Kazuyoshi 'Kazu' Miura is a living legend in Japan. A participant in the FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005 as a player for Sydney FC, Kazu is now serving as a goodwill ambassador for this year's FIFA Club World Cup. In an exclusive interview with FIFA.com, he spoke about the appeal of club football and his hopes for the big event this year in Japan.
Now 39, Kazu is still playing regularly for Yokohama FC, a second-division outfit who have recently gained promotion to the J-League's top flight for the first time in their short history. While Kazu's experience and knowhow have proved invaluable to Yokohama, the infectious desire and commitment of the player who helped put Japanese football on the map is equally indispensable.
Kazu's footballing odyssey began when he headed off to Brazil at the tender age of 15, and since then his pioneering career has taken him to 14 clubs around the globe. Last year, former Germany star Pierre Littbarski, a keen admirer of Kazu's dedication to the game, secured his old friend's services for Sydney FC on a short-term contract that included the FIFA Club World Championship, making Kazu the first and, to date, only Japanese player to appear in the competition. A huge fan of the diversity and appeal of club football, this year Kazu is serving as a goodwill ambassador for the FIFA Club World Cup.
FIFA.com: You were a player at the FIFA Club World Championship last year. What's your most lasting memory of that competition?
Kazuyoshi Miura: That would have to be our victory over Al Ahly in the fifth-place match. Such a strong African team! I'd only been with Sydney for 45 days, but by the time we took part in the competition I really felt like a member of the team. Naturally, I was very happy when they hoisted me on their shoulders at the end. I felt very fortunate to have such great team-mates, and I'm still in touch with them. Someone will call and say 'Hey, mate, when are you coming back?'-stuff like that.
The competition itself was in Japan, so to be honest it didn't feel especially 'global' to me, but I was the only Japanese playing and felt very proud about that.
The FIFA Club World Cup is being held in Japan again this year. Tell us about the significance of holding a competition like this in Japan.
Japanese people won't be all that familiar with one or two of the teams, and when clubs like that play each other it can be difficult to get a good turnout at the stadium. But even if some of these sides aren't world-renowned, all of them have battled through really tough competitions to represent their continent, so they represent a very high standard of football. On top of that, you have the chance to watch the cream of world football playing live, which I think is fantastic.
For example, look at Internacional of Brazil. A lot of Brazilians are really passionate supporters of that club, but for various reasons, including the distances involved, most of them won't be able to get to Japan for the competition. As far as these supporters are concerned, Japanese fans are so lucky to have the chance to see a team like that in their stadiums.
It's just such a great opportunity and I wouldn't want people to miss it. I hope as many people as possible will come along and watch. It's the second time we've been able to host this event in Japan. Given the manner in which we've taken the initiative in making it a success, and the fact that the public now have more opportunities to see the world's best players in the flesh, I think that holding an international competition like this in Japan is bound to contribute to the popularity and success of football as a whole in our country.
The FIFA World Cup pits one nation against another, but a competition involving club teams offers a different kind of appeal.
A national team reveals something of a nation's character - you see it in the way they play - but with a club team I think you clearly see a more regional, local character. In the world's leading footballing nations, some of the clubs have been around for a century or more, and that history and tradition gets handed down from one generation to the next. The club puts down deep roots in the local community and becomes completely integrated into regional life. If your club forges a link with the world, say when a star player emerges, it's a tremendous source of local pride. That pride is fresh fuel for the tradition passed on to the next generation. That's what I find so interesting about club football.
Look at the example of Edmilson at FC Barcelona. When he was still in Brazil he was playing for Sao Paulo, but he started out at XV de Jau, a team I've played for myself. The XV de Jau fans are tremendously proud of Edmilson.
So you are saying that for even greater success, Japanese clubs, for example, will need to have a stronger foundation of history and tradition?
That's right. It will take a little more time in Japan, but I think we're already beginning to see the makings of that kind of club history. Thinking of star players, there's Tulio (Marcus Tulio Tanaka) of the Urawa Reds who's making quite an impact with the Japan national team. Previously, he was with Mito HollyHock, and I think the people in Mito should take much more pride in that fact.
Unfortunately, no Japanese clubs have won the title since the establishment of the AFC Champions League. What does it take to battle to the top in Asia and make it to the FIFA Club World Cup?
To be ready for global competition, I think Japanese teams need more experience and greater toughness. The clubs in Japan are all focused on winning the J-League these days. To look beyond that to victory in AFC Champions League or the A3 competition, the teams have got to be able to maintain their condition and quality. The clubs involved tend to have a lot of national team players as well, and that can mean 50 competitive matches per year. So it's vital to have physical toughness, too.
What will you yourself be focusing on at the coming FIFA Club World Cup?
One thing has to be Barcelona's football. It's not just beautiful to watch, it keeps getting results, so it will be very interesting to see what kind of approach they adopt. Another point of interest will be Jeonbuk Motors of Korea, who are representing Asia. Physically and mentally the Korean players are similar to players in Japan, and competitively we're at roughly the same level, so I'm looking forward to seeing what they can do. Their performance will be a very useful point of reference for Japanese football, so I really want Jeonbuk to win their first match and go on to face Barcelona.