ROME, Feb 14 (Reuters) - Lazio president Claudio Lotito has backed youth-team player Joseph Minala after reports questioning the Cameroonian midfielder's declared age of 17.
Lazio had threatened legal action against anyone disputing Minala's age after African website senego.net reported that he had told them that he was 41 years old, something the player denied in a statement on the Serie A club's website.
"Minala deserves respect as a human being, first and foremost. Everything that has been said about him is false," Lotito told the Corriere dello Sport on Friday.
"We forget the efforts that those like him have had to make. He has come from a difficult situation and has done everything he could to be a success.
"They say he looks 40, but how can they say that? How many people have a baby face but are actually older than they seem?
"And tell me how a 40-year-old could play in a Primavera (youth team) game and last the distance? The system has been poisoned by those looking to exploit creatively written news."
Lazio are ninth in Serie A on 32 points, four away from the Europa League places, and travel to rock-bottom Catania on Sunday. (Reporting by Terry Daley, editing by Ed Osmond)