Cameroonian Albert Roger Milla remains one of the greatest footballers Africa has ever produced. He almost, single-handedly, earned Africa extra slots in the World Cup with his exploits and jigs at the 1990 tournament in Italy.
Then 38 years old, Milla illuminated the 1990 World Cup tournament - scoring four times and celebrating each time with a dance around the corner flag post - which has become a popular goal celebration ever since.
Milla, who played all Cameroon’s games at the tournament as a ‘super-sub’, helped the Indomitable Lions - as the national football team is known - to make history by becoming the first African nation to reach the quarter-finals of the World Cup.
Cameroon’s successful run, along with Egypt’s respectable showing at Italia’90 adventure, made the world soccer governing body, Fifa increase Africa’s quota of spots from two to three for USA ‘94.
Milla, who was tempted out of retirement, did not end his career after Italia’90. He returned to the tournament four years later and scored a goal against Russia, at the age of 42, to extend his records as the oldest goalscorer at World Cup finals.
He beat his own record set four years earlier. Russia humbled Cameroon 6-1, but Milla maintained fame with his lone goal and his age.
More than two decades after his retirement from football, Milla, who will celebrate his 64th birthday on May 20, has remained physically athletic but says his age does not permit him to play football any longer.
“No, I cannot dribble now like that. I don’t still have the age to play football that, is why I have now turned to lighter sporting disciplines like walking and bicycle riding,” he explained. He also keeps fit at his advanced age by not drinking alcohol or smoking.
Then Cameroon national football team manager, Russian-born Valeri Nepomniatchi did not call up the 38-year-old Milla for the Italia’90 adventure. The legendary footballer only joined the team following an order from the country’s President Paul Biya.
“I was surprised when I learned the president of the republic had called me to join the national team because I never expected that I will be part of the squad. I think he (President Biya) was not a bad coach,” Milla said, explaining that even while in Italy, he did not know if the coach was going to field him.
Of the near innumerable matches he featured in during his playing career, Milla vividly remembers Cameroon versus Romania clash, the Indomitable Lions’ second game at the 1990 World Cup.
Playing as a substitute, the ‘semi-retired’ soccer champion burst onto the scene in the 54th minute and scored two magnificent goals within 10 minutes (76th and 86th).
He said the match remains particularly memorable because it gave many fans a chance to witness the jigs that he had not performed before; “dribbling, giving passes to myself and scoring”.
“It pleases me when I see other players score today and dance the way I did in 1990,” said Milla, who was named the best African player of the 20th century last year, adding he did not plan to celebrate the way he did, “It just occurred spontaneously like that”.
Though Milla’s 1990 waistline has widened, he still dances. He started getting into the music world some years back and still hopes to find an artiste who will want to do a duo with him.
“Yes; I started getting into music, but let me tell you I have not abandoned it. My age has nothing to do with my singing ambitions, even at 100 years, one can still sing. Music is not other disciplines like football where you need to run. If, in future, I have an artiste who wants to do a duet with me, why not,” the ‘little-known’ artiste said.
The former Indomitable Lion has often clashed with football authorities in Cameroon, accusing them of hindering the game’s progress.
He has always advocated the hiring of a local trainer to manage the national team and for a former footballer to head the Cameroon Football Federation (Fecafooot) - the body responsible for running the game in the country.
“I have not abandoned my stance on the management of the Cameroon Football Federation by a footballer. But if my country has decided that certain people—not footballers manage football, we are oblige to follow what the state asks,” the 1987 African Footballer of the Year said.
Since creation in 1959, the Cameroon FA has never been managed by a footballer and analysts say it will be unprecedented if the country recruits a local manager for the national team.
“When the state asks me to accompany the national team to a competition, I go together with the president of the federation, even if we do not like each other,” the former honorary president of the Cameroon FA said. Milla believes that unless changes are made at the top of Cameroon’s football involving former footballers, the national team will continue to struggle.
“Concerning the recruitment of local coaches, the state has decided to recruit foreigners, I cannot oppose the government; being myself a member of the government, I am obliged to follow what the state decides. But personally, I still stand for the fact that local trainers should manage the team. The new coach is a European, let’s wait and see what he can offer,” the roving ambassador added.
The Italia’90 star today shuttles between the office of the Cameroon President, where he serves as itinerant ambassador and his humanitarian, the Roger Milla Coeur d’Afrique (Heart of Africa) foundation, which he created in 2005 to carter for vulnerable children.
Through the foundation, Milla has started a project aimed to train young people on transforming plastic waste into building materials.
A pioneer team of 25 young people has already been trained and they will act as trainers of the more than 2,500 team of youth the project initiator intends to bring on board.
“My motivation for the project came from the fact that building materials are needed to fix the bad roads in the country. There are many road problems in Cameroon that need these materials; there are council areas in Cameroon that are practically inaccessible during the raining season,” Milla explained.
The project, he said, will also help fight pollution and create jobs for unemployed youngsters “many of whom are in difficulties”.
But is Milla dreaming to become president of the continental confederation, Caf or the global Fifa?
“Being at Caf or Fifa is not a dream. Those who are there today did not dream, the day it will please me, and that I have other countries that want me to be president of Caf or Fifa, we will see,” said Milla, who is president of a domestic handball team; Tonnerre Kalara Club (TKC) of Yaoundé.
Albert Roger Mooh Miller, commonly known as Roger Milla, is a retired Cameroonian footballer who played as a striker. He was one of the first African players to be a major star on the international stage.
Born: May 20, 1952 (age 63), Yaoundé, Cameroon
Height: 5’ 9’
Weight: 159 lbs
666 (apps), 405 (goals)
63 (apps), 37 (goals)
(Head coach, 2007–2011)
CAF Award for Best 10 players of the last 50 years and CAF Legend award.