What are most footballers doing with their lives once they reach the grand old age of forty two? Some stay in the game and try football coaching, management or scouting whilst others pursue their academic or business interests (the few who have any brains of course). There are also the ‘football dropouts’ who fail to meet the calibre for either category and settle for football ‘punditry’. This particular footballer bucked the trend and managed to play in three World Cup’s and by USA ’94, aged 42, was still leading the line for his country. You can forget early retirements, career ending injuries and mid-life crises as he was once of those players who would play riding a mobility scooter just because he had a passion for football. I present to you, Albert Roger Mooh Milla.
It’s been said at many school ‘parents evenings’, “Roger is a bright lad with loads of potential but I’m afraid he’s a late blossomer”. Never a truer description of Milla as his career seemed to peak in his mid to late thirties; upwards of ten years too late for most strikers. Roger caught my eye during Italia ’90 where his native Cameroon shocked the footballing world by reaching the quarterfinals, beating Argentina, nearly killing Claudio Caniggia and taking a lucky England all the way to extra time before losing 3-2. Milla was elevated to football stardom after that tournament, netting four goals and unleashing his trademark onto the world.
Born in the Cameroon capital of Yaoundé, Roger was signed to his local club Douala at the age of thirteen, winning the league title five years later. In 1974 he won the African footballer of the year for his goal haul for Tonnere Yaoundé where he amassed an impressive 69 goals in 87 appearances. Moving to France in 1977, he flirted with numerous clubs, never settling until his move to Saint-Étienne in 1984, netting 31 times in 59 matches. Roger transferred to Montpellier a year later where he eventually rose to stardom in French football. After leaving France, Roger returned home to Tonnere, until 1994 where he played out his career in Indonesia.
It was his international exploits that place him firmly in my all-time ‘cult’ footballers as it was for Cameroon where he gained the most media attention. Although I could not physically see his debut tournament appearance back in 1982, Roger returned from international retirement after the President of Cameroon begged him to play in the 1990 competition. Italia ’90 was my first World Cup that I could remember and was forever etched in my memory for reasons other than Gascoigne’s tears or Platt’s incredible volley against Belgium. Cameroon was an outfit that played football in a way that all fans could appreciate, at breakneck pace with thunderous tackles. Ask Claudio Caniggia of Argentina what it was like to be on the end of this…
This was the best, yet worst tackle I have ever seen just for it’s sheer comedy value and let’s face it Claudio deserved his comeuppance for his playboy looks; okay that’s no reason but it was still hilarious. It was such physicality and passion that earned Cameroon the support from my Mum for the whole tournament, much to the annoyance of my Dad during that nerve racking game versus England. In USA ’94, Roger became the oldest player ever to play and score in the tournament at the age of forty two. Will such a record ever be broken? I could never take my eyes off a Cameroon match, as a subsequent Milla goal would be followed by something completely unusual at that time, a post goal trademark celebration where he would dance around the nearest corner flag. How was I to know that his actions would be copied repeatedly and would eventually become part of what I despise about modern football? He also lost a bit of his hero status when he popped up in that Coca Cola commercial last year in a moment of pure John Lydon ‘sell-out’ style. Can I ever forgive him? Yeah I think I just might.
Here are some of Roger’s finest moments… (Fans of René Higuita look away now)
Roger is a quintessential ‘cult’ hero. Never in the world-class category for technical ability but if it was possible to measure commitment to the game then he must have been the best player in the world. He is now a football ambassador and has been recently voted the best African footballer to have ever played the game.