can now be expected to let his own name do the talking. Indeed, his response to the question at the press conference had nothing to do with his father.
“There isn’t a lot of connectivity in Liberia so I couldn’t text my father. I texted my mom. She told me to get down on my knees and thank God for scoring a hat trick and now focus on my next game.”