You’re 17? Not in a Minala Years

With Valentine’s Day on your mind this week, you may have missed the controversy surrounding Italian giants Lazio, and their 17-year old midfielder Joseph Minala. There are claims that the Cameroonian player is in fact 41 years old; claims that Lazio strongly refute.

You’re 17? Not in a Minala Years

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February 14th, 2014

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If you’ve seen a picture of Joseph Minala in his Lazio kit, you may be forgiven for thinking he’s simply a really passionate fan. A fan, who after years of strife in his home country, has finally made the trip over to Rome to watch his beloved team for the first time. Thankfully he hadn’t been as unlucky as this Everton fan when going to watch his team. He has a smile on his face, a face that looks as if it has seen troubled times, and faced a lot in life. Well, you’d be wrong.

Minala is, in fact, one of Lazio’s latest signings. The midfielder, who has signed for their youth team, is just 17 years old. Hmm. I’m not going to lie, something does seem a bit, well, off here. I understand that some people can look older; this particular writer looks between 5 and 10 years older than his real age; this is mainly due to a distinct lack of hair and a substantial amount of beard. But to look at Minala, he has the features of a much older man who has been through a lot.

It also wouldn’t be the first time that this has happened – age fraud in Africa is commonplace, with large footballing nations such as Nigeria and Ghana having been embroiled in age scandals in the past. It has been known for players to retire after just two years, because they simply cannot keep up and run anymore. It’s not just resigned to Africa either; World Cup 2014 hosts Brazil were found to have a 25-year-old Carlos Alberto amongst their ranks for the 2003 World Youth Cup, a tournament for those under 20 years of age.

But why is this happening? Pressure for success is certainly a factor. With all the problems in Africa, it can be tough for young players to leave their respective countries and get noticed; by the time they do it’s often too late. With it being so easy to falsify your age in an African country, it’s a natural solution to their problem: appear younger than you are, and get noticed quicker.

Another reason may be that a lot of people in Africa simply do not know when they were born. They do not have the medical facilities and records we have in Europe, and thus they simply just don’t know. Teams think they’re getting a young player who is performing at a high level for his age, and as they say, ignorance is bliss.

To combat this growing problem, FIFA have started to use MRI scans of left wrists at their Championships. This can accurately gauge the age of competitors, and goes some way to solving the problem. However, I highly doubt that Lazio would be naïve enough to sign a player such as Minala without first performing an MRI scan, so the story’s been blown out of all proportion.

I also feel pretty sorry for the lad – he’s suspended all his social media accounts because of abuse he’s received. This is awful, because nobody deserves abuse for what they look like, and social media is really catching on with those in their 40s. Funnily enough, not much has actually been written about his footballing ability. To this day I have no idea what kind of player he is, just that he looks pretty old.

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