Shining a spotlight on 'age' issues of successful African international teams

Nigeria Fans

A revelation earlier this year regarding the age of Taribo West re-ignited the often hushed debate about the ages of Africa's football stars. Philip Acha takes a look.

Each time a European or South American team, wins or makes a memorable showing at U17, U20 or U23 Football tournaments, it’s a chance to see raw talent, future football stars and future World Cup and Champions League winners.

Check out Golden and Silver boot roster of U20 World Cups since 1977: Giovanne, Oleg Salenko, Davor Suker, Diego Maradona, Trezeguet, Adriano, Urzaiz, Saviola, Messi, Aguero etc.

You ever wondered why African teams perform so well at age-restricted football tournaments yet fail to make it in the big stage? Well here comes the shocker. The players’ ages are not what the claim to be. This is not a medical report. It’s a report based on observation, and thus is scientific in its methodology.

Stats are eloquent. At the under 17 World Cup level Nigeria has played 6 finals, winning three. Ghana has played 4 finals, winning 2. Both teams have won third place once each.

At the Under 20 World Cup level, Ghana won in 2009 and has been runner-up twice (1993 and 2001) while Nigeria was runner-up in 1989 and 2005. At the Olympic games, where 8 out of 11 players should be 23 years or younger, Nigeria and Cameroon won consecutive Gold Medals in 1996 and 2000.

Take Cameroon’s Gold Medal winning team at Sydney 2000. Cameroon U23 Indomitable Lions beat Brazil at the semis and Spain at the final. If you compare the two generations of footballers from these three countries, Xavi (Real Madrid), Puyol (Barcelona), Marchena (Deportivo), Capdevila (Espanyol), Tamudo (Vallecano), Gabri Garcia (Lausanne), Aranzubia (Deportivo) for Spain who were all born in 1977 and 1978 became world stars and are still in activity.

Few like Luque have retired due to injury. For Brazil, whom Cameroon beat at the semis, Ronaldinho needs scant introduction. Same with Baiano, Edu, Giovanne, Alex, Fabianno and Lucio.

While the Spanish side at Sydney were mostly aged 22 and 23, Cameroon fielded players who were barely 16 and 17 years old for Carlos Kameni and Modeste Mbami respectively. Same as Nigeria in Atlanta 1996 with Taribo West (22), Wilson Oruma (19), Tijani Babanginda (22) and Celestine Babayaro (17). What is the possible explanation why 13 years later, most of the Spanish team aged 35 in 2013 is still in activity, while their African teammates retired many years ago?

Only 1 U23 player on Cameroon’s side made it to the world stage, Samuel Eto’o who now plays for Anzhi Makachkala and Carlos Kameni, at Malaga player. The others barely had 5 years of competitive football after Sydney 2000!

What happened to Nii Lamptey or Freddy Adu? Philip Osondu, best player at 1987 U17 World Cup became a janitor by 1993. Do African footballers generally wear out faster? No!

In the light of recent medical revelations by Croatia’s Rijeka club that Taribo West was revealed to be 12 years older than he claimed, this situation calls for further investigation.

I am African and I know what I see when I look at a brother. I dare not say FIFA is an accomplice in this massive fraud because FIFA banned Nigeria from all international fixtures for two years after finding that the birth dates of three of their players in the 1988 Olympics were different from ones used by the same players in previous tournaments.

Yet, why is MRI dating not systematically employed for age-restricted football tournaments?

Let Philip hear your views...

image: © nova3web

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