World Cup stories: Roger Milla on his wiggle, Walsall and Wogan

By Chris Bevan and John BennettBBC Sport
World Cup moments: Milla's memorable wiggle

Whoever emerges as the star of this summer's World Cup will probably be hoping for a better offer than the first one Roger Milla received after Cameroon's Italia '90 adventure had ended.

The 38-year-old superstar super-sub had illuminated the tournament with four goals and his famous corner flag celebration to help 'The Indomitable Lions' make history by becoming the first African nation to reach the quarter-finals.

His reward was a phone call from Walsall,external-link newly relegated to England's old Division Four.

"We were the first club to make an enquiry and I thought he could bring a bit of joy back to the club," recalled Kenny Hibbitt, who had just taken over as Saddlers boss.

"We had a Cameroon player, Charlie Ntamark, training with us that summer to get over an injury that had meant he missed the World Cup. He acted as a go-between for us to speak to Milla.

"If you don't ask, you don't get. But Roger wanted $1m to play for us and, unfortunately, we were broke. We ended up signing Charlie instead."

Twenty-four years on, Milla has finally made it to Walsall, not to play for the Saddlers but to visit the University of Wolverhampton's campus in the townexternal-link to say thank you for their assistance with his humanitarian foundation,external-link which helps underprivileged children in Cameroon.

World Cup 2014: Roger Milla shows off his famous goal celebration in Walsall

His waistline is a little wider these days, but Milla is still dancing - he told BBC Sport he keeps fit by going running every day and gets asked to perform his legendary hip wiggle wherever he goes around the world.

That trademark goal celebration has been much imitated down the years but, unlike many footballers who try to mark a goal in a memorable way, Milla says he had not planned anything special beforehand.

"It came to me in the moment, in the stadium when I scored that first goal [against Romania]. It was instinct," Milla said. "I couldn't plan it before the tournament because I didn't know if the coach was going to pick me to play, and I didn't know if I was going to score a goal."

Not many people were expecting to see Milla at that World Cup, much less make such a lasting mark without even starting a game - he played in 235 out of the 510 minutes in which Cameroon were on the field.

That is because a year earlier, at the end of a playing career predominately spent in France, the striker moved to the tiny Indian Ocean island Reunion, east of Madagascar, to play for an amateur side Jeunesse St Pierroise, combining that with his work as a radio pundit.

"I went there for a bit of a rest," Milla explained. "Then I started playing for a little club run by my friend just for a bit of fun and that is what led to me coming back for the World Cup."

Roger Milla relaxes between matches at Italia '90
Roger Milla relaxes between matches at Italia '90

A last-minute request from Cameroon's president Paul Biya helped make that happen, but the decision to parachute him back into the national set-up did not go down well with many of his team-mates.

Milla was far from a total unknown after winning the African Footballer of the Year award in 1976 - he also finished third in 1986 and second in 1988. He had also played at the 1982 World Cup, where he had a goal disallowed against Peru as Cameroon went out after drawing all three of their group games.

But his enforced inclusion brought further problems for inexperienced Russian coach Valeri Nepomniachi, who needed an interpreter to communicate with his players and was already undermined by infighting in his squad.

When Cameroon stunned Argentina in 1990

It all meant Cameroon were viewed as cannon fodder in Italy, while Milla - who said he kept fit at his advanced age by not drinking or smoking and by playing basketball and tennis - was certainly not expected to steal any of the limelight.

He was not the story at the start of what would be a sensational World Cup for his country but made the first of his five substitute appearances late in their memorable win over defending champions Argentina in the tournament's opening match at the San Siro.

Cameroon were already down to 10 men when Francois Omam-Biyik headed in the only goal of the game, and they would finish with nine players on the pitch after Benjamin Massing's wild challenge took out Claudio Caniggia in the closing moments.

From then on Milla took centre stage. The oldest outfield player at Italia '90 - only 40-year-old England goalkeeper Peter Shilton was his senior - became the oldest scorer in World Cup history when he came off the bench to slide in Cameroon's first goal against Romania and then seal a 2-1 victory with a ferocious effort.

Cameroon topped Group B despite losing to the Soviet Union in their next match, before Milla was their main man again, with two more goals in their last 16 win over Colombia.

1990 World Cup finals - Group B
Soviet Union31024402

This time there was a villain as well as hero - Colombia's flamboyant goalkeeper Rene Higuita, who admitted afterwards that he had made a mistake "as big as a house" when Milla caught him dribbling outside his area and subsequently scored into an empty net.

Roger Milla steals the ball from Colombia keeper Rene Higuita at Italia '90
Milla ran through to score after dispossessing Higuita, and put Cameroon in the quarter-finals

Next up were England in the quarter-finals. By then, Milla's feats had made his gap-toothed grin famous around the planet but he was as unassuming as ever in the build-up and continued to play a daily tennis match as part of his preparation.

He had a haircut on the eve of the match to help him cope with the humidity in Naples but it was England who had the closest shave.

World Cup 1990 - England beat Cameroon

Milla did not score this time but the sight of him warming up in his bright red tracksuit top was again the signal that he was about to turn the game. Soon after coming on in the second half, he was fouled by Paul Gascoigne for the penalty that cancelled out David Platt's early goal, and then set up Eugene Ekeke to put his side 2-1 ahead.

Cameroon would come within seven minutes of a place in the semi-finals before two Gary Lineker penalties, one at the end of normal time, the other halfway through extra time, sent England through instead.

"We thought we had won the game," recalled Milla. "If the ref had not given those two penalties to England then I am sure we would have made it.

"For us, to be the first team from Africa to reach the quarter-finals was something special but, after a few weeks had passed, we started to regret that we did not go further. We realised we had had a chance to win."

Roger Milla and his Cameroon team-mates wave to the crowd after their defeat by England
Roger Milla and his Cameroon team-mates wave to the crowd after their defeat by England

By then, the Cameroon squad had returned home to be greeted by 20,000 fans at Douala airport. Milla was last off the plane and was given a two-minute ovation ahead of a 12-mile parade through the capital's streets.

"In Italy, we did not know the impact we were having on football fans - we couldn't know," said Milla. "But back in Cameroon the reaction when we got back was crazy. It was delirium.

"I did not think I could be as famous as I was but I stayed the same person and the same sportsman so it did not change anything in my life."

That fame meant teams from around the world, not just Walsall, tried to sign Milla, but he was still without a club side when Cameroon came to play England at Wembley in February 1991. And, despite appearing on Terry Wogan's BBC chat show, he did not feature in that friendly after failing to negotiate an appearance fee.

Instead he embarked on a tour of promotional matches around the globe - from a tribute match for Mother Teresa in Calcutta to a testimonial for Shilton, in which he played for an Italia '90 XI at White Hart Lane - before eventually signing for Tonnerre Yaounde in his homeland.

That was not quite the end of his World Cup story, however. He would return again in 1994 - aged 42 - to grab a consolation goal in a 6-1 defeat against Russia and extend his records as the oldest player and goalscorer at a finals, in a group game more remembered for Oleg Salenko becoming the first man to score five goals in a finals match.

Roger Milla and Oleg Salenko pictured after the 1994 game in which they both set World Cup records
Roger Milla and Oleg Salenko pictured after the 1994 game in which they both set World Cup records

"I am sure no player will equal my World Cup achievements," said Milla, although it is possible one of them will be beaten in Brazil - Colombia's second-choice goalkeeper Faryd Mondragon turns 43 during the group stage.

Milla is not in the Cameroon squad this time, of course, but they will be relying on a veteran striker again this summer as they try to negotiate a tough-looking group also featuring Brazil, Croatia and Mexico.

"It is important for everyone that Samuel Eto'o is in good shape for the World Cup," explained Milla. "If Samuel is in form then it will mean that all of his team-mates are in form.

"Can we spring another surprise? It's the World Cup, so you never know, but an England versus Cameroon final would be very nice. That way we could get our revenge for 1990."