BY MARK GODFREY
Brazilian legend Rivaldo made the news recently when, at the age of 41, he competed in a match alongside his son – unsurprisingly named Rivaldinho. In the Premier League, former whizz-kid turned old-stager, Ryan Giggs, still trots up and down the hallowed Old Trafford turf on an ever-decreasing basis; although it seems very likely that after 23 years as a Manchester United mainstay, his time in red is almost at an end.
But there is a man whose own professional career began when the aforementioned superstars were still mere youngsters – Kazuyoshi ‘Kazu’ Miura. The Japanese striker turns 47-years-old today, February 26th, and he still shows few signs of stopping.
His career began, not as you might expect in Japan, but in Brazil, where as a 15-year-old, he travelled alone in search of adventure and his first professional contract. After spending four years with Clube Atlético Juventus from 1982-86, Miura joined Pele’s club, Santos (where he signed on two separate occasions). He continued to learn his trade in Brazil with brief spells at Palmeiras, XV de Jaú and Coritiba amongst others.
Miura’s time in Brazil made him a curiosity and a star back in his homeland at a time when the profile of Japanese football was far less prominent than it is today. He returned home in 1990 and joined Japan Soccer League club Yomiuri, who, upon the creation of the J-League in 1993, became Verdy Kawasaki. Scoring 45 goals in four years for the multiple title winners catapulted Miura into the limelight next to foreign imports like Zico and Gary Lineker and also elevated him into the national team; his ten year international career saw him score 55 goals in 89 appearances between 1990 and 2000.
European scouts were dispatched to Japan as clubs became aware of Miura’s talent and marketability. This led to a loan move to Italian club, Genoa, for the 1994-95 season. The Shizuoka-born frontman failed to live up to the hype in Serie A, undoubtedly Europe’s most prestigious league at the time, and scored just once in 21 outings for the Rossoblu – against local rivals Sampdoria.
With his failed European adventure behind him, Miura returned to Verdy and continued where he left off; with goals – 55 more in four subsequent campaigns. Another attempt to crack Europe came in 1999, this time with Dinamo Zagreb. Yet again, Miura couldn’t transfer his success from the Land of the Rising Sun and he left Croatia having made just 12 appearances and without a goal to his name.
Far from winding down his career then at the age of 33 as most players would have, Miura resumed his J-League career rather than sit back and bask in his status as Japan’s first football icon.
Goals continued to flow with Kyoto Purple Sanga and Vissel Kobe between 2000 and 2005 before he made a move to Yokohama FC, where, barring a couple of loan moves, he remains today at the grand old age of 47.
Despite his impressive statistics, legendary status and incredible longevity, Miura’s career will probably go down as one of unfulfilled glory; not least for his failure to secure a permanent move to European football when the opportunity arose. He was also hamstrung by the period in which he was at his peak. The J-League – a maturing and well-respected league today – was in it’s infancy during Miura’s best years, while the Japan national team failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1994. He was 31 and perhaps slightly past his prime when the 1998 finals came around which prompted his omission from the squad. Not even a misplaced sense of loyalty by the JFA could find Miura a spot in the 2002 World Cup – jointly hosted by Japan with South Korea.
While Miura’s time as the figurehead of Japanese football may have come too early for him to completely realise his playing and marketing potential on a personal level, his role in the growth and popularity of the game in Japan shouldn’t be underestimated.
Even at 47, Miura has no intention of bringing down the curtain on his 30 year career any time soon.