Mondial 90: Roger Milla, the good pickaxe of the Head of State

Released from international retirement by the Head of State Paul Biya, Roger Milla was ultimately the providential man for the feat achieved by Cameroon at the 1990 World Cup.

Annaba, March 2, 1990. Cameroon’s football team is about to take part in its seventh participation in an African Cup of Nations (CAN) in Algeria. Russian Valeri Nepomniachi’s group will defend their title without Roger Milla. The former resident of Montpellier (1986-1989) retired internationally a year earlier, and went into exile on Reunion Island where he plays at the Jeunesse Sportive Saint-Pierroise. The man has the feeling of having already given everything to football, and intends to take it easy in this French archipelago. It is therefore as a spectator and decked out with the status of “consultant” that he is present at this celebration of African football.

Cameroon enters the competition on March 3 and is beaten by Zambia, after a goal from Chikabala in the 58the minutes (1-0). Three days later, the defending champion lost again. This time, ahead of Senegal (2-0). The Indomitable Lions finally released their claws on the third day in their group B. Thanks to a double from Emmanuel Maboang Kessack, Cameroon took over Kenya (2-0). A victory certainly, but insufficient to pass the first round. In the cities of Yaoundé, Douala, Bamenda and Bafoussam, the course of the Indomitable Lions is hardly reassuring. Especially since a crucial deadline is looming on the horizon: the final phase of the “Italy 1990” World Cup. The Cameroonian attackers are sorely lacking in efficiency and do not reassure. It was then that the Roger Milla track was considered in « high places ». But the technical management is not very enthusiastic about the idea, on the pretext that Milla had already passed the baton, and that his return to the selection could spoil the atmosphere which reigns there.

Milla, the promise of a presidential vision

The Presidency of the Republic nevertheless opens the debate. On the instruction of the Head of State Paul Biya, a meeting was held on March 23, 1990 at the Palace of Unity. The meeting is chaired by the secretary general of the Presidency, Mr. Edouard Akame Mfoumou, in the company of the technical adviser Ebenezer Njoh Mouelle, Albert Etotoke Epoune, the president of the Cameroon Football Federation at the time, the coach and his assistants, Michel Kaham and Jules Frédéric Nyongha, newly assigned to technical supervision. The Presidency decides definitively and facilitates the selection of Milla in May. A daring choice which turned out to be beneficial because the “old lion”, 38 years old at the time, was going to shine brightly in this competition. The number 9 notably scored twice against Romania (2-1) in the group match. Then, another double in the round of 16 against Colombia (2-1, ap). If Cameroon was able to become the first African country to play a match in the quarter-finals of the World Cup, it is thanks to him, Roger Milla, the good pickaxe of the Head of State.

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