Lazio youth team player Joseph Marie Minala has revealed how he was abandoned in Rome before joining the club, while he insists he is not lying about his age.
Minala's age has been a subject of contention in Italy with the player's physical appearance making him look double his actual 17 years. But he gave an interview to Sky Sport Italia to set the record straight and recount his troubled arrival in Italy.
The youngest player to feature in Serie A this season, when he made his debut against Sampdoria earlier this month, has been one of the stars of Lazio's youth team all season and is one of the club's emerging talents. He will turn 18 in August.
"If you don't believe me, check my passport," Minala told Sky Sport Italia. "I was born in Cameroon on August 24, 1996."
It was a difficult path from there to a debut in Serie A and Minala thanked the Italian authorities for giving him a chance.
"I was promised a trial with AC Milan, but I never heard from that person again and so I was abandoned all alone in [Rome] Termini station without even receiving a phone call," Minala explained.
"I was taken to the hospital where I was checked over and then taken into a community [for immigrants]. I thought they were going to send me back to Cameroon, but instead I had a few trials -- one with Napoli and also with Roma.
"I even signed a pre-contractual agreement with [Roma's youth coordinator] Bruno Conti, but it all fell through and I don't know why. Now I'm at Lazio and I'm delighted to be here."
The fact that Minala's physical appearance may not necessarily correlate with the date of birth on his passport may have been behind Roma's reluctance to sign the midfielder, but he insists he is telling the truth.
"I think we Africans look a lot older than we are, but there can be no doubts about our real age," added Minala.