“The problem with Chelsea is I lack a striker: I have Eto'o but he is 32 years old, maybe 35, who knows?”. In an embarrassing off-the-record comment on a French TV channel, Josè Mourinho unveiled the elephant in the room in football's world: the alleged fake passports of many footballers from Africa.
The allegations regarding Joseph Minala’s age have made the headlines all around the world, as the old as the hills topic of documents falsification came up once again as a hot trend.
Players, especially those coming from Africa, often have to face such accusations, sometimes by the press, sometimes by insiders, sometimes by the general public, as a natural consequence of their (suspicious) physical appearance, as in Minala’s case.
However, these accusation often have short life, and end like a flash in the pan, since “the documents are real”, “the club guarantees”, “the player swears”. Etcetera etcetera.
While nobody is pointing fingers towards no one, it is clear that showing some written papers to demonstrate the age of a player, accused of having them falsified, is not exactly what Hitchcock would define as the mother of all proofs. After all, it is the act of falsification, and not the quality of it, that’s being scrutinized.
To better understand the topic, we have reached Jérôme Dufourg, former CEO of FC Talanta- a professional football club in Kenya-, who has been particularly active in fighting the system, and who paid this kind of behavior with his job, despite undisputable sporting and business successes (promotion and unprecedented sponsorship agreement above all).
Jérôme , have you heard about the Minala case? What are your thoughts?
I have, and I am definitely not surprised. Having spent one year working in Africa, I am well aware of the (mal)practices of the system. I have had direct experience of this: once I was at the training ground with my team, when a player comes up to me saying that he needed a new birth certificate in order to get a new passport. The player is actually 19 (but older according to me already) and wanted to remove 2 years from his already fake age. I also know another player who is training in Europe right now and showed me two different passports. Same day and month but born in 1992 and 1995. Indeed, that is a good idea if you want to integrate a youth national team. Unfortunately, in Kenya, corruption levels in the Federation are so high that there is no youth national team.
In practical terms, how does this happen?
Simply by bribing the right people in the right offices. With 1000 shillings (8 euros), you can easily buy a new birth certificate. I was offered a Kenyan citizenship myself for 1000 euros, because as a Muzungu (White in Swahili), I was thought to have more money.
Do you know if this is something that happens in other African federations as well?
First, when we talk about Africa, we have to differentiate the Northern part (Maghreb) from the rest of the African continent, and especially the Sub-Saharan Africa. When it comes to poverty, level of infrastructure, diseases (especially HIV/AIDS), tradition, etc., it is a really different world. In Moroco, Algeria or Egypt for example, all the players have their real age because the administrative system is stronger. But it is also a historical factor. Algeria was a French region and Morocco and Tunisia were a protectorate of France while other countries were “only” colonies. Some countries have done a lot in the past 10 years to eradicate or at least decrease this phenomenon of faking a birth date. South Africa, Namibia, former Portuguese colonies (Cape Verde, Mozambique, Angola), Zambia have done a lot to produce real talent. The problem is that when you fake your age, you are not only affecting the European country were you will land, taking the place of someone else, but also affecting your own country were a homegrown talent might rise and might be 5 years younger than you while you claim to be the same age. Africa has huge problems, but this is not something new. I won’t put all Federations in the same basket (as I said earlier), but most of them are corrupt, incompetent and have an aggressive behavior. When they will have a ‘real’ government, then maybe we can hope they will have a ‘real’ Federation.
In your opinion, what percentage of African players does this?
In Kenya, where I lived, I would say that 70% of the players are faking their age, if not more. I have attended the U19 KPL Tournament in 2013 (KPL standing for Kenyan Premier League), which is a two weeks tournament. One coach called me from Nyanza, a western Province of Kenya and told me that one player of the U19 Gor Mahia FC team was registered with his team and was 24 but was playing the tournament claiming to be U19. For saying the truth, I have been slapped with a suspension. For Maghreb countries, I will say that maybe 1% are faking their age. Sub-Saharan Africa is a mess and all the problems come from the widely spread corruption. Africans must be blamed for this. I will say that 95% of the African players, born in Africa, playing in Europe have a fake age. The more corrupted is the government, the more corrupted is the Federation, the more chance you have to see an over-aged player.
Are European clubs that scout these players aware of how the system really works?
European scouts are very well aware of what is happening in Africa and most of the players you see performing during an U17 or U20 World Cup have a fake age. But what matters today in football: performance and money, especially money. The role that money is taking in football is becoming too predominant and players are getting a new birth certificate or a new passport because it is a way for them to get a better life and get a passport to Europe, a passport to success.
Is there any difference between original and fake certificates? Can you recognise them? And what do they do with the original copies?
A fake birth certificate is a real and authentic paper. Indeed, only the player knows that his document does not reflect the reality and when we mention the word "fake", the only fake thing is the birth date. That's it.
We are not talking about a document that is fake but about the age. So, it is not possible to make a difference. That is why, when they talk about Joseph Minala saying that his documents are authentic, they are right. Minala has probably 2 or 3 passports and the 3 ones are real. One will show he was born in 1996, another one in 1986 and probably the real one will show 1976. People can say whatever they say about Minala, about his youth, his career. I lived in Africa, I have seen misery, poverty, death, rapes, sad stories, ugly people, etc. Despite this happening to you, if you are really 17 years old, we can see it. His skin is not 17 but his documents are real.
Regarding the old ones, I am not sure whether they keep them or destroy them. In fact, most players still have their old passport. So, are they keeping the old certificate? Maybe not because when you have your old and new passport, you will always show the most "recent" one to European scouts and the old one is still valid even if you get the birth certificate burnt. At least for 10 years, when the passport will expire. By this time, you will have the opportunity to go to Europe if you deserve it, talently speaking.
Why do you think they still scout them and sign them?
If you see a really talented player (let’s say Obafemi Martins, really over-aged!), who claims to be 18 while he is officially 24, then what will you do? Will you mind recruiting him or will this be a problem to your conscience? If you do not take him, then someone else will do. And still, when you are 24 (and claim to be 18), you are still able to perform well and one day the club will sell you and your performances will decrease because that day, you will be 30, but officially you will be 24… People think in terms of commercial assets, in terms of return on investment, which is true on one hand because football is a business and if you fail, then you get into troubles. That is why they are taking a risk. Honestly, and I am sorry for the ones who might take my comments as aggressive, but what is the cost of an African player? An African player is a risk-free investment for a club. You grant him a chance and he will be silent and work hard. We always see the nice side of football, the lovely one that people want to show you on TV, but there, in Africa, real life is hard… People think they have problems in Europe; I want to tell them to come and live in Africa. There, it is a war where everyone wants to get the chance to be selected and where scouts are also not behaving well sometimes. I am not judging nor attacking anyone, just making a comment on what I have seen.
Do you know any "famous" player who did this, and could you name any?
Having lived in Kenya, I know the players in Europe who have faked their age but I won’t mention anyone because I know them and I also know their families. Famous players don’t want to have their career dirtied today while they got a chance and are performing well. These people, despite cheating, are also feeding a family and helping their community back. So what else? If we denounce one, then someone else will take his place. The system can’t change from the inside, I mean from the Federation. As I have said earlier, the cleaner the Government…
SerieAddicted and myself personally thank Jérôme for his availabilty and courage, two valuable and rare characteristics in today's football industry.
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