How old are footballers, really?

by Eliot Prince

I’m always interested all of the rumors and allegations flying around the football world about players’ ages and trying to identify the real ages. It is believed that quite often either players don’t know their ages or they lie to get in to youth academies and so on… the majority of these come from within Africa due to lack of identification and birth certificates in less developed countries than you may find in central Europe. The most notable nation is Nigeria.

They have had vast amounts of players expelled from the youth squads since the wrist scans have been introduced, which can obtain the players ages.

I am going to give an insight to some of the most notable cases and give some idea of what age they really are, hopefully!

Nwankwo Kanu – Nigeria

Now Kanu is a player who has won everything bar the World Cup but how could he have not, he’s practically a dinosaur, he’s been in the game of professional football forever! 1 August 1976 is his registered date of birth, making him 34…or is he?

His actual age is believed to be anywhere between 40 and 50 years old. When at Portsmouth and scoring the FA cup winner Harry Redknapp, his then manager, said he was about 47. Three years later in 2010 he’s …. 50! Unbelievable and he is still and international and just dropped out of the Premier League. The joke goes that Kanu enjoyed the best ten  years of his career between the ages of 29 and 30. It’s still a bit of a mystery!

One thing you can’t argue with is: 3 FA cup winners’ medals, Olympic Gold, Champions league winner, Championship winner, premier league winner and that’s not the whole list!

Obafemi Martins – Nigeria

That’s right he’s Nigerian. To me the guy still seams around 23 and his ‘official’ age is 25. He signed for Newcastle at what he said was the age of 21 and the Magpies supposedly fully checked his background; anyone else got question marks over that?

The Inter Milan website was telling the world that claims in Martins’ home country of Nigeria suggest he is closer to 27 or 28! More controversy came for the African when Martins’ date of birth on his passport stating 28 October 1984 while the website of the Nigeria Football Association (NFA) said he was born on 1 May 1978. Now in the year 2010 making him 26 on his passport but 32 for the NFA.

Martins of course furiously denied the date of birth on the NFA site was correct and demanded it be immediately changed to end any further embarrassment to either him or his employers but the seeds of doubt were again planted in the heads of fans, journalists and, no doubt, other clubs as to his honesty.

Freddy Adu – USA

This is a slightly different one as it comes not straight from Africa but the United States of America in the wonderkid shape of Freddy Adu. He’s a hotly tipped future world beater, once the MLS’ highest paid player. His roots do again stem from within Africa, Ghana this time.

From a young age there were raised eyebrows over this kid as he had a physique of a man 10 years older than him at the age of 14. Many rumours of his real age have been blast around but there is no factual evidence of age fraud on him that has popped up for other player. Strange anomalies are where accusations come from. For example, his height did not change in the six years between 14 and his now ‘age’ of 20.

He has also failed to make the impact predicted and has not shown any improvement in his game that a youth player should make. He’s failed to launch a European career turning out for the odd French side and recently looking for a move to the lower tiers. Now measuring him against other wonderkids, Rooney, Robinho or Owen they show a completely different trajectory in career paths which is where my question marks come from and he could well be 30 not 20.

Jay-Jay Okocha – Nigeria

I remember vividly Jay-Jay being a genius with his silky skills when he came and joined Bolton in the premier league, but again I have heard whisperings of the trickster’s real age. It is now widely believed that through his career he was 10 years older than his official age, but little factual evidence is available for this case which again makes it hard to pinpoint his exact real age.

Taribo West – Nigeria

Taribo West, who signed in 2005 for Plymouth Argyle, quickly had his contract terminated. It was weird to see such a massive player signing for Argyle after staying up in the Championship. Strange occurrences continued when I heard that documents concerning his real age came to the Plymouth Argyle board that suggested West was in fact 39 years old, not 31. This means he is now in 2010 either 36 or 44, I suspect nearer the latter.

As you can see the most notable cases have stemmed from Africa and Nigeria, and more controversy came about earlier this summer when Nigeria suddenly discarded 15 squad members, while Gambia omitted 11 of the 18 who had helped them to victory in the African Under-17 championship a few months earlier. Reports claim that retrospective analyses of the previous three Under-17 World Cups showed more than a third of all players were too old.

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4 Responses

  1. bob says:

    Maybe the real question here is what is it that makes these players able to play on years past their fellow pros?

    1. Socrates says:

      That is certainly the more interesting question.

  2. jacki says:

    I guess the answer lies in the statement: you are as old/young as you feel!

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