Roger Milla, the star of the 1990 World Cup, has blamed the man widely seen as his successor in Cameroon – Samuel Eto’o – for the nuisance in the national team before the appointment of Paul Leguen as manager. His comments to have been variously described as ill-timed (as Cameroon prepares for a do-or-die  World Cup qualifier against Morocco in Fès on 14 November) or the 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 which I have translated to English. What’s your reaction to the change of captaincy in the national team between Sam [Samuel Eto’o]and Rigo[Rigobert Song]?

Roger Milla: The change of skipper should not create unnecessary controversy. To me the armband is only necessary because you have to choose someone to pass information, a person to be the team’s spokesman to the referee or administrative authorities. The skipper is not meant to control the other players. We had great players who refused to wear the armband in this team. If Sam has taken the armband, he should show that he’s the boss by bringing victories like the others have done. He must play well and he should be the harbinger of discipline in this team. Imagine that your famous “number 9” jersey was withdrawn from you and handed to someone else. How would you take that?

Roger Milla: Why wouldn’t I handle that? It is only a number just like the captain’s armband is merely a piece of cloth or fabric that gives you the status of spokesman. The coach had his reasons for giving the armband to Eto’o, for I do not know what change. However, allow me tell tell you that in this national team it is the minister [of sports] who appoints the captain and not the coach, but if Paul [Leguen]did it, he had the backing of the minister. 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 and bring joy to Cameroon. There was talk of  a “1984” group that controls the team, were you aware? *[N.B: “1984” are the jersey numbers of four key players in the Cameroon national team who were accused of indiscipline and calling the shots in the team to the point of selecting players under previous coaches – Idriss Kameni(1),Samuel Eto’o (9), Geremi Njitap (8), Rigobert Song(4)]

Roger Milla: I’m not interested in this. It’s nonsense. People do not want to be logical and tell the truth. When you have a situation that goes wrong in a team, we must lay it bare. People were afraid to say that it is Samuel Eto’o who caused the mess in this team? You talk about 1984; I did not see Njitap, Song or Kameni take precedence over Samuel. Samuel was the problem, we must tell the truth to clear the air. So what has changed?

Roger Milla: It was not until I put my feet on the ground that there was a change of staff and things changed. Why can’t you journalists say that? If we had not seen off Otto Pfister, the guys would have continued with such disorder. We must be objective. But don’t you feel that this statement may destabilize the team?

Roger Milla: We must tell the truth, Cameroonians want to hear the truth. The national team is too important a thing for us to toy with. 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. What’s your  answer to those who say you “old lions” are a nuisance?

Roger Milla: Who are the “old lions”? Who are those prowling around these Lions? As long as we can give advice to enable this team succeed we will always be there. It is not their team. They have no right or life-term mandate over this team. If the old [former] lions had not brought prestige to this team, they would not be where they are. They should close their mouth and remain with their billions. We do not joke with our national team. I would say this face-to-face, if need be. And let them point out those who prevent them from working well. If it’s me, I apologize, but they should be aware that if I’m here, it is at the Minister’s behest. I am within my rights to enter the dressing room to congratulate them and offer my advice. Whoever is not happy with that should stay in his club. We saw you in tears at CAN 2008, after the defeat of the first game …

Roger Milla: Exactly. Why did those who say that the old [former]Lions won’t allow them flourish come to see me  to pick a team after the defeat against Egypt in the opening game? [N.B. Egypt flogged Cameroon 4-2 in that game]. So you confirm that it is the players and you who selected the teams at the last CAN?

Roger Milla: I affirm and reaffirm that. Yes, the senior players and I chose the players who were to continue the competition; and you see, we got to the final. So what was Otto Pfister’s role then?

Roger Milla: You want to hear it from me. Go ask players  like Song, Eto’o, Njitap. It’s too easy to say we are a nuisance. But I am objective and constructive; I want this team to succeed. It has a name to maintain.

Pfister and assistants

Otto Pfister and his staff at a Lions game But this is a serious matter; if it was you who picked the teams. So what was the purpose of the “Milla Commission” then? Wasn’t it a case of criticizing your own handiwork? [N.B: the Milla Commission was a think-tank of former coaches and national team players set up by Cameroon’s football federation (FECAFOOT) to review the performance of the Indomitable Lions during the 2008 and Africa Cup of Nations in Ghana. It severely criticized the play-style of the Lions and euphemistically asked for the coach to be sacked.]

Roger Milla: Not at all. This committee was established to dissect just the opening match and final. The games where we had selected the players were not as poor as those managed by [Otto]Pfister. Maradona, a former football great coached his country Argentina to the World Cup. As a former Lion, have you thought of being a coach?
Roger Milla: Why not? I have my stage two coaching licence, I can train a team. Whoever is there now is doing their work well. The players are there to implement his instructions; otherwise they will be put aside. For example, nobody initially thought that the young [Henri Nsame]Bedimo  could feature in this squad, but you saw what he did against Togo. It was wonderful. That is down to the coach who gave him confidence. Everyone must fight to earn a place in this team, because it is not the preserve of any one. Even those playing in the local league should work hard. Samuel Eto’o often says you were the best center forward in the world in your time. Who do you think is the best center forward in the world today?

Roger Milla: Personally I do not mince my words. When Samuel Eto’o 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. Just look at  what he’s doing with the national team; do you think you can take any simple guy from Barcelona and ask him to change the course of the game like Samuel does for Cameroon? Has Messi managed to do that with Argentina? I think Eto’o should not be engrossed by a desire to win the “Ballon d’Or” [European footballer of the year awarded by French newspaper France Football]. You know, the Ballon d’Or is a choice that is made by some people who have their perception and conception of football. He must continue to work. Maybe one day [he would win it], who knows?

*All notes [ ] and explanations of context in italic are by Gef.

**Original interview in French by Joseph Dzéné in Yaoundé for