U.S. Under-17 phenom Tim Weah proud of following his famous father
A player's path through the youth ranks is littered with obstacles. The competition is intense, the distractions many, and injury can strike at any time. When said player is the son of one of the game's greats, there's an extra layer added to those challenges.
Sure, having a famous parent can open doors and allow for opportunities that aren't available to other kids. But it can also create unrealistic expectations, with the child expected to equal -- or even exceed -- the exploits of the parent. The reality is that every player is different, even those with the greatest of soccer lineages.
So far, Tim Weah -- the son of 1995 FIFA World Player of the Year George Weah -- has managed to avoid such pitfalls, and starting on Friday he'll get to show the world just how far he's come. The 17-year-old will suit up for the U.S. when they play their first game against India at the FIFA U-17 World Cup. His ambition is nothing less than raising the trophy.
"We've been working for a while; we've been to a lot of tournaments, and I feel coming to this World Cup we've prepared well," Tim Weah said via telephone from the team's training base in New Delhi. "I feel like we can possibly be the winners of this World Cup, and my No. 1 goal is to basically win it and see the smiles on everyone's faces."
Weah is adept with both feet, so he can line up on either wing in manager John Hackworth's 4-3-3, where his pace and technical ability are expected to be used to good effect. Like his father, a prolific goal scorer with the likes of Monaco, Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan, the younger Weah lives for goals, but also takes immense joy in setting them up.
When he talks of his objectives for the tournament, Weah speaks of "hopefully getting [teammate] Josh Sargent a couple of goals, making him look good, making him look great; just having a great tournament with the team, which is most important."
It is that humility, combined with a prodigious work ethic, that has impressed Hackworth the most.
"Credit to his family, this is a kid that just comes to the training field every day with the desire to get better and with a smile on his face," Hackworth said via telephone. "Wherever we ask him to play, it's, 'Yes coach, whatever you need coach.' He just has an excellent attitude. I always think with young kids, that is necessary for them to keep developing."
Tim Weah was born in Brooklyn in 2000 and moved to Florida when he was 2 years old. Several years later, the Weah family moved back to New York and Tim soon started playing youth soccer with local club side BW Gottschee, where he normally played a year up. Around age 10 it began to dawn him just how famous his father was.
"When I would go out with him a lot, people used to say, 'There's George Weah,'" Tim recalled. "It was just weird when I was younger, but then I see how big of a star he was, and the impact he made on the football field."
He says he and his father never argue about his soccer career when he's home (which is rare for a father and son). Given that the younger Weah has been in Paris Saint-Germain's youth program since he was 14, his development is largely out of his father's hands now. Instead, the two prefer to talk about the wider soccer world, or George's political work in his native Liberia. It makes for what the younger Weah calls "a calm setting at home."
"Some people think it's hard, but I think it's easy," Tim Weah said about having a famous father. "I use it as an advantage because my dad did a lot of great things in his time playing. I just use it as motivation, and it's like a boost that helps me when I play. From watching all his games, learning from him first-hand, I try to apply everything to my game. I try to be a little bit like him, but more of myself added to it."
That is the critical piece in such situations. How does the son make the game his own, find his own passion, and learn to trust his instincts? For Weah, it comes from a simple bit of advice his father gave him.
"He told me, 'Just play your game,'" Weah said. "Physically, I don't have to be like him, but to play my game. It's easier to play if I'm free-minded and doing what I want and playing the way I want because that's the only way I'll really succeed."
Weah has absorbed some broader lessons as well, including "having a certain intelligence in life." Given the way the elder Weah has engaged himself in politics and humanitarian causes since his retirement, the importance of having career options after soccer has already been driven home.
It is that knowledge that helped the younger Weah blaze his own trail and enabled him to adapt to life in Paris after moving to PSG. The early days in Paris were "a shock," but Weah became fluent in French in five months, and his progress on the field has been impressive, scoring last month for PSG's U19 team against Celtic in the UEFA Youth League.
There have also been occasions when he's gotten to train with the first team. This usually happens the day after games when the starters are given a rest, preventing him from rubbing elbows with Neymar, Edinson Cavani, and Kylian Mbappe, who Weah counts as his biggest inspiration. Not that being at the same club as those stars is getting to his head.
Weah added, "When you're humble, everything is going to come to you."
On that basis, Weah's October might be prolific indeed.
Jeff Carlisle covers MLS and the U.S. national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreyCarlisle.