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Age Cheating: Guide To Overcome It.

By Satyajit Sadanandan

I think you’ll agree with me when I say:

Overage players make it EXTREMELY hard for your child to succeed in Indian football. And there is not much you can do about it given the loopholes in the system.

Or can you?

Well, it turns out, you can dramatically increase your child’s prospects in the game by adopting a few simple strategies…

…ones that help the best football academies to overcome age cheating and produce World class footballers.

And in this article, I’m going to show you what those strategies are…and exactly how you can easily apply them and support your child to overcome age fraud in Football.

How Common Is Age Fraud In Football?

You may be wondering: is age cheating only in Indian Football?

Age fraud in Football is quite common in some other parts of Asia and many countries in Africa. And it has plagued the youth competitions of FIFA for several years.

African countries are notorious for fielding over-age players. Nigeria has won the U17 World Cup five times – most by any country. But it has never even got to the Quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup.

Similar records cloud many other winners of the U17 World Cup. Since the start of the U17 World Cup in 1985, 60% of the winners are from Africa, Central America, and Asia. But no nation from these regions has progressed beyond the Quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup, except South Korea in 2002 (Semifinal – host). European and South American teams have always dominated the final rounds of the FIFA World Cup.

In India, the case of Gourav Mukhi, who pretended to be 16 but was much older, shocked many. But age cheating is a recurring problem in Indian youth football for many decades. The National teams of various age groups continue to face this problem. 70% players from the National U14 camp (84 out of 120) were sent home for being overage a few years back. This is an even bigger issue at lower levels – State teams and academies.

And it is not only the smaller clubs or training centers who indulge in this practice. In recent times, well known clubs playing in the top Leagues in India including the ISL and I-League have been suspended from competitions for fielding overage players.

Why Does It Happen?

It happens because in some places it is easy to modify birth certificates.

And incentives outweigh penalties. Overage players have higher chances of getting selected and better career prospects. There is no medical test guaranteed to determine the correct age. And there is no major penalty on being found overage beyond a temporary suspension although some nations have recently given tougher punishments.

In India, the consequences are not yet severe. Gourav Mukhi was suspended for a year by the AIFF in 2015 when he was found overage in the U15 National Team Trials. But he claimed to be 16 in 2018 and played for Jamshedpur FC in the ISL. Not many would have noticed had he not scored a goal.

Most parents want a clean system. But in a system that has few penalties and many incentives to cheat, one can’t rely only on FIFA or the National Football Association to eliminate age cheating.

But here’s the crazy part:

Actions of many parents in India unknowingly incentivize age cheating!

Parents – not by the Federation, pay the Football Academies. And many Parents judge academy merit on victories. This motivates some academies and coaches to win by any means – including fielding overage players. And even if their players are found overage, they get away without any consequence or face minor suspensions.

Impact On Honest Players?

You saw in the previous article, how even minor differences of a few months between players can lead to major impact in selections and development.

Age fraud amplifies it several times. Particularly where the teams are being selected for specific tournaments – not long-term development programs. And when coaches and training centers are desperate to win. 

But there are severe consequences on honest players.

Young players lose confidence when they are repeatedly rejected for teams. Especially since they don’t understand the loopholes in the selection process. Greedy coaches may bench them in order to field the strongest team and win. Frustration can set in quickly and even reasonably good players with bright prospects may leave the game.

It gets worse:

Adjustment in playing style is an even bigger problem. Younger players have to modify their technique to compete with physically and technically superior overage players. These incorrect techniques become irreversible with time as the body adapts to them physically.

Nobody benefits. Overage players eventually struggle in the transition to senior football where physical differences disappear. They also end up playing at the youth level for far too long and stagnate technically and tactically.

Why Medical Tests Are Not Fully Reliable?

Verifying the correct age based on easily modifiable birth certificates is not helping.

Some medical tests are being used for age verification. But these tests can at best determine the biological age – not the chronological age.

Since 2009, FIFA has been relying on MRI scans of the left wrist to check age cheating. This method is not foolproof.

There is also the Tanner Whitehouse III (TW3) bone test that involves taking a digital x-ray of the left wrist and forearm. AIFF recently conducted the TW3 bone test for the U13 and U15 I-leagues in India. The intent is good. But the test has thrown up a wide variance in results and impacted many players and academies across the country. AIFF is yet to announce the league schedule as it is probably trying to manage the fallout.

The problems with these tests include the methodology and the variance in the birth age and the bone age. One reason for using the left hand for these tests is because most people are right-handed and tend to get injured on the right. But this may be leaving left-handed players with a disadvantage. Goalkeepers too.

Moreover, there are some other open questions. Players have different diets due to economic disparity. Are players with higher calcium, phosphorous or Vitamin D getting unnecessarily penalized in the bone tests? 

An 11.8-year-old Goalkeeper in Bangalore was found to be 14 in the TW3 bone test. Another player, 15.3-year-old, was found to be 13.6 in the TW3 bone test. These two players reflect their chronological age in all other aspects – physical and emotional – according to their academy. But they won’t play in age-appropriate groups going by the TW3 results.

When Is It Ok To Play With Older Players?

Some may argue that playing against older players is not necessarily a disadvantage.

It is a common practice in many football academies in Europe. They field exceptionally skilled younger players in higher age group teams. Some youth teams of these academies play in higher age group leagues – up to two years senior.

But here’s the kicker:

This will benefit players only if they have similar levels of technical ability. In such cases, players will stagnate if they compete against inferior opponents of their own age.

Bio Banding, the practice of grouping players as per their biological age rather than chronological age, is also based on this philosophy. One needs to factor the technical levels too to make it really work.

The crux of the matter:

Playing with players of the same biological age is not productive if there is a vast gulf in skills. Older players having had more training will normally have greater tactical and technical ability. Not to mention the maturity gap. Younger players who are grouped with them based on biological age are at a massive disadvantage. This defeats the objective of age checks.

Smart Soccer Parenting Tactics For Your Child

Don’t ignore age cheating. Playing with overage players will limit your child’s progress.

Reject football academies that field overage players. Access to proof of birth certificates of other players is difficult but you can visually check the players. Move your child to a better academy if the current one fields players with considerable physical and technical superiority alongside him/her.

Your child will develop best with coaches and football academies that shun age cheating. Even at the cost of winning tournaments. Find academies and coaches who measure success by the number of professional players they have developed – rather than the tournaments they have won.

You may think that only your own individual actions won’t change the system. But in any case, sending your child to a football academy that fields overage players is counterproductive. It only harms him/her technically, physically and psychologically.

The best football academies in the World don’t focus on winning age group tournaments. They don’t publicize victories at the youth levels. Follow their lead. De-prioritize tournament wins. Instead, prioritize your own child’s individual development as a footballer.

Don’t give undue importance to selections. Treat them as a bonus and not as evidence of your child’s potential. It is an imperfect system with ignorant selectors and overage players. Shift your focus to what really matters in the long run.

The bottom line:

Get your child assessed properly – the way top academies do. Work with a plan having short-term and long-term targets for your child’s progress. This is a much better way to judge your child’s potential and ensure lasting progress.

Key Takeaways

  • Age cheating has a long-lasting negative impact on player development.
  • Official bodies try to tackle it but current methods are not foolproof.
  • Take proactive steps to ensure that your child doesn’t suffer.
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