"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 South Africa, 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 quagmire 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. Where there are facilities, they are crumbling.
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.
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. However, one could also say the same thing about Wayne Rooney.
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 also world U20 finalist. Nigeria another African Super power dominating age specific tournaments, three times FIFA U17 champions and Olympic Gold winners.
With such success, is it boggles the mind then that of these two giants 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 then that the custodian of African football, 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.
So where to from here?
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.
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