Africa’s legends: Cameroon’s Roger Milla
Critical comments by Roger Milla nearly caused Cameroon’s star
player Samuel Eto’o to pull out of the 2010 World Cup in protest. We
speak to Cameroon’s influential football ambassador about 1990, the peak of his
He has played in 10 clubs, worn the Cameroonian national strip between 1973 and 1994, won two African Cup of Nations (1984 and 1988) and – by no means the most humble honour – lifted one Cup Winners’ Cup with Tonnerre Yaounde. He took part in three World Cups and was twice named African Player of the Year. But Roger Milla danced his way into football history when he was 38. That day, at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, he scored four goals and engraved his toothless grin on all football-loving minds as he wiggled his hips round a corner post.?
At that World Cup, Cameroon became the first African country ever to reach the quarter-finals after a double against Romania and another against ?Colombia, marked by an unforgettable duel with goalie René Higuita. Milla even scored again in 1994, aged 42, and thus shifted the oldest goal-scorer record beyond the reach of lesser mortals.?
Only a handful of keepers – Italy’s Dino Zoff, ?England’s Peter Shilton and Mexican Antonio ?Carbajal – have had such a long international career. Milla owes his extended career to an impeccably healthy lifestyle and a profound love of football. His dedication to the game is such that he ?cares about it on every level – he has even been seen crying at the defeat of the ?Indomitable Lions A-team in a regional tournament.?
His talent was recognised early and he was a ?striker for Tonnerre Yaounde in the early 1970s, when the team was one of the best on the continent. At the age of 25, he set off on his European adventure, playing in small French clubs. This was a time when the big ?European clubs – who today fight to sign Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Samuel Eto’o (Inter Milan) or Yaya Toure (FC Barcelona) – had not yet discovered the African treasure trove of talent.
In France at Valenciennes, Bastia and Saint Etienne, and at Monaco, Milla’s salary never matched that of his French teammates. Only when he moved to Montpellier (1986-1989) did his income begin to equal that of top French pros. “Louis Nicollin, the president, paid me well, that’s true,” remembers Milla. “But weaker players still got more!”?
He is not bitter. He “had fun”, he says. As a mark of his worldwide impact, Cameroon bestowed on him the title of honorary roving ambassador.
“1990 was the peak of my career” says Roger Milla
Jeune Afrique: To what extent is your legendary status the result of your extraordinary ?display at the 1990 World Cup??
Roger Milla: It wasn’t just the sparkling moment in 1990. Those who follow African football are aware that Italy was my second World Cup. My first was in 1982.
By 1990, I was already a star. I had already written my name into the history books. If it had not been for a refereeing error [the goal that was declared off-side – which was debatable], I would have scored in Spain. I had played and scored at the African Cup of ?Nations. I had already burst onto the scene.
To me, 1990 was just the cherry on the cake of a career of hard work in Africa and Europe.??
What did 1990 mean for the Cameroon team?
It made us the first African team to reach the quarter-finals in the history of the World Cup. We did our country and our ?continent proud. We retain fabulous memories.
As though the Italians suspected our potential, they greeted us extremely well. They supported us throughout. Perhaps because we were an African team, they treated us from the start as though we had already won the World Cup! That really warmed our hearts and, as a result, as we moved on in the competition, we grew in stature.??
What is your strongest personal memory of the 1990 World Cup??
It was the peak of my career. I felt confidence – in myself, in my body and in my game. It was simply the continuation of all the work that I had done in my career. To score at the age I scored was unique. I don’t think anyone will equal that achievement.??
Don’t you wish you were playing today, with the salaries of today??
Today I might have been a ?striker for Chelsea and been the best paid African anywhere ?(laughs). But I don’t regret anything. I did what I had to do for my country. I’m not bitter. We had fun and we paved the way for our younger brothers.