Age cheating has become a cancer to African football.Junior tournaments are running the risk of being inconsequential to the development of African football. Countries like Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon were fond of fielding over aged players in international youth tournaments.
“He’s only 25, albeit a Nigerian 25, and so if that is his age he’s still got a good few years ahead of him.” Believe it or not this is manager praising his own player! The words were said by one David Moyes, manager of Everton, after his striker Yakubu Ayegbeni scored a hat-trick in a UEFA Cup game.On face value, the statement is the purest form of blatant racism and typical European talk trashing African players. But doesn’t Africa have itself to blame for this perception?
Age cheating is a common practice in African football to an extent that players in amateur leagues are known to have two ages, the football age and the real age. In my own country Ghana, we have had several players protesting their innocence once they burst into the professional league only for some of them to buckle under the stress and confess.In no way trying to motivate their reasons for cheating, but one could always claim that the real cause of the problem lies in the dire social and economic problems most Africans find themselves in.
They “fix” their age, mostly to the level of teenagers because scouts, as an indirect consequence, are always on the look out for the young hot thing. In Africa it is almost unheard that a player gets signed to a major European league in their mid-twenties.And with those chances slipping away daily because there is no infrastructure to identify, develop and nurture their talents.
But what of the agents, surely they must know? Truth is, some agents have been known to encourage doctoring of ages. The consequence of this phenomenon is that deserving talents miss the opportunity to be scouted as they are invariably outshone by cheats.Age cheating is destroying football development in Africa. It makes tournaments useless because some players must not be playing because they are too old.
In their bid to curb age cheating in football, Football’s world governing body (FIFA) introduced MRI testing to determine the true age of players representing their various nations at the current Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria. In a trial run, 15 out of the Nigerian team’s 32 players failed the test, causing a major controversy.
The tests are currently the only reliable means of determining the ages of players. The recent proposal by the Nigerian NFFs Chairman to call the parents of the players to ask them the players’ ages is ridiculous.
“Nobody will ever believe that. We live in an age of technology and we should make use of it. Otherwise, what’s the point of playing such tournaments if older playing are taking part?”
Football administrators believe age cheating took a leap after the commercialisation of the game in Africa. Clubs and footballers’ agents have been accused of encouraging players alter their age so that it becomes less hard to obtain contracts with European clubs looking out for young talents.
Some players, and one doesn’t need to be expert on the subject to observe that some players look decidedly dodgy. Take a look at Kanu at age 20. Obafemi Martins, seems to have been playing forever, Nii Lamptey of Ghana seems to have suffered from age related injuries and fatigue and Freddy Adu.It is no wonder then Africa totally dominates FIFA age-specific championships but never translate and maintain those high standards and expectations to the very top.Ghana is a dominant force when it comes to FIFA age group tournaments. Two times under 17 Champions, three times African U 20 Champions and alsothe current world U20 Champions. Nigeria another African Super power dominating age specific tournaments, three times FIFA U17 champions and Olympic Gold winners.
With such success, none have gone on to dominate the world stage particularly at the FIFA World Cups or even provide a player to rival the likes of George Weah and Kalusha Byalwa.Almost every age-specific championships is littered with complaints and suspicions of age cheating from African teams—the recent U17 African Championship was an orgy of accusations, some of which sadly were proven correct.You would think CAF would take the matter seriously and urgently, that it would then put time and money to eradicate what is clearly a black eye on the continent’s image.
But not them, the Francophone dominated institution is only too happy to bash European media and enjoy FIFA perks than do anything to clean up their houses.
I hate to be a pessimists, but untill CAF as the mother body take the issue seriously and FIFA actively makes the matter a priority, Africa will suffer forever and we can kiss 2010 and every World Cup after that goodbye.