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Black History Month: Roger Milla introduces swagger to soccer

In soccer, swagger is spelled M-I-L-L-A. But, Roger was more than just a show...he was the real deal.

Fussball: WM 1990 in Italien, CMR - COL 2:1 Photo by Bongarts/Getty Images

The goal celebration has been something that has increased over the past couple decades. The excitement generated by a great goal celebration cannot be duplicated, and it’s something that has become choreographed or otherwise planned out for perfect execution. It establishes a swagger, and many players have a unique celebration that is emulated by children on playgrounds and streets all around the world.

That swagger was established by one man: Albert Roger Mooh Miller, otherwise known as Roger Milla. The Cameroon legend is considered the pioneer of the contemporary goal celebration. Known for running to the corner flag and performing a dance that surely inspired Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie routine, Milla is the reason why the goal celebration has become more creative and visionary throughout the years.

Still, don’t remember Milla for just his goal celebrations. His play is the reason you were able to see them so often. In 2004, as part of FIFA’s 100th anniversary, Pelé named Roger Milla on his list of the greatest 125 soccer players ever. In 2007, the Confederation of African Football declared him the best African player of the last 50 years. And there was good reason: Roger Milla was really, really good. A native of Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé, Milla had a 27-year professional career spanning stints in Cameroon, France, and Indonesia. He debuted for The Indomitable Lions in 1973 and played on the national team for 21 years, tallying 37 goals in 63 appearances.

At the young age of 38, after emerging from a brief retirement while playing soccer on the French island region of Réunion, Roger Milla returned to the national team and dominated the 1990 World Cup in Italy. He scored 4 times during the tournament to carry the team to the quarterfinals, the furthest an African team has every advanced in the World Cup. This has since been matched by Senegal in 2002 and Ghana in 2010. Take a look at all the goals he scored in 2010, including 2 against Colombia and 2 against Romania:

Was Roger Milla done there? Not a chance. He continued with The Indomitable Lions all the way through the 1994 World Cup, where he became the oldest player to ever appear in a World Cup at the age of 42 (Faryd Mondragón would take this record from him in 2014 when he appeared in a match for Colombia at the age of 43). In a Group B match against Russia, Roger Milla showed he still had it. Even though Cameroon was destroyed 6-1 by Russia that day, Milla notched the only goal for Cameroon and became the oldest goalscorer in World Cup history at 42 years, 1 month and 8 days old. He broke the record he set back in 1990:

Roger Milla’s accomplishments: incredible. He was the African Footballer of the Year in 1976 and 1990, which is probably the most remarkable thing you will ever read. That’s right, Milla was able to win trophies as Africa’s best player 14 years apart. He was a part of two Africa Cup of Nations, in 1984 and 1988, and was the top goalscorer in 1986 and 1988. He was the Bronze Boot winner at the 1990 World Cup and made the FIFA World Cup All-Star Team that year as well.

Still, the goal celebration. His tradition of sprinting to the corner flag and doing his hip-swaying dance is one that is world famous. It’s inspired many songs and videos. It was even the subject for a Coca-Cola commercial that debuted before the 2010 World Cup in South Africa:

Roger Milla brought swagger to soccer. He introduced it on soccer’s grandest stage. And, when it came down to it, his skill allowed for the swagger to be shown often. So, next time you see a goal scored and a player run to the corner to do a dance or a slide or a kick of the corner flag, you remember Roger Milla, the timeless legend and one of the greatest players ever. He introduced the swagger so we could shape it into something beautiful.