Fair Play Award
Old age is when you begin to say: "I've never felt so young". The Jules Renard adage could have been written for Roger Milla. The Cameroon striker, a figurehead of African football, exploded onto the international scene at the ripe old age of 38. A fine technician with remarkable vision, Milla carried his team practically single-handed to the quarter-finals of the 1990 FIFA World Cup ItalyTM. Incredibly, he also played four years later in the USA.
Albert Roger Miller, aka Roger Milla, was born on May 20, 1952, in the Cameroon capital of Yaoundé. His father's job on the railways meant that Roger and his family were constantly on the move, but Roger soon found new friends through his love of the beautiful game. Wherever he ended up, the young Milla played bare-foot, and soon earned himself the nickname "Pele".
Roger signed for his first club, Eclair de Douala, when he was 13. His excellent technique and eye for goal were evident even at that tender age. He had to wait a further five years before he won the league championship with Léopard de Douala. One Cameroon championship and an African Cup of Nations semi-final later, Milla was on his way to Tonnerre Club de Yaoundé, and it wasn't long before he made the national team.
His international career got off to an auspicious start in 1976, the year he was awarded the African Golden Ball. At club level, however, Milla had to bide his time and wait for the big contract to come along. He thought his ship had come in when French club Valenciennes offered him a juicy deal to lure him across the Mediterranean. The financial promise was not kept, though, and he ended up in the reserves, living in a tiny flat on £300 a month.
Milla fared little better when he headed south to AS Monaco, spending half his time on the bench and the other half injured. A spell at Bastia did little to enhance his reputation either, his impromptu trips to Cameroon antagonising the coaching staff. "People judged me on what they heard and read about me in the media… the big clubs didn't have faith in me," he explained later, with only a hint of resentment. Saint-Etienne, newly relegated to the second division, proved his salvation. There, he rediscovered the path to goal, scoring 22 goals in 31 appearances. His nomadic days finally ended when he signed for Montpellier, a club where he felt at home, and where his prolific dribbling and goalscoring ability were allowed to flourish. He even joined the coaching staff at Montpellier after his playing career was over. He finally retired from French club football on May 31, 1989, with 152 goals to his name.
Milla scored on his international debut in July 1978, and was part of the Cameroon side that made history by booking their place at the 1982 FIFA Word Cup in Spain. This was the Indomitable Lions' first appearance at the FIFA World Cup finals, and they more than held their own, returning home unbeaten. Milla first hung up his international boots in 1987, and after memorable testimonials at Douala and Yaoundé, watched by almost 100,000 spectators, he moved to Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean to live out what he thought would be a peaceful retirement. The World Cup was just a distant memory, until, that was, he received a phone call from the President of Cameroon himself, pleading with him to come out of retirement and answer his country's call. How could he refuse?
So it was that at the age of 38, Roger Milla enjoyed his finest hour as a footballer. His bursts of pace, dribbling and great vision lit up Italia 90, winning him a place in the hearts of football fans the world over. He scored four goals that year, marking each one with a Makossa dance around the corner flag, a celebration that has been imitated around the world ever since. His two goals in extra-time against Colombia sent Cameroon into the quarter-finals, the furthest an African nation has reached in the tournament's history.
Cameroon's achievement in reaching a FIFA World Cup quarter-final was unprecedented for an African team. Milla, who had always craved recognition as a footballer, could be proud: the performances of his team, along with Egypt at Italia 90, led FIFA to announce that there would be a third African team at future World Cups.
Four years later, and incredibly Milla was back for USA 94. Although Cameroon were eliminated at the group stage, he still managed to grab a goal against Russia, thereby setting a new record as the oldest goalscorer at a FIFA World Cup, at the age of 42.
In fact, Roger Milla holds a host of records. He is, for example, the first African to have played in three finals tournaments, but above all, he is a national hero, a man who received thousands of votes at local elections, but refused to take office. Milla isn't interested in politics, but does regret the fact that he has never been invited to manage an African team. "Sports ministers think that foreign coaches get results more quickly," he regrets.
A man of great generosity and humanity, he now devotes his time to African causes. An itinerant ambassador for Cameroon and UNAIDS, he is tireless in his globe-trotting work, but don't ever ask him how many goals or caps he has: "I don't know. It never interested me. Football was all that mattered." The quote sums up the man.
1970-1973 Leopard Douala
1974-1977 Tonnerre Yaoundé
1972 Cameroon Champion (Leopard Douala)
1973 African Champions' Cup: Semi-final (Leopard Douala)
1974 Cameroon Cup winner (Tonnerre Yaoundé)
1976 African Cup Winners' Cup winner (Tonnerre Yaoundé)
1976 African Golden Ball winner
1980 French Cup winner (Monaco)
1981 French Cup winner (Bastia)
1987 French Division 2 winner (Montpellier)
1982 FIFA World Cup SpainTM; first round
1984 African Cup of Nations winner
1984 Top scorer at the African Cup of Nations (4 goals)
1984 Olympic Games; first round
1986 African Cup of Nations finalist
1986 Player of the tournament at the African Cup of Nations
1988 African Cup of Nations winner
1990 FIFA World Cup ItalyTM; quarter-finals
1994 FIFA World Cup USATM; first round