Even for professional sportsmen, who are lucky if their on-field careers last into the fourth decade of their lives, 26 is considered too young to call it a day. That's the age when either the promise of a child prodigy is fulfilled or when the less-talented but more persistent players are rewarded for outlasting the rest. But for Moussa Maazou, it is the age when he has had enough.
The Nigerien (not to be confused with Nigerian) striker announced his retirement from international football from his new base at the Changchun football club in China. Maazou cited the lack of commitment to improving infrastructure and organisation as being behind his reason to leave. "There have been no improvements as regards the organisation. Logistics are non-existent. Each player is out on his own. Problems are piling up," he said.
On that front, Maazou is not wrong. While Niger have never been a superpower of the continental game, they were making progress at the beginning of the decade when they climbed 71 places on the FIFA rankings in a single year. In 2010, they beat Egypt in African Nations' Cup (ANC) qualifying and qualified for the African Nations' Championship, a tournament played by home-based players only, in 2011.
Maazou was a young man then, signed by CSKA Moscow although loaned out to clubs in France, and experienced the rise first-hand. He also experienced the fall. In the five years since then, Niger's only movement was down. They dipped from 94th position to 119th, despite making their maiden showing at ANC in 2012 and following up by participation in the 2013 event too.
Both appearances swirled in financial controversy. In 2012, Niger's trip was funded by a tax on the country's mobile telephone users who paid for the footballers every time they made a call.
For the 2013 ANC, they only got to South Africa with the intervention of a Nigerian business tycoon who saved them travel costs by flying the Nigerien contingent to and from the tournament. After all that, they did not manage a victory from either tournament, although they did capture a point when they held DRC to a goalless draw.
While Niger were moving down, Maazou was moving up. He returned to the continent from Europe and was playing for Tunisian side Etoile du Sahel but was sought after by South African club Chippa United. It was not a high-profile club but it would hold enviable earning potential. In the end the deal fell through and Maazou moved to Portugal, which ultimately led to an even better paying position in China.
Before heading east, Maazou already expressed his unhappiness with the way things were going in his home country. Their 2015 ANC qualifying campaign was unsuccessful and they finished bottom of their pool without winning at all. They were grouped with Cape Verde, Zambia and Mozambique. After four matches, their German manager, Gernot Rohr, quit and Maazou admitted that was when he began to consider his options. "He performed miracles and the means that were given to him were ridiculous. We asked too much of him," Maazou said.
At that time, Maazou approached the FA and told them of his intention to part ways but they asked him to stay, so he did. So why now, has he decided he has had enough? The answer may be simple economics. The Chinese Super League is known to pay their players well, while the Niger Football Association is steeped in debt. And it stands to reason that this may be the way other players from struggling economies go as well, whatever age they may be.