Bursting with natural talent and famed for his bulldozing runs and eye for goal, Roger Milla had the complete package as a striker and remains one of the greatest players Africa has ever produced. His long career finally came to an end 15 years ago, but he remains a passionate fan of the game and recently shared his insights on modern football with FIFA.com.
The Cameroonian legend, who won admirers at three separate FIFA World Cups™, spoke about the development of the global game in all its various forms. A roving ambassador for his native country, Milla is also patron of the Coeur d'Afrique (Heart of Africa) foundation, which uses football to help tackle social problems.
FIFA.com: Tell us about your start in the game as a young footballer. How did you get your breakthrough?
Roger Milla: Football's been a part of me since my early childhood. I used to chase a ball whenever I got a chance, either in the street or on the playground. I signed my first licence as a player with Eclair de Douala at the age of 13. That was a real springboard for me because, five years later, I found myself in the national championship playing in the team of one of the best clubs in the country, Leopard de Douala.
What are your thoughts on the current state of football development, an area in which FIFA is heavily involved?
FIFA's role is essential. Their actions to promote football, especially in emerging nations, deserve to be recognised. Some countries are completely lacking when it comes to infrastructure. FIFA are a real asset to all the youngsters in those countries.
What is your take on the development of women's football at the moment?
I'm crazy about sport, so of course I follow women's football. In terms of technique, the women's game basically has no reason to be jealous of the men's. Its growth has been fantastic. For example, I followed our national team at the Olympic Tournament in London this summer and, despite their elimination in the first round, they clearly have talented players for the future.
The passion around the game there is the same as anywhere else and sometimes even more intense. The emotions felt on a football pitch can be the same in both amateur and professional football.
You played for prestigious clubs including Monaco, Montpellier and Saint-Etienne, but you also spent some time on the island of Reunion. What was it like playing football there?
I played for Saint-Pierroise at the end of my career. What struck me was the enthusiasm people had for the club, even though we were playing in a regional league which was the equivalent of the seventh division. The passion around the game there is the same as anywhere else and sometimes even more intense. The emotions felt on a football pitch can be the same in both amateur and professional football.
Who were your sporting idols as a youngster and what is your role in football today?
For me, football was undoubtedly all about Pele and that's not going to change any time soon. That said, Johan Cruyff was my other role model. He was one of a kind in the history of football. Nowadays, I still watch football games, of course, and I have a keen day-to-day interest in club results and the results of the Cameroonian national team. For example, I very much enjoy watching how our youngsters perform abroad. When I think about Fabrice Olinga, the Cameroonian at Malaga and the youngest scorer in the Liga at 16 years of age and 98 days, I tell myself that we have a new generation in the wings.
Have you ever considered involving yourself in the development of grassroots football?
I'm not directly involved in youth football, but I have an active role in it at a different level. I'm a roving ambassador for Cameroon and a member of the FIFA Football Committee. Those roles allow me to bring my experience to bear in the realm of youth football.
What advice would you give to budding footballers hoping to play at the highest level and have the kind of career you enjoyed?
For me, a young player needs humility and modesty. Those are important qualities if you want to break through in football and set yourself apart from the rest. The notion of respect is essential.
You set records which still stand as the oldest outfield player and the oldest goalscorer at a FIFA World Cup, aged 42 and one month. What do those records mean to you now, 15 years after retiring from the game?
It's an honour, but it's not hugely important for me. That remains a very fond memory, but, as people often say, records are made to be broken. And why not by another Cameroonian player?