An ever developing and suspicious dichotomy lies at the heart of the African game- especially at the National set up. Such is the paradox that African teams tend to perform wildly better at youth levels (age based competitions) than at senior levels.
Ladies and Gentlemen it’s nothing new, it’s not something we can bury our heads in the sand anymore about- Age Cheating is rife in African Nations.
The recent cases of nine players dropped at the Africa Youth Championships U-17 tourney in Morocco and even earlier on in the month the shocking submission made that an African Star actually faked his age to get signed up by a European team a few years ago- do nothing but damage the reputation of the game in Africa.
It makes you wonder- will Africa ever learn? Will Africa ever be honest?
You will expect a good player that is truly 17 years of age to move to the U-21 category and later to the senior team later in his career. But such is not the case many at times. It’s more of like the reverse. A U-21 somehow makes his way to the U-17. A player that’s supposed to be breaking into senior level football still playing for the U-21’s and those in the senior team; a total mess of age’s they do not belong to.
While Africa might hide behind the excuse wall of having never had a chance to spot talents early enough- or the other that in other continents talents are nurtured from an early age (probably even as early as age 5); it’s surely not acceptable. It’s a culmination of wrong planning and poor strategies by those at the helm of the game.
It’s time Africa moved away from the mentality that the end justifies the means- surely not when the beautiful game is concerned and ages are brought into play. By fielding these players who are way over their ages- Africa is denying the rightful players a chance to develop their game and nurture their skills as they (federations, agents, clubs etc.) seek quick glory at the expense of the reality on the pitch.
We must all commend FIFA for introducing MRI scans at age based competitions- actually what enables us eliminate the culprits but isn’t it shameful how the cases are dealt with afterwards?
While at Club level- any discrepancy is dealt with by either bans, empty stadiums, docking of points etc. it’s shocking to learn in a case of the U-17 Tournament going on now in Morocco. Teams that have been found guilty of ferrying ineligible players (Nigeria, Ivory Coast, DR Congo) all are still allowed to continue with the tourney. Begs the question, how?
In addition, it seems federations no longer care. Aren’t proper records for our players kept? Is winning at all costs the main subject than the careers of those lovely boys and girls?
It is no wonder African Countries dominate FIFA age specific tournaments but never maintain the same standards at the very top.
The U-17 World Cup for example;
Ø African teams have won the FIFA U-17 World Cup 5 times during the last 14 attempts (Nigeria 3, Ghana 2) – Actually Africa has won the tournament the most number of times compared to other continents and have been runners up the same number of times.
Ø South America as a whole actually has 3 tournament wins and has been runner up three times. Additionally Argentina has finished in third place on 3 occasions but has never appeared in the final. Brazil and Mexico have each won the tourney twice.
Ø The 1993 final was contested by two African teams, the only occasion when the final has been contested by two teams from the same confederation.
In blanket perspective- these are records of very successful youth level sides that would be looked up to as later kings to the throne of World Football. But what’s the reality today?
A few would explain that African teams don’t go ahead to jell much better for future competitions but in as much as the truth lies there in small proportion- most players who play the U17 tournaments and even the U21’s are soon forgotten after the tournaments and are just needed back when another tournament arises.
While some are prematurely moved into the senior set-up others earn big moves abroad and soon the clubs get them shipped out as most don’t meet the threshold required.
A few years later after all the hype dies out- the media seem to forget they are the same people who hyped them all the way and put them in all the mess. Then the calculations begin- the accusations and counter-accusations. Clubs feeling cheated by agents and parents, families and even players dreams coming to a complete halt. The shame, the guilt, the lost opportunities- never to be recovered again.
Blame it on poverty, blame it on lack of proper records, blame it on need for glory- Africa has no excuse to justify age cheating. While CAF the custodians of the game back home share the same bed with impetinent agents and paper loving federations who see no need for honesty- the African game in the long run suffers.
Are we gonna allow ourselves bear all the shame and guilt while they share the money and fame? Until then so- let’s kiss the 2014 World Cup bye and World Cup’s thereafter.
I love getting views on such matters such as age cheating from social media. I came across so many interesting ones but one caught my eye by @soccertanzania. Whatare your thoughts?
The interviewed player ”the one mentioned in this tweet” was a member of the Tanzania U-17 2004 team that qualified for the u-17 championship but was (team) disqualified for age cheating.
Just before this piece ends though i will give a short story of a player in West Africa who went to represent his country at an U-17 tourney. Things did go well and his side went on to win the tourney. During the celebrations though one thing stood out- his family came on to celebrate with him and Alas! Two kids probably aged five and three ran into the pitch shouting ”Daddy! Daddy!”
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