While fighting for time in Chelsea’s squad, Samuel Eto’o had reason to keep his mouth shut. Now that he’s away from the Blues and preparing for the World Cup, the Cameroonian international can finally hit back at José Mourinho, who earlier this year implied the man he’s coach with Chelsea and Inter Milan was older than he’s listed.
“Today, I am 33 years old,” Eto’o told AfricanFootball.com. “And it is not because a fool called me an old man that you must believe it.”
Mourinho’s comment came in an off-the-record conversation that was eventually distributed by French broadcaster Canal+. Explaining why he felt his club wouldn’t win the Premier League, the Blues’ boss pointed to the lack of talent at striker, casting doubt on Eto’o’s claimed age.
“Will we win the title?” Mourinho queried in a conversation broadcast on Canal +. “No, we don’t have any scorer. Samuel Eto’o? He is 32-years-old, maybe 35, I don’t know.”
Eto’o would go on to finish the 2013-14 season with 12 goals in 32 all-competition appearances. Fernando Torres added 11, while Demba Ba finished with eight.
Age cheating isn’t something to be taken lightly, but neither are Mourinho’s words. Whereas the outspoken boss is known for using his time in front of the microphones to serve his whims, the quotes Canal+ released were off-the-record. Perhaps he was making a joke, maybe exaggerating his woe, but this wasn’t just Mourinho being tossing out a good quote. This wasn’t supposed to be a quote at all.
Eto’o responded as you’d expect, with an annoyed dismissal, but these are the kind of doubts that hover over African players. It’s unfair, it’s lazy, but unfortunately, it’s also not an entirely baseless concern. Just as Major League Baseball began taking new steps after a series of prominent age-fraud incidents, soccer needs to adopt measures to combat this type of cheating.
FIFA has started making progress my using MRI scans of players’ wrists to discern if a player might be too old for age-restricted tournaments. On the club-level, though, it’s unclear where the incentives lie. A player can make more if he’s understood to be younger. Agents have a greater chance to place the player. Competition between teams is such that being willing to take a chance on a player that might be older could land you a talent while another club wavers.
As the rumors around Radamel Falcao attest, this isn’t purely an African concern. The issue is less about geography than urgency. FIFA is taking steps, but in the club world, there’s no huge push to implement similar measures. At the levels of Falcao and other players who command eight-digit transfer fees, teams will usually take every step possible. Lower down the totem pole, players are more likely to land a deal without the same precautions.