As we reported in a previous story, the problem with age verification of African players due to a lack of birth certificates or falsification of these documents remains a huge issue in football. Serbian side Partizan Belgrade last year claimed that former Nigerian defender Taribo West had lied to them about his age when he signed for the club, claiming he was 28 when in fact they suspected he was actually 40. They threatened to sue the player after doctor examinations suggested that his knees were older than his implied age. Whilst nothing came of this, it was another example of the age verification issue that had dogged African football for the past 30 years. Now another name has been added to the list but this time it’s a little more clear cut.
Claims made on an Senegalese website, Senogo.net suggest that Lazio youth player, Joseph Minala is not 17 years old and is in fact 41 years old. The sensational claim is based on an supposed event which took place in which Minala confessed that his birth certificate was falsified in order to play professional football and earn money that he could send back to family in Cameroon. The youngster was born on August 24th, 1996 in Cameroon and has a birth certificate to prove it. When he joined Lazio in December of last year, Minala submitted his paperwork, including the birth certificate to Lazio officials who followed proper procedures to verify it authenticity. To be fair, Minala doesn’t look like your conventional 17 years old. Tall, muscular and with a fuller face, Minala appears older than his years but at the heart of things, he is still like any other 17 year old who wants to play football, hang out with friends and chase girls.
Lazio have denied the legitimacy of the claim and have threatened legal action in an attempt to protect one of their up and coming stars as well as the reputation of the club. Minala has also come out publically with a statement through Lazio’s website saying:
“I have read the alleged statements posted on the website senego.net in which it says I confessed my real age which was different to what was stated in my [official] documents. They are false statements that have been attributed to me by people who do not know.”
Even the player’s agent, Diego Tavano has jumped to his defence by saying that any suggestions that Minala is not a 17 year old are absurd. Having spent the most time with the player since he arrived in Italy three years ago, Tavano knows him better than anyone else and went on to talk about the difficult life Minala has had so far which has forced him to mature faster than others. Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Tavano talked in length about Minala’s childhood in Cameroon and the daily struggles he had.
The whole episode has taken its toll on Minala who has since deactivated his twitter account, shortly after posting one final thought:
“Envy is the weakness of man and people of poor souls feel pain seeing others in Serie A. I love you all. Forza Lazio”
Wise words indeed from someone so young.