The Lazio youth player, Joseph Minala, was thrust into the limelight in the past week over claims over his age. The midfielder allegedly told an African site he was 41 and not 17 as he and his club are now insisting. Lazio could probably have done without this scandal seeing as though they are currently 9th in Serie A, and have recently changed managers.
Minala (right), seen in this picture next to Udinese star Antonio Di Natale, has apparently rolled back the years to play for Lazio in the Viareggio Cup, an Italian youth tournament.
The club and the player vehemently deny that he is older than the immortal Ryan Giggs, however media reports continue to question this. Minala himself released a statement saying that
“I have read the alleged statements posted on the website senego.net…They are false statements that have been attributed to me by people who do not know.”
Lazio reaffirmed this by saying his birth certificate was “absolutely legitimate”.
There have been arguments back and forth over the accuracy of his claims, with Italian journalist Max Evangelista telling the BBC that
“He is a very reactive player. You could never say he is 41…When you are surrounded by players running like devils around you, in my opinion it is very tough to be 41. He runs, he is fast. It is unbelievable news, that is why Lazio felt the need to deny it. On his face there is sign of his previous life, which was not a happy life. That is it. Period. There is nothing else that makes you think he is 41.”
However, the African website who they say he told them he was not 17, Senego, have today released a reaction to statements made by the Italians and by Minala, and say: “We got our hands on a closeup photo that confirms the very advanced age of Joseph Minala. Several childhood friends of the player testified affirming Minala have [sic] over 37 years!” They also say that Lazio only have the birth certificate and papers provided by the club and not the actual legal documents.
This is by no means the first time a football players’ age has been brought into question. The problem is widespread in Africa with several teams being caught out and suspended for fielding over-age players in youth tournaments. One of the more extreme case was in 2003, when Kenya’s Under-17 national team were dissolved by the Kenyan Government after some players confessed to themselves being over 18 years of age. The problems with these players lying is that not only are they cheating the system and the football powers that be, but they are also preventing legitimately aged team-mates from playing. If Joseph Minala is just a teenager who wants to play football then that’s fine, but if he really is in his late 30s/early 40s as some outlets report, then he should be hanging up his boots.
A more famous example of an age scandal would be the Brazilian defensive midfielder Carlos Alberto (pictured above left), who has played for Figueirense and Corinthians in Brazil’s top flight. Brazil won the 2003 FIFA World Youth Cup, which is contested by players under the age of 20. Alberto, though, was 25, and was born not on the 24th January 1983 as he reported to his nation – but on the same date five years previously. This meant he was five years over-age for the tournament and once caught he was banned from football for 360 days. Carlos Alberto was about to complete a transfer to Brazilian powerhouses Sao Paulo (his talent never came into question) when the scandal hit world news and the ban was slapped on him.