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‘King Kazu’ is a living legend and more than just a gadget

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It has become an annual tradition. Each January, Japanese living legend Kazuyoshi Miura signs a new one-year contract to extend his career as the world’s oldest professional footballer.

2021 was no exception and “King Kazu” signed a new agreement with Yokohama FC, the club he joined in 2005. Miura was in his thirties by then, a time when most of the players are already retired. or end their career. But he continued for another 16 years and it counts.

Miura has been a professional player since 1986
Miura has been a professional player since 1986 | Masashi Hara / Getty Images

Miura became the oldest player to appear in a professional match in March 2017, when he played for Yokohama against V-Varen Nagasaki a week after his 50th birthday. This broke a record previously held by English legend Stanley Matthews set more than half a century earlier in 1965.

Miura, who turns 54 in February 2021, has since extended her own record.

Naturally, he is also the oldest goalscorer in the history of professional football. He broke that record, another previously held by Matthews, the same month he became the oldest player. The strike against Thespakusatsu Gunma always remains the last.

At 53, even Miura is no longer a regular at Yokohama, who returned to the J1 League in 2020 after 12 consecutive seasons in the Japanese second tier. He typically plays a handful of games a year, although he still played up to 20 league games as recently as the 2016 campaign.

Kazuyoshi Miura
Miura has a world record as the oldest player of all time | Etsuo Hara / Getty Images

Miura is widely known internationally these days mainly for his age. But as already mentioned, he is a true all-time legend of Japanese football and his heyday came in the mid-1990s.

At the time, Miura was already Japan’s greatest player. Even with more modern competition from Hidetoshi Nakata, Shinji Ono, Shinji Kagawa, Keisuke Honda, Shunsuke Nakamura, Shinji Okazaki, Yasuhito Endo, and others, he’s still there in the debate.

Miura was at the forefront of modern Japanese football development, with the country now a staple of the World Cup, its players still among the best in Asia and present in clubs across Europe, and its national league the one of the most important competitions outside. Europe.

The J-League didn’t really exist when Miura first started, and the highest level of club football in Japan was still contested by amateur players. Determined to turn professional, he capitalized on his abilities and moved to Brazil in 1982 at the age of just 15.

Kazuyoshi Miura
‘King Kazu’ Was One of the First J-League Superstar | Etsuo Hara / Getty Images

After four years in a team called Juventus in Sao Paulo, Miura secured a professional heavyweight contract at Santos City, the club that developed Pelé and would later produce Neymar. He remained in Brazil until 1990, playing for several other clubs – including Palmeiras and a second stint at Santos.

Upon returning to Japan, Miura was a national superstar when he joined Tokyo club Yomiuri SC. They won the last two amateur-era championships in Japan, before renaming Verdy Kawasaki for the launch of the J-League in 1992 and winning the first two in the professional era.

Zico and Gary Lineker were international superstars playing in Japan at the time, but Miura outscored everyone else in the 1993 season and was named the inaugural J-League player of the year. To underline the early impact of foreign players, it was in 1998 before the next Japanese winner.

Around the same time she won four straight league titles, Miura also won three straight league cups with Yomiuri / Verdy Kawaski, while Japan’s main national cup, the Emperor’s Cup, was added. to the collection in 1996.

Kazuyoshi Miura
Miura was Japan’s best player in the 1990s | Etsuo Hara / Getty Images

Miura was even debauched on a Serie A loan with Genoa in 1994/95, but in total he had scored 100 league goals in less than 200 league appearances by the time he left Verdy in 1998.

Another period in Europe was short-lived, this time with Croatia Zagreb (now Dinamo Zagreb), before becoming the only bright light to fight Kyoto Purple Sanga in 1999 and later moving at age 34 to Vissel Kobe – famous these days for top foreigners like Andres Iniesta.

Internationally, Miura was a pioneer for an emerging Japan. When they made their debut in 1990 upon returning from Brazil, Japan had never qualified for the World Cup and only recently reached their very first AFC Asian Cup, a competition they he has since dominated.

After leaving the 1988 Asian Cup in the group stage without a win, Miura was part of the Japanese squad that won in 1992 and was named “Most Valuable Player” in the tournament.

Kazuyoshi Miura
Japan became a success thanks to Miura | Etsuo Hara / Getty Images

He then scored 13 times in qualifying for the 1994 World Cup to lead the AFC section, with Japan falling horribly behind Saudi Arabia and South Korea in the last round. Miura was on fire again in the 1998 qualifying program. This time he scored 14 goals and Japan reached the final in France, benefiting from an expanded tournament doubling Asia’s places.

But one of the great football parodies of the 1990s saw Miura, Japan’s best player and talisman, omitted from the final squad. An article from April 1998, just two months before the tournament, which is still available on the official FIFA website, even profiled Japan’s star man in the preparation. To say that his snub was unexpected would be an understatement.

Miura even scored a hat-trick for Japan in an unofficial friendly against a Swiss club the day before coach Takeshi Okada announced the last team. It was a controversial decision in Japan, but Okada, who was put in charge at the very end of qualifying, said he couldn’t find a suitable role for the national treasure in the squad, or even on the bench.

Kazuyoshi Miura
Miura was a shock omission of the Japanese team at the 1998 World Cup | Ben Radford / Getty Images

Miura didn’t play for Japan at all in 1999 and only five more times in 2000 before his international career ended at 33. He finished with 55 goals in 89 appearances and remains Japan’s second-highest scorer of all time to date. . By the time of the 2002 World Cup at home, he was playing in the J1-League and perhaps still could have contributed at 35.

His club career obviously continued for a long time in his forties and fifties, but “King Kazu” is more than an old gadget. He is a living legend who helped make Japanese football what it is today.

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