Like many other industries football has its dark sides and age fraud and falsifying documents is one of them. The most recent example is Cameroonian player Joseph Minala, whose age has been discussed in all the major media around the world.
Joseph Minala is a 17 years old player of the Italian Serie A side Lazio who has recently been a victim of allegations and abuse on social media where many were accusing the player of lying about his age. A picture of Minala (see below) has been doing rounds on the Internet for a while and convinced many that Joseph is in fact much older than he appears to be. Some even went so far as to claim he is actually 41 years old! Such preposterous claims accompanied by the fact that the story gained so much traction that it eventually got picked up by the media world wide prompted Lazio to threaten with legal action.
Minala has not been the first nor is the last player, who had to deal with these sorts of accusations, even the Brazilian legend Pele was a target at some point in his career. Most recent high profile case of similar suspicions comes from the Premier League and it concerns one of the best African footballers of all time, Samuel Eto’o. It all started when journalists published an off the record comment made by Samuel’s manager Jose Mourinho at a sponsor event joking with a friend, saying Eto’o may be a year or two older. Adding fuel to the fire, Eto’o’s ex-girlfriend went on record saying Samuel is seven years older than he says he is. Both, player and manager already denied any rows between them and Mourinho slammed the media for taping his private conversation without his knowledge. Players are unlucky this is the era of social media and stories like these travel at the speed of light. But we’re not here to discuss the documents and/or age of Joseph Minala or Eto’o for that matter but to take a quick look at the history of age fraud and remind you to always be careful.
Like many other industries football has its dark sides and falsifying documents is one of them. Coincidentally, the most famous case of a player pretending to be younger than he is originates from Serie A and involves SS Lazio. The year was 2001 and the newly promoted Chievo caught the league by storm. In their team was a 23-year old Brazilian midfielder Eriberto whose performances earned him a move to Lazio. But the transfer fell through when the player admitted to producing false documents and lying about his age. He was in fact four years older and his real name was Luciano. High profile cases of age fraud were found at national levels in Nigeria and Mexico respectively. Just last year, more than half of the Nigerian Under-17 selection failed an MRI age scan and were proved to be older than their documents stated.
This caused quite a stir worldwide and in the African region where many football officials stated this sort of cheating happens too often and it is high time to end it. In 1988, the Mexican Under-20 selection which qualified for the FIFA Youth World Cup was proven to use older players and the sanctions were strict. First suspicions came from a reporter who found an older school yearbook where the age of players didn’t match the ages reported at the tournament and the suspicions were later confirmed with the original birth certificates. As a result, Mexico was banned from all international competitions at all levels for two years, including their senior team who couldn’t play in the 1990 World Cup in Italy.
Age fraud is a serious and recurring threat in football and is more often present in less developed countries and regions. It appears at national levels where there’s an age limit when teams use older players to gain unfair advantage but it also appears on the club level, mostly for financial gain. Young and talented footballers are sought after and the younger a player is the more he can be developed by the club and is therefore more valuable.
While the stories like Minala’s will always find its way into the media and entertain conspiracy theorists it is worth remembering to always be on your toes and work carefully. When signing players and taking them under your wing make sure you’ve done your research, not only by scouting their football abilities but also their cultural background and personal history. This kind of insight isn’t just for checking the documents though you will also learn more about the player as a person, his character and his motivation, which allows you to better anticipate his reactions in specific situations – on and off the field.