By James Sarda
YAOUNDE (Cameroon): African soccer legend Roger Milla (pic) said he will relish the opportunity to take Malaysia to the greatest heights possible in world soccer if given the opportunity to be its coach.
He noted in an exclusive interview to Daily Express that perhaps only the South East Asian region had yet to make an impact on the stage where it matters most in soccer – the World Cup – and that Malaysia should make a serious attempt at doing so since it has a long soccer history.
The still reigning top African World Cup goal scorer whose five goals feat was recently equalled by Ghana’s Asamoah Gyan, said there is no reason Malaysia cannot make the grade like its Asian counterparts South and North Korea as well as Japan given the right approach and focus.
“ Yes, if there is a possibility I would love to take up the challenge to coach the Malaysian side. But it will also depend on whether I can obtain permission for leave from my President Paul Biya. Then I will sit down and negotiate in the event of an offer,” he said.
“In fact, I negotiated for one or two Cameroonian players to come to Malaysia while I was engaged as a coach in Indonesia. Indonesia was a very good experience. I liked the country and was working very hard to build up their football standard,” said
Milla, in reference to his stints with Pelita Jaya and Putera Samarinda, both in Indonesian Premier Division sides in the mid-1990s.
Milla, 62, said he regretted not having taken the opportunity to visit Malaysia while he was coaching in Indonesia as he had heard much about the country. “I should have but I had a very tight working schedule then.”
Milla has since been designated as a roving ambassador by President Biya, who even allowed him to operate from the Presidential Palace. Among his tasks now are to spot and nurture young Cameroonian soccer talents so that Cameroon would continue to remain a force in both the World Cup and African Nations Cup tournaments.
Many of the emerging Cameroonian players have been the products of his specially set up Roger Milla Foundation with the President’s urging and full backing. “My tasks as Roving Ambassador includes undertaking missions for the President related to sports and on other things as well,” he said.
Asked whether his feats at the 1990, 1994 and 1998 World Cups were responsible for inspiring a whole new generation of African soccer players who now dominate top European clubs and elsewhere, he said:
“It is a difficult question to answer. It is not for me but for others to appreciate whether I was the inspi- ration or not.” His four goals in the 1990 World Cup helped Cameroon to become the first African team to reach the World Cup Quarter finals. Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria have since followed the tradition.
History would not have bestowed Milla with the honours that followed if not for a passionate plea by phone by President Biya for Milla to come out of his 1987 self-imposed retirement, thus becoming the oldest player in the World Cup at age 38.
A goal by him at age 42 in a later World Cup match made him the oldest scorer in World Cup history.
James Sarda is Editor-in-Chief for Daily Express Sabah and recently was in Cameroon