Friday Apr 03, 2020. 09:00
With top-level football ground to a halt thanks to the coronavirus epidemic, we look back at a legend of yesteryear. This week’s spotlight falls on Cameroon’s Roger Milla.
What his origin story?
Born in Cameroon’s capital city of Yaounde on 20 May 1952, Albert Roger Milla first made his name in football with youth club Eclair de Douala and then turned professional with his first senior club, Leopard Douala, in the early 1970s.
Milla won his first career league titles with Leopard in 1972 and 1973, before moving on to Tonnerre Yaounde, where his exploits for club and country earned him the African Footballer of the Year prize in 1976.
From 1977 to 1989 he was based in France, featuring for Valenciennes, Monaco, Bastia, Saint-Etienne and Montpellier. He won back-to-back Coupe de France titles in 1980 and 1981 (with separate clubs, Monaco and Bastia respectively) and helped Montpellier earn promotion to Ligue 1 in 1987.
He then began the (lengthy) process of winding his club career down from 1989 when he signed for Reunion club JS Saint-Pierroise (who would later produce Dimitri Payet). He went on to return to Tonnerre in the early 1990s, before spells with Pelita Jaya and Putra Samarinda in the footballing backwater of Indonesia until retiring in 1996 at the age of 44.
This is where Milla truly shined, as he made 102 appearance for the Indomitable Lions from 1973 to 1994. He won two Africa Cup of Nations titles with Cameroon in 1984 and 1988, was the top scorer at the continental competition in 1986 and 1998, and won the tournament’s best player gong for the 1986 edition.
Milla also featured in their 1982 World Cup squad and 1984 Olympic Games team, but his name was forever etched into football history for his heroics at the 1990 World Cup in Italy, where the 38-year-old scored four goals and helped the Lions reach the quarterfinals – which remains an achievement yet to be bettered by another African team at the World Cup. The image of him celebrating his goals with a dance at the corner flag is emblematic of the joy of football, and it was little surprise when he was named African Footballer of the Year for a second time in honour of his Italia ‘90 performances.
But there was still more to come in a Cameroon jersey for Milla, who returned to their team for the 1994 World Cup and set records for the oldest player (42) to feature in the tournament (since eclipsed by Colombia’s Faryd Mondragon in 2014 and Egypt’s Essam El Hadary in 2018) and oldest goal scorer in World Cup history for his group stage strike against Russia.
The legend finally hung up his international boots in December 1994, with his final appearance coming in a friendly against South Africa.
“Here in Cameroon, football is our leading political party. It’s football alone that that unites us, it’s football alone that brings us good things – football is the window into our country – so we don’t mess around with it.”
What’s he doing now?
Milla has worked in coaching and administrative roles in the past, but he currently acts as an ambassador for African causes. He most recently joined a band of fellow African football legends to promote the #Safehands and #Noshandshake challenge as part of efforts towards the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.
Anything else to add?
In 2004, Milla was named on a list of the 125 greatest living footballers selected by Brazilian great Pelé, while in 2007 CAF named him the best African player from the past 50 years.
Check out this FIFA TV dedication to Milla’s World Cup legacy: