There may have been plenty to talk about on Wednesday as the J. League first division rounded the corner into the second half of its tumultuous season, but the only story that mattered was evergreen Kazuyoshi Miura’s first time stepping onto a J1 pitch since 2007.
At 53 years and 210 days, Miura became the top flight’s oldest player — unseating former Japan teammate Masashi “Gon” Nakayama, who set the previous mark at 45 years for Consadole Sapporo in 2012 — when he was named captain for Yokohama FC’s away clash against Kawasaki Frontale.
“Normally Kensuke (Sato) or (Masakazu) Tashiro would be captain, but everyone including our manager asked me to put on the captain’s mark,” Miura said after the match. “I wanted to carry the responsibility of everyone’s feelings when I wore that armband onto the pitch.”
The man known to millions around the world as “King Kazu” put in a 56-minute shift despite dreadful conditions at Todoroki Stadium, the venue where he scored his first J. League goal as a member of Verdy Kawasaki in 1993.
“I remember it now that you’ve asked,” Miura said when quizzed about the occasion. “It’s been so long since I played for Kawasaki that I’ve barely thought about it.”
Both of the visitors’ goals in a surprisingly spirited 3-2 defeat came from players young enough to be Miura’s children — 20-year-old Yuki Kobayashi and 21-year-old Kensuke Sato. But few watching around the world focused on the result, instead praising Miura for his historic achievement.
“All hail King Kazu,” tweeted FIFA’s official account after the match.
Miura was also recognized by retired Italian legend Alessandro Del Piero for his brief foray at Genoa, where in 1994 he became the first Japanese player to participate in the Italian top flight.
“Congratulations Kazu,” wrote Del Peiro. “It’s nice that there was also a little bit of Italy in your incredible career!”
League prepares for away fans
One week after the league relaxed its limits on attendance to as much as 50 percent capacity, the J. League announced further measures Thursday that should see even more fans — even those supporting away teams — entering stadiums over the next month.
According to new guidelines announced following a meeting of the league’s executive committee, clubs will be allowed to allocate up to 3 percent of tickets sold to visiting fans if they can complete a three-step process.
In Step 1, clubs with stadiums seating 20,000 or more will be allowed to host up to 30 percent of capacity. Clubs with smaller home grounds will start at Step 2, which raises that number to 50 percent. In Step 3, visitor seating will be allowed.
Clubs may also choose to limit attendance to 30 percent capacity or 5,000, whichever is the higher number, and introduce visitor seating. In all cases, fans will be required to sit with at least one seat between each other.
“We’re finally at the point where we can see the path to welcoming away supporters,” J. League chairman Mitsuru Murai said. “We still can’t afford to be unprepared, but I hope we’ll be able to welcome even larger crowds.
“No other country has relaxed their attendance restrictions to this extent. I hope we can work with our supporters to create a safe and fun atmosphere, knowing that the world is watching us.”
The midway point of the season appears to have been the impetus needed for several teams to make coaching changes over the last week.
The biggest departure came Tuesday night when Vissel Kobe announced that Thorsten Fink had left the club in order to reunite with his family in Germany.
“It is not easy to say goodbye to this city, this team or these supporters … but I have decided to return to my family,” Fink said in a statement released by Kobe.
“I still believe the team can achieve good results in the league and the Asian Champions League, and I wish the club the best of luck.”
Despite rumors that former Samurai Blue head coach Javier Aguirre was in the running to take over the Noevir Stadium side, the club instead chose to install sporting director Atsuhiro Miura, the club’s fifth full-time manager since 2017.
On Friday, second-division Matsumoto Yamaga replaced manager Keiichiro Nuno, who had managed four wins, seven draws and 10 losses this season, with general manager Kei Shibata. It will be the first J. League managerial role for Shibata, who managed Briobecca Urayasu in the Japan Football League in 2017.
Also on Friday, third-division FC Gifu announced that head coach Kenji Nakada would permanently replace Serbian Zdravko Zemunovic, who had taken a “leave of absence” from the struggling side Monday.
Nakada’s already off to a winning start after Gifu beat Kataller Toyama 2-1 on Wednesday.