An age of change?
Over the years, Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel, Sammy Kuffuor, Alex Song, Mahamadou Diarra, Seydou Keita and others have used the African Under-17 finals as a springboard to eventual contracts with the likes of Chelsea, Bayern, Arsenal, Real Madrid and Barcelona.
Yet hundreds of others have never progressed from the potential shown at age group events to reach the top nor even enjoyed a professional career, and countless African football fans will tell you that the thorny issue of age-cheating is largely to blame.
In some cases, careers have peaked before they're properly began but the much-maligned Confederation of African Football (Caf) is trying to address this issue at this month's U17 finals in Rwanda - where they've age-tested all the players.
Two years ago, Caf was stung by the run-up to the U17 World Cup in Nigeria where Fifa were introducing MRI scans for the first time. Wary of the tests, Africa's competitors decided it might be wise to do their own before the finals - and the results were damning.
Host nation Rwanda are through to the final of the U17 finals. Photo: AFP
A handful of The Gambia's African championship-winning side were found to be over age, while the host nation was forced to drop over a dozen players from its proposed squad.
For seasoned observers of Nigerian football, this wouldn't have been much of a surprise and we can probably include David Moyes among those, with the Everton coach once breezily declaring of Yakubu "He's only 25, albeit a Nigerian 25" (even if he later pointed out he had no real concerns).
Many knew what he meant - and a brief perusal of the chat boards on African websites leaves you in no doubt as to the pervasive cynicism surrounding the issue on the continent. But then, these fans have abundant history to refer to.
While countless players, including some of the continent's biggest stars, have found their real ages to be the subject of debate, coaches who have lost to African opponents at youth finals have been less circumspect - their comments not always amounting to sour grapes.
"The players of Ghana cannot be the age they claim," said one after the Africans' 1995 success. "Fifa must act. Fair play means respecting the regulations, not only on the field, but off it as well."
Eventually the Ghanaian FA itself came to agree, insisting upon using accurate ages in youth tournaments from the mid-noughties with their current chairman admitting that junior success hadn't previously translated to the seniors "because players who were supposedly 22-23 were already past their prime."
In the late 1980s, Ghana were disqualified from an African youth finals after being caught using over-age players. Last year, the fruits of their new policy burst forth as a side built upon genuine U20 world champions came closer to the World Cup semis than any African side.
In case you missed it, age falsifying happens for two main reasons.
Firstly, a simple desire to cheat. And this is a global problem with teams from the Americas, Asia, Europe and the Middle East having all been caught out over time. World Cup regulars Mexico even had to sit out the 1990 finals after receiving a two-year Fifa ban for using over-age players in a regional U20 championships.
The second reason, which is more specific to Africa, is an attempt to step up in the world game. With European scouts hunting young talent, the liberal stance argues that lying about one's age is a way of levelling the challenges most Africans face in rising to the top - such as insufficient nutrition, facilities, coaching levels, kit etc.
The issue is rife because there have been, and still are, many African areas where birth records aren't kept, so allowing the unscrupulous to exploit this, and it's interesting to note that such a shortage of documentation has affected one of Europe's top leagues in the past.
Despite a ban on foreigners, over a hundred South Americans played in Spain during the 1960s and 1970s. How so? Because the thousands of birth certificates lost or destroyed during the 1936-39 Civil War meant authorities were unable to refute the claims of those professing Spanish parentage (even if some were scarcely credible).
Now Caf is finally addressing the issue, not too long after Fifa created an accurate test, and they've proudly screened every player in Rwanda (where Chelsea hopeful Bertrand Traore has led Burkina Faso to Saturday's final) without finding any failures.
And it's critical to start at U17 level since that is the age when MRI wrist scans work at a 99% success rate, to the delight of Fifa's Chief Medical Officer. "The efficiency stops at 17 and it's just pure coincidence that Fifa made their competition an under-17 event," chuckles Professor Jiri Dvorak.
Even though Caf will only be screening a tiny, albeit high-grade, slice of the continent's next generation of players, the body has to be commended for setting the right tone - and many European clubs will wholeheartedly agree.
Dvorak points out that the impact of failed tests can have dramatic consequences. When the Asian confederation first adopted MRI scans at U17 level four years ago, nearly a third of those tested were caught out - two years ago, not one squad member was found guilty.
After the embarrassment of the 2009 tests, it's now effectively the same in Africa and even though the net Caf has cast is full of holes - since only eight of its 53 members are competing in Rwanda - the very fact that the continent's federations know they must select the correct players should have a knock-on effect.
Baby steps these may be, but one wonders where they will end?