Roger Milla playing for Cameroon in 1984

Milla at Afcon 1984

There are many who have said Roger Milla should confine his speaking to the football field.

Such observers have had much to chew since published a long interview in which Milla says Samuel Eto’o’s indiscipline caused  Cameroon’s lacklustre performances before Paul Leguen was named head-coach and that it was him and the team’s senior players who picked the players at the Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana and not the then manager Otto Pfister.

There have always been rumours that Rigobert Song, Geremi Njitap, Idriss Kameni and Samuel Eto’o had such a strangle-hold on the team that they imposed their choices on the managers. Fans had even come up with a name for them – “1984”- based on their jersey numbers.

Why did Milla choose to make his “revelations” now? Why didn’t he say these things when the boat was hitting the rocks? Why did the honorary chairman of the Cameroon football Federation choose to speak out when dsicipline seems to have returned to the den of the 4 times champions of Africa?

The man who scored 4 goals at the Fifa World Cup in 1990 says that “Cameroonians want to hear the truth.”

“If one has something that needs to be said to improve the workings of the team, it must be said. It is for the good of the Cameroon national team and not for Roger Milla’s [glory]. If we want to succeed we must be honest with ourselves,” Milla said.

However hard it is to doubt the sincerity of a man who gave most of his sporting life to defending Cameroon’s colours, there is a bit of incongruity in his statements that require deep thought.

For instance, Milla claims that he was the one, alongside Rigobert Song, Geremi Njitap and Eto’o who took control of the team after they were badly beaten (4-2) by Egypt in Cameroon’s opening campaign at the last Africa Cup of Nations. But when asked why he chaired a committee that analysed and criticised the performance of the national team in that tournament when it was his handiwork, Milla retracted and said the work of the committee was solely based on the first and final games (both against Egypt) which “Otto Pfister managed”.

Why would Milla and his “senior staff” lead the course of things and decide to hand-over power to Pfister on the final and most important game?  Doesn’t it look like Milla wants to take all that was good and shove onto others what was bad? Was he the one who also determined the substitutions  during the games? For instance, was he the one who ordered Otto Pfister to take-off Joseph Job and replace him with Nkong who ended up scoring the winner against Ghana in the semi-final?  Where the Lions really brilliant in the other games which they won on their way to the final?

I think that the Lions were average in Ghana (although they got to the final). I believe the 2006 pride was a joy to watch and were unlucky to be knocked out on penalties at the quarter-finals.

In 2008, Otto Pfister was new (and not a great manager) which caused him to rely heavily on his assistant (a character whose methods need decoding) and the senior brass of the squad. The advisers then became omnipresent and may have clouded his good judgement at times. But, were the victories at this tournament exclusively down to Milla?

Milla’s references to Eto’o particularly regarding the captaincy have also come under tough scrutiny. He seems not to understand what change the coach wanted by naming a new captain since he believes “the captain’s armband is merely a piece of cloth or fabric that gives you the status of spokesman.”

Samuel Eto'o against Austria

Eto'o's first game as captain -picture by Camfoot

According to Milla a captain’s success is measured by the number of trophies won by the team during his reign.

So Milla says: “Rigo has worn this captain’s armband for ten years, he has proved his worth with at least two CAN[African Cup of Nations]victories, let Samuel Eto’o also deliver the goods.”

If the captaincy is just a piece of cloth – then how come victories are attributed to such a person? Did it occur to the Roving Ambassador that  Song was also captain for  Cameroon at three winless Africa Cup of Nations (2004,2006,2008)?

Milla and Eto’o  supporters are virtually at daggers-drawn on internet forums.  Pro-Eto’o fans  contend that Milla’s utterances are an exhibition of a conflict of generation and the views of a man in quest of recognition as the spotlight seems to have shifted to Paul Leguen (Cameroon’s current manager) and Samuel Eto’o who has since gannered support among the masses with strong  displays  for the Indomitable Lions.

Milla’s die-hearts think he is merely an elder advising the young to  keep them on the right path. They point to his comment on Eto’o as the best striker in the world as proof that he has nothing against the young man who has since taken over his number 9 shirt in the Lions:

“When Samuel Eto’o plays is fully fit and focused, he is the best center forward in the world. I do not see any striker who can do what he does,” Milla told Camfoot.

Would you describe Milla’s comments as a mis-timed rant barely days to the crucial World Cup qualifier against Morocco in Fès on 14 November? Is it really the case of an envious old man begging for recognition or the wise words of caution from a legend who can see further than the boys who have climbed up a tree.

Be a judge for yourself by reading interesting excerpts of that interview  translated to English, here.