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Kazuyoshi Miura: The Footballer Who Inspired the Anime Captain Tsubasa

The illustrious career of Kazuyoshi Miura is, no doubt, one of the most unique careers in the history of football. The Japanese forward, born in 1967, has enjoyed a remarkable career that has lasted over 40 years, making 705 appearances (at the time of writing). Miura also inspired a very popular anime, selling over 90 million copies worldwide. Several current footballers were inspired by the TV show and it has massively helped in inspiring association football in Japan

Here is the story of the football legend, Kazuyoshi Miura:

Many current football fans will know Miura for his record-breaking age and his cards on FIFA; however, his career has been incredibly more impressive than the majority give him credit for. At just 15, Miura left home to pursue a career in professional football, and he joined the Brazilian side Juventus SP in December 1982.

The Boy in Brazil

Kazuyoshi Miura
Kazuyoshi Miura

His stint at Juventus SP lasted 3 years, but he did not make a first-team appearance for the club. At just 18, Miura signed his first professional contract for Santos; this was also not a long stay, with Kazuyoshi signing for another Brazilian giant in the same year. The man from Japan couldn’t nail down a regular spot at one of his Brazilian clubs; he played for five Brazilian clubs before returning to Santos in 1990. Unfortunately, he couldn’t rekindle the fire that made Santos sign him as an 18-year-old; he played just 11 games for the club in the 89-90 season, scoring 3 goals. It was time to return home

Miura, Japan to Italy and back

Kazuyoshi has not followed the general pattern of a professional footballer, and this was the first big sign he wasn’t any ordinary footballer.

After a disappointing stint in Brazil, Yomiuri FC (later known as “Verdy Kawasaki” and now known as “Tokyo Verdy”) signed Miura, and he improved over time. In the first season, Kazuyoshi registered just 9 appearances, scoring 3 goals; season 2 was much better, scoring 10 goals in 10 games in the ‘J.League Cup’ and scoring 5 goals in 18 games in the league. As the years went on, Miura got better and better. By the end of 1993, the forward had scored 48 goals for Yomiuri, and, it is safe to say, this did not go unnoticed; Europe came calling…

The Japanese icon would spend the 1994–95 season on loan at Italian club Genoa, becoming the first East Asian footballer to play in the Serie A. 21 appearances with just 1 goal and 1 assist may appear bleak at first viewing, but the importance of those goal contributions cannot be understated. The goal came in the Genoa derby against Sampdoria, and the assist was for Antonio Manicone in a match-winning goal against Padova. He would become an even bigger legend.

At the end of the season, he returned to Verdy Kawasaki and spent another three ears at the club. By the end of his time with them, Miura had made just under 200 appearances (192) and scored 117 goals – averaging out to a goal every 0.6 games for the team. It was a successful time for Kazuyoshi, he won ‘the Japan Soccer League’ in 1990-91 and 1991-92, the ‘Japan Soccer League Cup’, and the ‘J.League Cup 3 years in a row (from 1992-1994), the ‘Xerox Super Cup’ in 1994 and 1995, and the ‘Emperor’s Cup’ in 1996. This was also when he experienced success on the international stage: winning the ‘AFC Asia Cup in 1992 and the ‘Afro-Asian Cup of Nations in 1993.

One trial away

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The year of 1999 for Kazuyoshi Miura can only be described as interesting. On the 1st of January, Miura again departed Japan for Europe, this time heading to Croatian giants, Dinamo Zagreb. He played 12 times for the club and unfortunately did not score, however, there were definitely positives to take from this 6-month experience: Dinamo Zagreb (at the time ‘Croatia Zagreb’) won the first stage of the Croatian League (losing just 3 games) and therefore qualified for the ‘Championship Group’. They played another 10 games and Zagreb came out on top, winning 5, and they qualified for the 3rd qualifying round of the Champions League. Despite the potential for European football, Miura departed the club and would trial for the English side, AFC Bournemouth.

At the time in League Two (now known as League One), Bournemouth would’ve been a step down for the striker but it would’ve meant a journey into English football. Nobody will ever know how this would’ve gone because Miura decided to return to Japan, signing for Kyuto Purple Sanga. Again, Miura would spend just 2 seasons at the club (playing 41 times and scoring 21 goals) before finding another new club – Vissel Kobe.

At 32, nearly 33, this would be where most normal players would retire or at least start to fall off in performance and, to some extent, this was the same for Kazuyoshi. From 2001-2005 Miura played for Vissel Kobe (the most recent club of Barcelona legend, Andres Iniesta) but the team wasn’t anywhere near as impressive as they are now. Four mid-table finishes, followed by relegation, were enough for Miura to move on to his next club, Yokohama FC

19 years and counting

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Kazuyoshi Miura has spent nearly 20 years signed on for Yokohama FC, and his career with the club started with an eleventh-place finish. In his first season he was only at the club for half the season (with the rest spent on loan Sydney FC): playing 16 games, scoring 4 goals, and registering 1 assist; despite a poor goals per game record, (6 goals in 39 appearances) Miura set his impact on the team and led them to a league title and promotion to the first division. Unfortunately, they were relegated the next season with an 18th place finish and many mid-table finishes followed, until 2019 when they reached promotion after a 2nd place finish. Miura’s playing time was less and less as he grew older, only playing 3 games in 2019, he also didn’t feature a lot after promotion, only playing 5 games in 2 seasons.

However, at 53 he was looking to reignite his career and moved on loan to a fourth-tier Japanese club, Suzuka Point Getters, and became a regular player, with 18 appearances and 2 goals in the 2022 season. Still on loan, Miura returned to Europe with a move to Yokohama FC affiliate club, Oliveirense in the Portuguese second division but has only played 5 games and is yet to score in 2 seasons. It remains to be seen what impact Miura will have on the football pitch but it is safe to say he has been a massive inspiration and has had a big impact off the pitch.

Captain Tsubasa

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Captain Tsubasa is a Japanese anime/ manga series that is written and illustrated by Yōichi Takahashi, the writer was a massive fan of Kazuyoshi Miura, especially while ‘King Kazu’ (as many have called him) played in Brazil for Santos. Tsubasa dreamed of playing for Santos FC and the show has continued to be produced, originally from 1983-1995 and then brought back in 2018.

Miura is not just a legend of Japanese football or football in general, he’s inspired the people of Japan in so many different ways and he continues to make history in the football world, still playing at 56. It is unlikely that any footballer will make as much of an impact as the ‘King Kazu’ for several generations or potentially ever.

A legend of the game. Kazuyoshi Miura.

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