Thursday 25 February 2021, 22:06

Kazuyoshi Miura: I don't think I'll ever leave football

  • Kazuyoshi Miura turns 54 today

  • The Japan legend is still playing football professionally for Yokohama FC

  • The 2021 J.League season kicks off this weekend

He's been team-mates with the likes of Ruy Ramos, Hidetoshi Nakata, Dwight Yorke, Tomas Skuhravy, Patrick M'Boma and Park Jisung. All great players in their own right. All retired. Yet Kazuoyshi Miura still stands, celebrating his 54th birthday today, raring to go for Yokohama FC once more on the eve of the J.League's 2021 season. For those counting at home, that's a career that has spanned across five decades for the world's oldest active professional footballer.

When Miura signed his first professional contract with Santos in Brazil, Japan had yet to qualify for a FIFA World Cup™, We Are The World won Record of the Year and Song of the Year and Sade won Best New Artist at the Grammy Awards, Out of Africa won Best Picture at the Academy Awards, Michael Jordan was playing in his second season in the NBA

His records and accolades are bottomless and they read like an entire edition of the Guinness Book of World Records on their own.

Ahead of the new season and on his birthday, 'King Kazu' gave an exclusive interview to talk about the latest chapter in his career, what playing football during the global pandemic has been like, his leadership qualities, what he learned as a youngster in Brazil and so much more.

Kazuyoshi Miura of Yokohama FC Congratulations on your latest contract extension with Yokohama. Was it an easy decision or did it take some time and consideration on your part?

Kazuyoshi Miura: When I got the offer from Yokohama FC, I knew that I wanted to play, so it didn't take long time to make my decision. However, as I am going to train with young players, I made the decision after consulting with my mind and body, not with half-heartedness.

You’ve talked about what it’s been like playing during the global pandemic and feeling the joy of playing football despite it all. How so? What is different about this latest chapter of your career?

When the new coronavirus infections started to spread and a state of emergency was declared in Japan, I was worried about what would happen to Japan in the future. I wondered what it would mean for my daily life and my job as a footballer. However, thanks to the efforts of many people, J.League was resumed, It was a different stadium view with infection control and match operation, but it didn't affect us on the pitch in any particular way and we were very happy to be able to play the game as usual.

Kazuyoshi Miura of Yokohama FC speaks with Andres Iniesta of Vissel Kobe
What have you learned about yourself during this pandemic?

This pandemic has reminded me of the value of sport and the fact that matches are only possible because of the presence of spectators. While overseas leagues are still playing without spectators, Japan was able to play a game with half of the spectators. I think this shows the discipline and seriousness of the Japanese people.

You will be playing football at the top level past your 54th birthday. Are you surprising yourself? Have you surpassed your expectations for your career or did you always know you had this longevity in you?

When I signed my first professional contract in Brazil at the age of 18, I never imagined that I would play until this age. I have been able to do this because I have put all my energy into football every single year.

Specifically speaking to last season, what went well for you and the team that made you feel it was the right thing to sign the extension?

I am not in a position to talk to the team about a contract, because if the team doesn't want me, I won't get a contract, so the fact that I have been offered one means that the team has decided that I have something to contribute. I want to do everything I can to help the team win.

Kazuyoshi Miura and Shunsuke Nakamura of Yokohama FC
What are your goals and expectations for the season ahead with Yokohama?

I want to play as many games as possible in the starting line-up. I want to give my all to help the team reach its goal of finishing in the top 10.

How did your time in Brazil shape you as a player and as a person?

I moved to Brazil at the age of 15, signed a professional contract at the age of 18 and played for a club in Brazil, where I learnt how to behave as a professional and what to do on the pitch and also how to think about my job as a footballer, which was all based in Brazil.

Do you view yourself as a leader? And if so, what kind are you?

There is a big difference in age between me and the other players, like a father and a son, so I would like to ask them how they see me. On the pitch, I feel that I can pass on my passion for football and my behaviour on the pitch, because I have been playing longer than the other players.

Kazuyoshi Miura hugs Kensuke Sato of Yokohama FC
Is coaching at the top level something you’re interested in eventually or do you think you’ll take a break from the game altogether, whenever your career does come to an end?

I am not thinking about becoming a coach at this stage. I don't think I'll ever leave football, either. I think I will be involved in football in one way or another. I don't know how long I'll be playing. It could be tomorrow, it could be two or three years from now.

Lastly, what’s your message for football fans around the globe, especially as we still find ourselves in the middle of a global pandemic?

The situation is still very difficult all over the world due to the new coronavirus pandemic. But despite this, we are still able to play football thanks to the efforts of many people. This is a great blessing. I am sure that if we work together we will be able to overcome this crisis and I am sure that the day will come when the supporters will be able to come to the stadium. Until that day, the players will continue to work hard. I believe that one day we will be able to celebrate together. Take care of yourselves and have a happy life.

Kazuyoshi Miura of Yokohama FC