The hairs are greyer, the legs and knees not what they used to be, but that doesn’t stop Kazuyoshi Miura for preparing for his 32nd season in professional football. Well and truly defying the ageing process of a player, ‘King Kazu’ could feature on his 50th birthday on 26 February for Japanese second-tier side Yokohama FC, who begin their J2 League campaign at home to Matsumoto Yamaga on Sunday.
It’s another chapter in a remarkable career which began for the 89-time Samurai Blue international in Brazil at the tender age of 15, and saw the striker go on to ply his trade in three other continents and score a staggering 12 goals on the road to France 1998 to help his nation qualify for their first FIFA World Cup™.
"I hope to keep fighting with all my might together with people involved with the club, my team-mates and supporters who have always given me support,” the Japanese legend said after penning a contract extension that would see him play into his fifties. FIFA.com looks back at the age-defying veteran’s extraordinary career.
Brazilian beginningsA native of Shizuoka, home of the iconic Mount Fuji, Miura embarked on his footballing career on a path less travelled, leaving behind his high school in Japan for Sao Paulo, Brazil in 1982. The frontman spent seven seasons in South America, making his senior debut for giants Santos in 1986.
"The first three years were quite tough and I often felt homesick," he said. "After that it was okay because I learned the language and got my driver’s licence, so I could get about on my own. As a soccer player in Brazil I learned to have high morals, and never to be satisfied with the level you have reached. You must always try to build your mental spirit."
It was also in South America that the veteran got his first taste of futsal. Miura would go on to represent his country at the 2012 FIFA Futsal World Cup three decades later as Japan reached the Round of 16. “Playing at the FIFA Futsal World Cup is the ultimate for a futsal player,” he said. “Although it’s a different category of football, it’s not a matter of one being superior to another.”
Japan return and national serviceMiura returned to his homeland in 1990, joining Yomiuri FC which later became Verdy Kawasaki (now Tokyo Verdy), and quickly established himself as one of the league’s stars with his samba flair and iconic goal celebrations. In the same year, his national team came calling and just two years after making his senior international debut, the frontman helped Samurai Blue to their first AFC Asian Cup in 1992 – being named the tournament’s MVP – before featuring at the 1995 FIFA Confederations Cup.
An appearance at the FIFA World Cup continued to escape his grasp, however. After enduring the Agony of Doha – when an Iraq injury-time goal shattered Japan’s dreams of reaching their first global finals at USA 1994 – Miura looked set to be on course for an appearance at France 1998.
After netting 12 times in qualifying as Samurai Blue earned a berth at their maiden World Cup, it came as a shock to many when national team manager Takeshi Okada axed the forward from the final 22-man squad. “I couldn't find a place for him even when thinking about the possibility of him being a substitute,” said Okada.
Miura would bring an end to his Samurai Blue playing days two years later in 2000 with 55 goals from 89 caps, but the much-travelled frontman’s exploits at club level were far from over.
World stageThough the chance to play at the World Cup failed to materialise for Miura, after spells in Europe with Genoa and Dinamo Zagreb, the opportunity to feature on the world stage would finally present itself at club level, aged 38.
A loan move to Australian side Sydney FC enabled the Japanese legend to compete at the 2005 FIFA Club World Cup in his homeland, where he would go on to help a side captained by Dwight Yorke to a fifth-place finish.
"I love football and my passion for the game hasn't changed,” Miura told FIFA.com shortly before that tournament began in 2005. “I know that I'm not young anymore and I am finding the game a lot tougher physically, but I still get a lot of pleasure when my team wins or I play well. As long as I'm enjoying my football, I'll keep going."
And keep going, he has. The evergreen forward is now preparing for his first season in his fifties as the reign of ‘King Kazu’ continues.