Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho had to come out and clarify that he was only joking when footage emerged of him saying his striker Samuel Eto’o was 35 and not his listed age of 32. Well now somebody has come out and said that Mourinho was right to confirm that the Cameroon striker is not 35… because he is in fact 39. The claim is made by a 43-year-old (you never know who is who these days?) Italian woman called Anna Barranca who had a daughter with Eto’o 11 years ago when he was playing for Mallorca in Spain. She told the Sun: “It is very evident Samuel was older than the age he said he was when he first came to Europe. I think Samuel is not 35 he is more 39. Samuel was born in 1974 and so that makes him 39 now.”
Rumours about African players lying about their age when they come to Europe is nothing new. Obviously the younger you are in your career, the more likely it is you will be given a long-term contract. And records of births in Africa are not as well documented as it is in Europe. There can be some ridiculous differences, with Partizan Belgrade’s president claiming last year that ’28-year-old’ former Nigerian defender Taribo West was actually 40 when he played for the Serbian club. However, Barranca cannot be considered the most reliable source when it comes to all things Eto’o. She has sold stories to the newspapers in the past about Eto’o, accusing him of not paying alimony. She currently works part-time at a shop selling hair extensions, so she is unlikely to be swimming in the same pool of cash as Eto’o, who was the highest paid player in the world when he played for Russian club Anzhi Makhachkala.
Eto’o for his part has laughed off reports that he has lied about his age. “I am Samuel Eto’o, what can I say?” he told Sky Sports News after Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Galatasaray. “If at 36 and 37 I can score three goals at Manchester United it means that I still have some juice and I can even score until I am 50. But I really don’t care, what is really important to me is to give my maximum to the team, to help them to win some titles.”
Eto’o is right. That he still has the juice to score is what is important. It doesn’t really matter the age. After all, Ryan Giggs and Javier Zanetti are 40 years and still playing well. Who knows if they too lied about their age? Giggs might really be near 50. I refuse to believe that Europeans too don’t lie about their age. It might be in a database or whatever but it’s not like it can’t be changed. After all, it’s all about paying a few bucks and it’s a done deal. In the end, this practice of declaring false age isn’t the right way. I can say it’s synonymous with match-fixing. Though that is a big and criminal offence, it’s cheating because you being over aged will have the advantage over the person that is really younger. And who knows of all this could be a way of the media unsettling players who have achieved. The media is never far from springing up lies, but either way, the practice of declaring false age especially in Africa just to make a fortune in Europe should be stopped. It’s not news that most of Nigerian players that ply their trade abroad lie about their age. The U-17 World Cup which Nigeria won last had some Nigerian players who gave false ages to be eligible for the tournament. This was revealed via MRI scans that were conducted before the tournament kicked-off in the UAE. To help the matter, the governments of African countries should develop their leagues to a better standard that won’t necessarily mean players need to go abroad. The prospect of moving abroad is tempting and too good to refuse but if the right things are put in place, it will be for the better regarding African football.