King Kazu

Last week in Tokyo, a Japanese player known as Kazuyoshi Miuri put pen to paper for a contract extension with Yokohama FC, a club that plays in Japan’s second tier. Kazuyoshi only made 12 appearances last season, scoring just the one goal, which makes the announcement seem very ordinary.

But the new deal made headlines all around the world, because Kazuyoshi, also known as King Kazu, will be playing his 33rd season of Professional football. The veteran striker turns 51 next month, and despite becoming the world’s oldest footballer in 2015, is still playing the beautiful game in his native country at a top level.

Kazu’s career began back in 1986 when he was 19-years-old (that means he had already been playing professionally for twelve years when Kylian Mbappe was born), at Santos in the Brazilian League. That year Liverpool won the Premier League under Kenny Dalglish, Mike Tyson was the World Heavyweight Champion, Alex Ferguson was appointed as the new manager of Manchester United, and it was the year I was mesmerized and became a fan of the legendary Diego Maradona.

Since then Kazu has played for 12 different clubs across South America, Asia, Australia and Europe, before signing for his current team Yokahoma in 2005. He is hailed by many as the first football superstar in Japan, scoring 55 goals in 89 appearances for his country, and leading ‘The Blue Samurais’ to their first ever World Cup Finals in 1998 after scoring 14 goals in qualifying.

His website claims that he’s played 36932 minutes of football, which is around 25 and a half days of solid football. Some of his teammates are now more than 30 years younger than Kazuyoshi. He even became the J-League’s top scorer and MVP in its inaugural season in 1993, despite competition from Gary Lineker and Zico.

His career and longevity has been remarkable, especially when you consider most players retire before they hit 35, much like myself. Stanley Mathews is famous for his long career in England, playing for Stoke and Blackpool for 33 seasons in total. It was more common for players to continue to play into their 40’s in that era, but King Kazu has shown that it is still possible to compete with the super fit pros in their twenties, today.

Most pros like to hang up their boots on a high when they are still at the highest level – but maybe a lot can be learned from Kazuyoshi as he has lived and played through so many different changes to the game (when he started the back pass rule had not yet been introduced).

Amazingly, he says he still wishes to improve as a player. “I will always play with the football with all my might and hope to grow as a player,” he said when his contract extension was announced.

But he summed up his attitude best back in 2015 when he became the oldest player to ever feature in a professional match: “As long as I’m enjoying my football, I’ll keep going.”