Everyone has a birthday. A joyful day for receiving presents from family and friends, for blowing out candles on a cake as you celebrate your arrival on this earth.
Some people even have two, such as Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II — one to mark the date of her birth, and one to celebrate the anniversary of her coronation.
But soccer player Chancel Mbemba Mangulu can top that. He appears to have four “birthdays” — and it has caused him a lot of problems; so much so that football’s world governing body FIFA has now started an investigation.
Mbemba was part of the Democratic Republic of Congo’s (DRC) squad for the Africa Cup of Nations.
Mbemba was registered by his two first Congolese clubs as being born in 1988. Yet for a Cup of Nations qualifier in June 2011, his year of birth was listed as Novemberb30, 1991.
Meanwhile, the birth date recorded by his Belgian club Anderlecht is August 8, 1994. Just to complicate matters, Mbemba himself, thinks he was born in 1990.
The issue of age is no trivial matter in football’s high-stakes world.
Key tournaments involving national teams, such as the Olympics and the Under-20 and Under-17 World Cups, have age limits for participating players.
An over-age player brings the advantage of having increased physical development as well as more tactical training and experience at a high level on the pitch.
In professional leagues, a player who is older is perceived as closer to being past his prime — and clubs tend to be less willing to invest in them by offering them a lucrative contract.
In 2009, the Confederation of African Football (CAF) was embarrassed in the run-up to the Under-17 World Cup in Nigeria when FIFA introduced MRI scans to ensure teams were not fielding overage players.
Age fabrication allows nations to field stronger teams in youth tournaments. The age of player is also important for the buying and selling club as it has implications for their salary and future sell-on value.
A technically gifted defender, Mbemba played for three clubs in the Congo beginning in 2006, with his birth date registered at E.S. La Grace and Mputu as August 8, 1988 — according to copies of official Congolese player photocards.
The documents showing Mbemba’s various ages were provided by the Brazilian agent Paulo Teixeira, who says he was called in by E.S. La Grace to obtain money they claimed was owed to them by Anderlecht for training the player in his formative years.