YOKOHAMA – Fifty-year-old soccer legend Kazuyoshi Miura insists he has no plans to retire any time soon, even joking that the day he stops will be “the day I die.”
“I’m planning to play next year,” Miura told The Japan Times ahead of Yokohama FC’s second-division game against Avispa Fukuoka on Saturday. “Right now I’m not thinking about retiring. Today I’m not thinking about retiring. I just give my all in training every day.”
Miura, known universally as “Kazu” and regarded as the biggest icon in the history of Japanese soccer, broke two world records earlier this year when he became the oldest player ever to appear in a professional match at the age of 50 years and seven days, and, one week later, the oldest to score a competitive goal.
The records had both been held by English great Stanley Matthews, with the goalscoring mark standing for 52 years until Miura netted for Yokohama against Thespakusatsu Gunma on March 12. The achievements came during a period where Miura was named in the starting lineup for seven of Yokohama’s first eight games of the season.
Since then, however, the fairy-tale has turned a little sour. A knee injury suffered in an April 15 game against Machida Zelvia sidelined the striker for two months, and he has made only three substitute appearances since his recovery.
“I’m not satisfied at all,” Miura said two days before Yokohama’s 3-1 loss to Avispa, in which he was an unused substitute. “I want to play in more games and score more goals.
“Playing constantly is the best way to stay in good condition. I haven’t been playing much recently, so my feel for the game isn’t there at the moment.”
A 50-year-old complaining about a lack of playing time may seem ridiculous on the surface, but then Miura is no ordinary player. The Shizuoka native was one of the J. League’s first stars, winning the inaugural title with Verdy Kawasaki in 1993 and claiming the MVP award the same year.
The famously flamboyant Miura took to the stage to collect that prize wearing a scarlet red suit, and he laughs when asked if his younger self could have imagined his current situation.
“I would never have imagined it,” he said. “When I was in my 20s, I never would have thought I would still be playing when I was 50. I wouldn’t even have thought I would be still playing in my 40s. It would have been inconceivable.
“I’m still able to play simply because I like soccer. I’ve also been very lucky with injuries. I’ve never had an operation.”
Miura is reluctant to dwell on his record-breaking achievements, partly because he prefers to look forward and partly because he suspects there are others out there even older than him.
“I don’t know if that is the real record,” he said. “I’ve heard that there are players in their 50s in leagues in other countries, in the third or fourth divisions.
“I felt a lot of appreciation for my teammates and fans and for the club. You can read news from all over the world straight away now on the internet, so to hear all the legendary players from Europe and South America and all over the world talking about it made me very happy.”
Miura says he had heard of Matthews when he was a child, and gives an impromptu demonstration of a move he calls “the Matthews feint.”
And with Yokohama currently sitting outside the J2 promotion playoff places only on goal difference with six games of the season remaining, he could get the chance to try it out on first-division defenses next season.
“J1 is the top level, and playing at the top level is what makes you happy,” said Miura, who played in Yokohama’s only previous season in the top flight, in 2007. “It will be a great feeling if we get there.”
Miura acknowledges that his desire to keep playing depends on the offer of a contract for next season, but he has not been tempted to follow in the footsteps of fellow sports veteran Kimiko Date. Date retired from tennis for a second time last month, just weeks short of her 47th birthday.
“Everyone is different,” he said. “Personally I would have liked to have seen her continue, but it was her decision and you have to respect that.”
Date’s retirement leaves Miura alone in the Japanese sports world as a survivor from a bygone age. The pace that once left opposing defenses for dead may have gone and the hair may have faded to gray, but his desire for the game burns as bright as ever.
“My next goal is to play in the next game, that’s all,” he said. “I have no plans to become a manager. I don’t have any plans at all.”
IN FIVE EASY PIECES WITH TAKE 5