When Sydney FC fans welcomed Kazuyoshi Miura as a guest player back in 2005, there may have been a few eyebrows raised at the signing of a 38 year-old. That’s nothing. A decade on and ‘King Kazu’ is still going strong in Japan’s second division.
Miura’s signing made the Sky Blues the best-known of the Hyundai A-League teams in Japan, for a while at least. His two goals against Adelaide United and his sexy step-overs also earned him a place in the hearts of Harbour City fans.
A couple of years ago, Gary Lineker expressed his amazement at Miura’s longevity. The two were active in the J-League in its first ever season though the Japanese star was a little more active than the oft-injured Englishman, ending the season as the league’s MVP.
Twenty-two years on and he has started three of Yokohama FC’s four league games this season.
That he is still playing may be amazing but is not that surprising when you look at how he became a star – through sheer hard work and determination. The striker was not the most naturally talented player even if he was born in the one-time hotbed of Japanese football Shizuoka, and into a football family at that.
He worked incredibly hard to build up his skills but still needed more and at the age of 15 in 1982, he went to Brazil on the advice of his uncle, in order to become a better player. Miura had a hard time settling into life, both real and football, in South America.
The famous story goes that after a couple of years, an unhappy teenager was about to call it a day and return to the Land of the Rising Sun. He went to Rio for a little last-minute sightseeing and saw a group of kids playing football on the street. One boy was missing a leg but was still enjoying the game.
Kazu realised how lucky he was and was determined to try again. This time he made it and played for six clubs in South America, lining up on the same pitch as the likes of of Zico.
When Miura came home to play for Yomiuri – which then became Verdy Kawasaki with the advent of the J-League – he earned criticism for his lack of teamwork and insistence on dribbling. He was also happy to say what he thought Japanese football needed, again a habit that was not always welcome.
While such relative flamboyance may not have made him initially popular with coaches but the fans loved it. They also loved the famous goal celebration dance that can still be seen almost a quarter of a century later.
He helped Japan to a first ever AFC Asian Cup title in 1992, and was named as the Asian Player of the Year the year after. Add 56 goals in 91 appearances for the national team and you have a Japanese legend.
Brazil was not, however, his only sojourn overseas. He enjoyed a season-long loan in Serie A with Genoa, famously scoring against city rivals Sampdoria in the Genoese Derby.
His move to Sydney was sweet but far too short. It was a big story however. Over a dozen Japanese journalists boarded the same plane in Tokyo and in the player’s first press conference, there were around 30 members of his homeland’s media. Japanese broadcasters paid to show his four games on television back home.
“Asia is the future of Australian Football, in fact world football,” said Sydney CEO Tim Parker at the time.
“You can tell by the significant interest this has made in Asia and Japan in particular that we [Australia] are now moving into a very exciting new period in the game.”
Such words would still apply a decade on, just as Miura is still playing.