Which footballers would come up to your mind when thinking about Japanese football? Perhaps superstars like Shinji Kagawa, or Japan's former national hero, Hidetoshi Nakata. The hipsters probably would say: Shinji Ono.
But while the majority would try to think on international Japanese stars that play abroad, in the in the J2 League, the Japanese second division, there is a real football legend – Kazuyoshi Miura.
Nowadays, players in their late thirties are considered as "veterans" or "old". But Miura can look at these players as a real veteran. Last month, he turned 50 years old, and he is still living and kicking professionally. Only two days ago, he became the oldest scorer ever, after he scored for Yokohoma FC. By doing so, Miura broke the almost eternal Sir Stanley Matthews’ record, who stood since 1965, as the English legend scored for Stoke City versus Fulham.
Matthews was 50 and 5 days back at the time, but Miura did it while he is 50 years and 14 days. After his goal, the comparisons between the cases became irresistible, but Miura had his say on the topic: "I may have surpassed him in longevity, but I won't ever match his statistics and the career he had".
So how someone could maintain such a long career? It takes a journey. And a pleasure, of course.
Becoming a legend
Miura's career had begun in a sensationally unusual way. He played a bit in Japan, but became a professional footballer at the age of 15, while he was travelling Brazil. For several years he played all over the country, and even appeared in few big clubs like Santos, Palmeiras and Coritiba.
Miura came back to Japan in 1990, when two years later, the Japanese FA decided to establish the J-League. Miura joined Verdy Kawasaki, and became the star of the club for eight years. During his term in Verdy, he won four consecutive titles and reached the Asian Club Championship semifinals twice.
Then, Miura tried another shot abroad. He was the first Japanese to play in Italy, making his debut for Genoa in 1994 and scoring his only goal during the derby against Sampdoria. He also played for Dinamo Zagreb and was loaned to Sydney FC, but all for short periods.
In 2005, after trading his ply for Kyoto Purple Sanga and Vissel Kobe, he signed for Yokohama FC. Back then he was already a 38 years old player, an age that many players will think at about their retirement. Even though that most of his seasons in Yokohama were in the second division, Miura became a real club legend, leading it for promotion and its only season in J1 League.
Comparisons & records
As we mentioned, in the past weeks Miura is getting headlines for his record breaking career. He played for Yokohama FC against V-Varen Nagasaki, just week after his 50thbirthday. Week later he scored that goal against Kusatsu, which was his first goal of the season.
With over 31 years since his professional debut, it is clear that Miura has an unbelievable career.
Despite this fact, Miura’s achievements aren’t comparable to his English counterpart, Matthews. Even though the Japanese made 89 international appearances and scored 55 goals for Japan national team, he never played the World Cup. He did not receive call-up for the country’s debutant World Cup in 1998, although he was major part of the Japanese qualifiers campaign.
In addition, the fact that he spent most of his career in Japan, and the last years in the second division, can make his stats and success a bit doubtful.
Yet, the comparison of 50 years old Japanese player in the 21st century to an English legend who retired from the game in the 60's, tells us why Miura' story is one of the most impressive stories in the modern football.
Spreading a message
For Miura the age is not the case as long he can play, run and even beat players who actually haven't born when he himself made his first steps in football.
Miura’s career concentrated mainly in to two clubs – 8 years at Verdy Kawasaki and 12 years at Yokohama FC. Two clubs for 20 years, out of a career that spreads along more than three decades, it’s a sign for loyalty. This exact loyalty is none-existed anymore, as players are transferred rapidly for dozens of millions, changing teams like socks. Miura is a unique talent and a shining example of how age shouldn’t be a barrier in what has become a young men’s game.
He is still here, and nobody know whether it's his last season or not. As long as he keep playing and scoring, Miura will be a symbol for the football we loved and used to know, giving us hope that this world hasn't disappeared yet.