Roger Milla Ready to Be King of Road : Soccer: Cameroon's World Cup star wants to finish his career outside his country, preferably in the United States.


In the movie "Coming to America," a prince from the make-believe African country of Zamunda arrives in Queens to search for his future bride, but first finds a job mopping floors in a fast-food restaurant.

Roger Milla came to America this week. He is no prince, although he is treated like one in his homeland, the African country of Cameroon, and he does not need another bride. He is, however, looking for a job.

But don't ask him to mop floors. He prefers work in a field that is not so glamorous here and might even pay less. He wants to play professional soccer.

Such is the state of the sport in this country that Milla can't even locate an address for a place to send his impressive resume.

While in Paris last week, Milla received a telegram from a man who said that he might have a position available in the United States. But the man didn't say which league, team or even city he represented. For all Milla knew, it could have been outdoor or indoor soccer or even outdoor or indoor American football. Perhaps the Detroit Drive needed a placekicker for its championship run. The man said he would call later, but never did.

The most encouraging thing about the telegram was that it was sent from Los Angeles. As Milla planned to be here for tonight's charity game at the Coliseum between all-stars from Mexico and the rest of the world, he hoped the man would meet him at the airport Sunday. But on Monday night, Milla was still waiting at a downtown hotel.

"Maybe at tonight's reception, maybe tomorrow," Milla's Paris-based agent, Amiel Joseph, said Monday. "But if we don't hear by Wednesday, we're going back to Paris and consider our offers."

That could take some time, Joseph said, because there have been so many in the last month. In an unmemorable World Cup, Italy's Salvatore Schillaci and Milla were the most memorable players. Of Cameroon's Indomitable Lions, he was the most indomitable.

Every game Cameroon played was Milla time. Although he wasn't a starter, he scored four goals in five games. Two came in the second overtime against Colombia to sent the upstart Lions into the quarterfinals against England. Cameroon lost to England, 3-2, in overtime, but it was no fault of Milla's. He assisted on one goal and drew a foul in the penalty area that led to the other.

Would the Lions have been so indomitable without him?

They almost found out. In 1988, Milla decided that after a formidable career as a goal-scoring forward, it was time to make room for younger players by retiring from the national team at 36. He took his retirement seriously, going to the Reunion Islands near Madagascar to play for the semi-pro St. Pierroise team.

But after Cameroon was eliminated in the first round of the African Cup last year, soccer fans clamored for their hero, Milla. When he announced in December that he was available, they celebrated. Not so pleased were Cameroon's soccer officials, who worried that Milla, approaching his 38th birthday, could no longer play at the World Cup level.

The more the fans pleaded for Milla's return, the more the officials resisted. With his political mandate in jeopardy because of a sagging economy, Cameroon's president sided with the people and ordered the officials to invite Milla to a pre-World Cup training camp in Yugoslavia.

In an interview Monday, Milla said it should not have come as a shock when Cameroon upset defending champion Argentina, 1-0, in the opening game. After all, he said, Cameroon tied three games, including one against eventual champion Italy, in its only previous World Cup in 1982 in Spain.

"That was, for us, a big achievement," the French-speaking Milla said through an interpreter. "We only confirmed that in Italy."

But, in another breath, he acknowledged that not even the Indomitable Lions expected to beat Argentina.

"It was as big a surprise for us as it was the rest of the world," he said.

Milla said he believes that Cameroon's success indicates that Africa has arrived as a soccer continent. The international football federation apparently agrees, because it will allow Africa to send three countries instead of two to the 1994 World Cup in the United States.

"We were the drop that made the glass overflow," he said, using a French expression.

He is as big a booster of Africa as it apparently is of him.

Asked if Milla is more popular than ever in Cameroon, Joseph said, "In all of Africa."

But no matter who encourages him, even if it is the president, Milla said he expects to be involved in the 1994 World Cup only as a spectator.

When he retires, he wants to return to Cameroon to start a soccer school. Before then, he would like to play for one or two more years. He said he is considering offers in England and Austria. Joseph said they also have been contacted by teams in Germany, Belgium and Australia.

But Milla said he prefers to play in the United States.

"I want to play here, to bring to the United States my experience," he said.

Simply tell him where to apply.

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World