Evergreen striker Kazuyoshi Miura may have failed to extend his record as the world’s oldest goal-scorer on Saturday, but his Yokohama FC teammates believe no other player will ever match his achievements.
“He’s literally a legend,” defender Calvin Jong-a-Pin said of Miura, who last month became the oldest professional player in the world to score a competitive goal when he netted against Thespakustatsu Gunma at the age of 50 years and 14 days, breaking a record that had been held by England’s Stanley Matthews for 52 years.
“I’ve never seen a person like this,” said Jong-a-Pin. “Of course he’s not the old Kazu from almost 20 years ago — it’s insane that I’m saying that — but still he’s an intelligent player. He carries a lot of history and a lot of knowledge of the game, which is important for the team.”
Miura — popularly known as ‘Kazu’ — took his place in the starting lineup as Yokohama faced Machida Zelvia in the J. League second division on Saturday, but twisted his knee midway through the first half and was substituted at halftime. Machida went on to win the game 1-0 after Yokohama defender Shogo Nishikawa scored an own goal in the 74th minute.
“It’s the knee, but I don’t think it’s a big problem,” Miura told reporters before heading to the team bus. “It hurts a little. The doctor had a look and I don’t think it’s anything to worry about. We’ll see in the morning.”
Miura, whose goals and flamboyant personality turned him into Japanese soccer’s first superstar in the early 1990s, is in his 32nd season as a professional, having made his debut with Brazilian side Santos in 1986.
The Shizuoka native, who scored 55 goals in 89 appearances for Japan and was named the J. League’s first-ever player of the year in 1993, has started seven of Yokohama’s eight J. League games this season, helping his team into fifth place in the table.
“It’s not my place to judge his performance today, but all I have for him is respect,” said Machida manager Naoki Soma, who played alongside Miura on the national team in the 1990s and retired in 2005 at the age of 34.
“I’m 45 now, and when I kick a ball it makes my leg hurt afterward. Football is everything to him and I respect that. He’s out there on the pitch every day. Just being out there on the pitch every day for me as a manager is difficult. He’s tough.”
Miura’s achievements this season — breaking Matthews’ record as the oldest outfield player ever when he appeared against V-Varen Nagasaki on March 5, and then claiming the Englishman’s scoring record against Gunma seven days later — have earned him widespread media attention from around the world.
But behind the Peter Pan headlines, the striker’s reduced mobility and limited stamina is taking its toll on his teammates.
“I tried to work hard to help the team, but they were strong in defense and I felt a little bit alone up there,” said Yokohama’s Norwegian striker Ibba Laajab, who started in attack alongside Miura against Machida.
“He’s quite fit. He runs a lot and stuff, but he’s 50 years old and of course the age takes him a little bit. But for a 50-year-old footballer, I think he played an OK game.
“That’s not up to me (if he plays or not). That’s the coach. As long as the coach takes him out, he has to play. If it helps the team or not, I don’t know. But if the coach chooses to take him out, then he plays.”
For defender Jong-a-Pin, who joined Yokohama from Machida over the offseason, Miura remains an inspiration for players everywhere.
“I think nobody will ever break that record, because soccer is changing,” said the Dutchman. “I think it’s only possible in Japan. Japan is different because the game is less physical duels. In Europe it’s more one-on-ones, and in Japan it’s more collective and a lot of running.
“He can still run. Sometimes we do dashes and physical training, and he can still keep up with everyone. He never skips training. He’s there one hour before training with his personal trainer doing core exercises and stuff. I’m coming in with my sandwich and he’s already been busy for 30 minutes. He’s a true professional, and that’s why he can still play at 50.
And Miura, who never played at the World Cup after famously being left out of Japan’s squad for the 1998 tournament, shows no signs of quitting just yet.
“I wonder how long he can keep this up, because this guy is motivated,” said Jong-a-Pin. “I’ve never seen anything like that. I have some passion for the game but this guy, it’s insane. I heard he lives separately from his family because sometimes he needs to focus. They live in the same street but sometimes he needs to focus on the game, so he takes a space so he can do that. Can you imagine that?”