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Oliver McManus has a look at the bizarre start to Joseph Minala’s career at Lazio and how it has progressed since
Joseph Minala, you know that name right? Rattle that brain, he’s in there somewhere. If you’re still struggling, he’s the Lazio footballer who was at the centre of one of the most viral footballing controversies, at the age of just 17. Or was it 42? Wait, was he 65?
In case you didn’t get it from that hilarious sarcasm, Minala was engulfed in a scandal relating to how old he actually was – now, through the course of this article, we’ll take a look at that very controversy but, also, actually examine how his career is panning out.
Let’s rewind three years, it’s the 9th February 2014, and an up-and-coming Cameroonian striker is called up to the Lazio first team for the first time, as they prepared for the Rome Derby. By all accounts, a proud day for the man – one to celebrate. But, unfortunately for the, then, 17 year old, it would soon turn sour. For that man was Joseph Minala, who had no idea how big a stir he would cause.
Minala didn’t even appear in that game, he didn’t make his professional debut until the 6th April, so naturally you’d assume he wouldn’t be on the front pages across the world. Alas, like a storm gathering pace, within 24 hours, he was on everyone’s lips.
Was this really the greatest footballing fraud since Ali Dia? Did Lazio seriously just be fooled into signing someone who was ACTUALLY 42? And if so, how?
Questions like this whizzed through the heads of fans and journalists. Now, granted, Minala does look a bit older than 17 but, then again, can you really begrudge a man for having a few wrinkles?
So just where did these rumours come from? A small African website called senego.net (no, me neither) published claims that Joseph Minala had “stripped” 25 years off his passport in order to get around regulations and to appear attractive to potential clubs. Following that, he moved to Italy in a bid to make it to the big time.
Oh how easy it is to make a mountain out of a molehill. The Italian FA had no option but to launch an investigation but, to no big surprise, no evidence of fraud was found. Further to that, Lazio issued a statement threatening to sue anyone who persevered with such allegations. Minala was free to continue with his career, and this is where we pick up the second part of our story.
13 minutes against Sampdoria on 4th April, 2014 would mark the striker’s first steps in Serie A and the spotlight was on him. Not only because here we have a 17 year old (officially) number 9, making his debut, but equally due to the sour taste the scandal had left in the mouth.
A very subdued 13 minutes, it must be said, perhaps owing to the nerves of the player and, in part, for want of not drawing any extra attention to himself. But, nonetheless, his first taste of professional football was under his belt.
Lazio weren’t the first club to show interest in Minala, either. He was issued with a 2-month trial at Napoli, before Alberto Bollini (remember that name) recommended him to the relevant authorities at Lazio.
For the rest of the 2013-14, he frequently made the bench and came off it on a further two occasions – gaining invaluable experience but, unfortunately, not just rewards.
It was soon after this that the decision was made to drop Minala back into midfield where, the hope was, he would have a greater effect on the game. With this newfound tempo to his arsenal, he signed for Bari, in Serie B, on his 18th birthday.
Having made his first appearance, in October, as a defensive midfielder, he didn’t play again until the end of November – from then on, he would appear more centrally.
With Bari lingering in a lousy 16th place, a relegation six-pointer with Cittadella beckoned and, it would be in this match that, Minala finally showed glimpses of his much fabled talents. A last minute winner would see his name back in the newspapers – for the right reasons, this time.
At the end of his time at Bari, the Cameroonian had made 20 appearances in all competitions – to wide acclaim – scoring 3 goals, and impressing with his down-to-earth work ethic.
From this solid start, however, Minala has really struggled as of late – with just 9 appearances in the last 2 years. Admittedly, this is for varying reasons; not least the fact he spent the first 20 weeks of this season developing his game at Lazio, in the academy (it’s hard to remember that, after all of this mayhem, he’s still only 20) – so whilst gametime has been irregular, he’s very much still improving.
So, just what sort of a player is Joseph Minala?
Fiery, is the first word that comes to mind. 11 cards (including two second yellows) in his 52 games, is testament to this. It’s not that he is overly aggressive, not at all. He’s passionate, he’s commuted and, whilst, on the whole this is to the benefit of his team, it can sometimes end up biting them in a place which, frankly, they’d rather not be bitten!
His strongest asset is, undoubtedly, his vision whilst on the ball – not a Pirlo, by any stretch of the imagination – but a solid passer, capable with both feet (though stronger with the right), Minala is incisive with his decisions but, more often than not, the simplicity of his game can be mistaken for a lack of quality. That’s a common misunderstanding because, he’s a good dribbler, he’s adept with the ball at his feet but, the simple nature of how he plays is why he is an effective force.
Just 20 years of age, Joseph Minala has had one of the weirdest starts to football ever, so it’s no surprise that he may have unravelled slightly.
A definite talent, I think he’s already proven he has the grit that is needed for him to succeed – something that has let others down, Freddy Adu for example. (I realise my regular Adu bashing makes it seem personal but, he’s just a good example of a flop).
It really is just up to the player, now, as to where he goes. He could go to the top or he could soon be forgotten – for his sake, I hope it’s the former.
A story F.Scott Fitzgerald would be proud of – The Curious Case of Joseph Minala.