Lazio deny claims that teenage star Minala is actually 41
Italian club releases player's birth certificate after claims in African media
LAZIO have threatened legal action against anyone who questions the age of their 17-year-old Cameroonian midfielder Joseph Minala, after claims from African media that he is, in fact, a 41-year-old man.
The Italian Serie A club have released the player's birth certificate and issued a statement accusing those behind the reports of trying to "throw sinister light on the work of the club".
However, Senego.net in Senegal is standing by its story and claimed to have spoken to "childhood friends" of the player who have testified to his advanced years, although its most recent report puts his age at a relatively youthful 37.
The player, whose documents show he was born in August 1996, also issued a statement insisting that reports stating he had confessed his real age were not true. He said the claims against him had been made by "people who do not know".
The issue blew up after pictures of a haggard-looking Minala began circulating on the internet, prompting many commenters to question his age.
However, Italian journalist Max Evangelista, who reports on the Lazio youth team, told the BBC that any suggestions the player was in his 40s were "unbelievable".
"He is a very reactive player. You could never say he is 41," he told BBC World Service. "When you are surrounded by players running like devils around you... it is very tough to be 41."
Evangelista accepted the Minala did not have the face of an average 17-year-old, but explained that the teenager's poverty-stricken background in Cameroon explained his looks. "He was in an orphanage for a couple of years in Cameroon, then he had to face the situation here by himself. On his face there is sign of his previous life, which was not a happy life. That is it. Period. There is nothing else that makes you think he is 41."
Questions about the age of youth players are not new, but they rarely involve a 20-year gap. In 2010 Arsenal were forced to deny claims that Bolivian midfielder Samuel Galindo had lied about his age after claims that the player was actually 20 rather than 17 and in 2009 Nigeria dropped 15 players from its squad of 36 before the Under 17 World Cup after they failed age tests.