Nigeria's Age Old Problem

Yaya Toure and Emmanual Adebayor have been unavailable
for Manchester City and Tottenham respectively. 
In the last few weeks I've been intrigued like many by the sheer crazy and loony nature of the African Cup of Nations. Many ignore the tournament and due to the strange schedule it incorporates, some are simply unaware. Sandwiched between the Christmas period and start of the Champions League knock-out stages it interrupts most clubs schedules with leading stars jetting off and missing crucial matches. 

After every tournament some strange stories will surface, this year is no different. For example Nigerian Prostitutes offering free sexual favours if their country wins the trophy. To sum it up nicely you only need to look at just about any member of the crowd and you'll be stunned with amazement. This year the team to beat has been Nigeria, featuring an array of premier league talent and beating tournament favourites Ivory Coast. They look odds-on to lift the trophy on Sunday against Burkina Faso and this will unite an often divided country. 

African fans could give Lady Gaga a run for her money.

For many years however Nigeria has had a bit of an age problem... a simple Google search and you'll find hundreds of internet forum's, trusted newspaper articles and Youtube interviews all discussing the falsified ages of Nigerian players.

Concentrating on some players that might be a few years East of their passport ages, most of the arrows are pointing towards Nwankwo Kanu whose passport states he's 36 only retiring from Portsmouth last year. Many seem to think he's older, Avram Grant his old Portsmouth boss stated "I think he will play until he is 51. That is in two years" Avram was of course joking with the media, but many must remember that many a true word is said in jest! The guesses of his real age range anywhere from 39-52.

Taribo West, age unknown, hairstyle dreadful 
There are many more examples, Jay-Jay Okocha is now 39, retiring from Hull in 2008, rumours are he's actually 10 years older. Obafemi Martins football age is 28 his real age is closer to 35.
Most famous of all was Taribo West who was playing for Plymouth in his fifties and reportedly retired from football at 55, His passports states he's only just turned 38.  
Sadly FIFA have always struggled to keep up to speed with the true authenticity of the ages, the passports are real, they're just altered by corrupt immigration offices. The state is so extreme that some people in Nigeria even have death certificates, just incase the wrong person comes knocking.   

Pele made an interesting prediction that a nation in Africa would win the World Cup by the year 2000, he was wrong. But if you saw what he saw who can blame him. An African nation won or came runner up in every Fifa Under 17 World Cup, from its creation in 1985 to 1997 in the period of time 6 tournaments had been played! In reality its likely that the majority of these teams featured players in their twenties.
African team celebrating 2007 U17 World Cup

Fifa are doing something to tackle this however. They have finally come up with a 
foolproof way of determining real age. Ahead of the 2009 Under-17 World Cup in (well I never!) Nigeria, the governing body announced that players would be subjected to wrist scans using magnetic resonance imaging, and this would determine their true age. Surprise, surprise after the announcement Nigeria suddenly discarded 15 members of their squad, while Gambia omitted 11 of the 18 who had helped them to victory in the African Under-17 championship a few months earlier. Nigeria still came runners up in 2009, but no African countries featured in the final 4 in 2011 a feat that had only occurred twice previously. 

The truth of past players will never be known and Taribo West will continue to smile and laugh off any age questions thrown at him, but maybe FIFA are tackling the problem and in the UAE this year we might just see a clean Under 17 World Cup. But will it stop the questions?

James Cartwright (THFB) 8/02/13 , Follow me on twitter @James_H_C 



James_Hamer said…
Great read that pal! Caught it off a tweet you sent to Neil Mellor. Nice way to get your blog out there!
Thanks! Make sure you have a read of the others to! We're working really hard on the blog and the website!
Hoping to get good publicity!
Anonymous said…
Am I missing something here? Did you write the original article? Or is this the "history" bit?
The Football History Boys said…
I think i's just a case of our writer coming up with an "Article Name" which happens to be same - we didn't write the Guardian article. Just writing about the same topic.

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