Together with 1xBet, we look back at the brilliant career of one of Africa’s greatest footballers.
A unique award
Before Cameroon’s first match in Qatar, FIFA President Gianni Infantino honored Roger Mill as the oldest player ever to score in a World Cup final. And while Roger has received numerous individual awards in his time and even become a Knight of the Legion of Honor, he was touched – it’s not every day that FIFA honors people who have made such a difference in the most popular game on the planet. However, with the presentation of this award, we want to recall the brilliant career of one of the most popular athletes of the Black Continent.
Soccer as entertainment
Roger was born May 20, 1952, in a family of a railroader. His hometown was Yaoundé, the capital of French Cameroon. Eight years later, Cameroon became an independent state, and another year later our hero’s parents moved to Douala, the largest city in the country and its economic capital.
They say that soccer is the sport of the poor who want to become rich. However, in the case of Roger, this was not the case – his family was middle class and could give him a good education. Moreover: when his parents noticed that their son too often raced the ball after school and came back too late, they were not happy – the child had to come home on time and help around the house. Especially since in those days Cameroon did not yet have cool children’s soccer academies, well-maintained fields, and licensed coaches, and had to play barefoot on a dusty court. Milla did not think about a professional career: many years later he said that he played soccer with friends for fun and polished his technique during school vacations. However, at the age of 13, he became a soccer player for the junior team Eclair de Douala and participated with great success in school tournaments. The parents also agreed – seeing their son’s successes, they allowed him to play soccer.
First clubs, first victories
At the age of 15, Milla made his debut for the club’s adult team in the second division of the Cameroonian championship. Even then he began to score regularly. Interestingly, the young Roger managed to find time even for athletics – at 17 he won the championship in the high jump at the school in Cameroon. This victory added to the teenager′s self-confidence and he decided to become a professional athlete.
In 1970 18-year-old forward Roger Milla signed a contract with the top division club Leopard Duala. With this team, he won the Cameroonian championship three times and scored an impressive 89 goals in 116 games. Four years later he moved to Tonnere from Yaoundé, in 1975 won the African Cup Winners’ Cup with it, scored 69 goals in 87 games, and in 1976 he was named the best player in Africa. After these exploits, the French Valenciennes – an outsider of Division 1 (Ligue 1, which we know you, was established only in 2002) paid attention to him, and in 1977 Milla got a chance to prove himself in a strong European championship.
At Valenciennes, Milla could feel like the genie in the Aladdin tale – the possibilities were endless, but they were poorly matched by the tiny and uncomfortable accommodation the club gave him. He had to get used to the new partners, the requirements of the coach, the climate, and take care of his life. However, in the 1978/1979 season, he played for the club 29 games, scored 7 goals, and helped “Valenciennes” not to fly out of Division 1.
After this, Roger was noticed by Monaco, which was among the five strongest French teams of the time and regularly played in European competitions. With Monaco, Milla won his first trophy – in 1980 his team won the French Cup. In the decisive match with Orleans the hero of Africa came on as a substitute at 55 minutes when the score was 2:1, and 10 minutes later the legend of the club Delio Onnis scored the decisive goal.
That season Roger scored 5 goals in 25 league and cup games. He could have been on the field more often, but that season he was haunted by injuries. As a result, the club management decided to get rid of the player and Milla went to “Bastia” c the island of Corsica, which in the championship in 1979/1980 took 16 place out of 20 teams.
Roger came to “Bastia” a mature master – perfectly reading the game, plastic, kicking with two feet, with good speed and technique. He quickly became a player in the main squad, and in 1981 helped the team win the only Cup in its history in France. In the final game, “Bastia” beat “Saint-Etienne” with a score of 2-1, and Milla scored the winning goal, elegantly defeating the goalkeeper, and defender and rolling the ball into an empty net.
For a recap of the Bastia-Saint-Etienne match, click here:
Roger played with Bastia for the first and last time in his career in European competitions. And if in the 1/16 finals of the Cup Winners’ Cup the Corsicans had no problems with the Finnish KTP (0-0 away and 5-0 at home), in the next round they had to play against Dynamo (Tbilisi), the current holder of the trophy. At that time the best generation of Georgian players in the history of the club played for Dinamo so Bastia had no chance (1:1 at home and 1:3 in Tbilisi). Milla could console himself by doing everything possible to win, scoring 3 goals in 4 games, including both goals against Dynamo.
A review of the match Dynamo – Bastia can be seen here:
“The Old Lion spent four seasons in Corsica, played 133 games, and scored 42 goals. His stats looked very good, but in 1984 the forward turned 32 and was considered a veteran who was about to hang up his boots. Had Roger known at the time that he had 12 more years to play and the highlights of his career were yet to come…
Mill`s next club was St. Etienne – one of the strongest teams in France, a finalist of the Champions Cup in 1976, and 10-time champion of the country. Alas, in 1982 the club was accused of creating a “black box” for bribery, and the president of Saint-Etienne Roger Roche went to prison. The strongest players had to be sold, the team was relegated to the second division and it took two seasons to return to the elite of French soccer. One of the creators of success was Roger Milla: in two years he played for the “Greens” 69 games in the championship and cup, scoring 36 goals.
You can watch Roger Milla’s goals for Saint-Etienne here:
As the “Old Wizard” already knew how to pull a team out of a quagmire, he was invited to Montpellier, where he paired with the young Laurent Blanc and became a real nightmare for defenders. In his first season, Milla secured the result: his 18 goals in 33 regular season games allowed the Paladins to return to Division 1. Roger stayed with the team for two more years, scoring relentlessly before eventually leaving with 103 games and 41 goals.
National Team Career
Roger began to be called up to the national team back in the early 1970s. In 1982 he was part of the national team, which came to its first World Cup and made a very good impression – in three group matches “Indomitable Lions” have not lost once (but also did not win) and got a productive draw with Italy – the future champion. Then the team failed to leave the group: Cameroon missed out on the goal difference ahead of the Squadra Azzurra and finished the tournament.
Review of the match Italy – Cameroon can be seen here:
Subsequently, Milla twice won with Cameroon the African Cup of Nations –
in 1984 and 1988. After that, he ended his career in the national team, played
a farewell match, packed his bags, and left to play in the club St-Pierroise, which
was based on the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. You probably need
Google Maps to find this paradise on the map.
Thousands of articles have been written and films made about the brilliant performance of Roger Mills and the Cameroonian team at the World Cups in Italy and the United States. So we will tell only about the facts that you may not know.
1. Milla was not going to go to the World Cup. Everything changed after a call from the President of Cameroon – Paul Biya personally asked the “Old Lion” to help the national team. Millah could not refuse the president. Perhaps this call can be called the most successful intervention of the authorities in the staffing of the soccer team.
2. After the first training session Roger came up to the head coach of the national team Valery Nepomnyashchiy and said that he was leaving: “Coach, you want to kill me” (the 38-year-old player had to pass the standards for shuttle run). The coach responded that it was a test, he could see the player’s physical condition and would let him get into the game gradually. But then, when the coach said that Milla will not be in the lineup, he was calm: Coach, it’s your decision, I`ll do it. And he did it!
3. Roger was not sure he was physically ready for the World Cup games. But the forward was used to succeeding at the expense of his intelligence and knew that if he got himself in shape, he would surely get his chance.
4. At that 1990 World Cup, Milla scored 4 goals, gave one assist, and earned a penalty kick. It was enough to earn him the title of Best African Footballer in 1990.
5. “Old Lion” never played a full match – the coach of the Cameroon team Valery Nepomnyashchy took care of his leader and released him only as a substitute. In four out of five matches Milla appeared on the field in the second half and only once in the second half of the first half.
6. Cameroon became the first African team to reach the quarterfinals of the World Cup and get into the eight strongest national teams on the planet.
7. After the Italian triumph, the quota for participation in the World Cup finals was increased to 3 teams.
8. Roger’s victory dance near the corner flag forever changed the celebration of scoring goals in world soccer – until 1990, the most creative celebration was considered a somersault performed by Hugo Sanchez – a player for Real Madrid and the Mexican national team. Note that the “Old Wizard” did not rehearse his dance, as he was not sure he would enter the field.
9. The legendary forward scored his last World Cup goal in 1994. At that time he was 42 years old.
10. Only one African footballer managed to surpass Roger Mill’s achievement in the number of goals scored in the final parts of the World Cups. That man was Ghanaian forward Asamoah Gyan.
To see all of Roger Mill’s goals at the World Cups, click here:
What happened next
After the World Cup in Italy, Roger scored for Yaounde-based Tonnerre for four more seasons and then spent two more years (we’re not exaggerating) in Indonesia – the number of goals he scored in the local championship surpasses the number of matches played! And only in 1996, did “Old Lion” decide to retire. At that time, the great athlete was 44 years old.
After his career, Milla could have lived the life of a folk hero and everyone’s favorite, but he was not idle – he coached French and Cameroonian clubs, worked to protect the environment, and even opened two companies for recycling plastic into paving slabs. But whatever this smiling 70-year-old gentleman did, he will always be a superhuman superhero to Cameroon and Africa.
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