Known for his eccentric wardrobe and time in Brazil, Miura is now breaking records in Japan. Simon Coterill explains
Now that Shunsuke Nakamura has returned from Europe and Hidetoshi Nakata has retired, Japanese "sakka" is looking for a new leading man. Competing are Borussia Dortmund's new talisman Shinji Kagawa and CSKA Moscow's Keisuke Honda, whose World Cup goals, bleached-blond hair and penchant for expensive fashion make him the favourite. Whoever lands the role will be the latest to replace Japan's first football superstar, Kazuyoshi Miura. Now aged 43 Miura is still playing professionally, seemingly unwilling to relinquish his limelight.
In 1982, 15-year-old Miura was asked by his teacher what he'd do when he left school that year. "Brazil" he replied. He loved football, but with no professional league in Japan knew he had no future playing there. His family in Shizuoka prefecture were dubious about his abilities and said he could only go on one condition – that he must become professional.
Miura arrived in Brazil with $700 and a place at the junior academy of São Paulo's Juventus, organised by his dad. Living in dorms, his first few months in Brazil were ruined by homesickness and loss of form, while his performances were greeted by racist taunts such as "Go fry tempura". His poor start led to a transfer from Juventus to smaller club XV de Jaú, and after hating it there he almost gave up entirely. But then scoring a winning penalty in an amateur tournament gave him new confidence. His goal was greeted by cheers of "Kazu, Kazu", the first time he'd been referred to by his name not nationality.
Performances in the tournament earned Kazu a contract at Santos, but he played just two games before the club dropped him. After joining an amateur team of Japanese-Brazilian immigrants, he returned to XV de Jaú. Then his time came. In a high-profile state championship game against Corinthians, Miura headed the winning goal, giving XV a 3-2 win. O Karate Kid do Futebol headlines followed and Miura signed better contracts at Coritiba, Palmeiras and, again, at Santos.
Miura's story is told in numerous Japanese biographies as "one man against the odds", but it also contains some fortune. Unknown to his parents, their son Kazuyoshi had, in a way, been born into football.
The game's popularity didn't sweep through Japan until the late 1980s, but in 1967, the year of Miura's birth, a zealous teacher in Shizuoka set up Japan's first junior league. While Miura was growing up, Shizuoka was Japan's football hotbed, with hundreds of junior teams. When the J-League was founded in 1993, 15 per cent of Japan's professional players came from Shizuoka, a prefecture with two per cent of the national population.
The foundation of the J-League drew Miura back home. Like most of Asia's favourite players he was an attacking midfielder, but his individualistic dribbling and fancy feints were considered selfish and "un-Japanese" by coaches, who initially didn't play him. But Miura's gifts soon made him the J-League's first superstar, loved even more than early imports like Gary Lineker, Zico and Toto Schillaci.
As well as starring in the J-League's rise to prominence, Miura played for Genoa and Dinamo Zagreb during the 1990s. He scored 55 goals for the national team, becoming its second highest scorer. Japan's club football is followed more by women than men and, as such, when it comes to star status appearance is arguably worth as much as skill. "King Kazu" had both. Off the pitch, he became a style icon, famed for his custom made suits in fancy colours. In 1993 he created Japanese fashion history when he arrived to collect an award at a conservative black tie ceremony wearing a cherry-red jacket.
Miura also became famous for his goal celebration, the Kazu dance. In fact, he continues to wow with this. Now with J-League 2 side Yokohama FC, last month Miura (aged 43 years, five months and 12 days) broke the J-League's oldest scorer record with a strike against Kita-Kyushu. The record had stood for a year since his last goal. He is likely to break his own record again, as retirement is apparently not imminent.
In a time where over-endorsed players can retire young to cushy media/modelling careers, Miura's unwillingness to leave the sport he loves is refreshing. Slightly worrying, however, are the rumours that alongside his undying love of football is an undying love of his colourful suits. He now apparently sleeps in them after games.
From WSC 288 February 2011