Who is the oldest professional soccer player in the world?
The longest-serving player in the history of football is reportedly close to joining Portuguese second division side Oliveirense.
Two years ago, Kazuyoshi Miura broke the record for the oldest footballer in history by playing a game in the Japanese top flight at the age of 53 and a half. Now, as we approach 2023, he has gone one better and is very close to returning to Europe at the age of 55 years and ten months.
“I want to play until I die, but it’s up to my body to decide. If I’m exhausted and can no longer train, that’s when it will be time. I’m not interested in becoming a coach, president of a club, sporting director, TV commentator? My only wish is to be a player. And until death if possible. When I die, I don’t want it to be reported that the former player Kazu Miura is dead, but that the player Kazu Miura is dead.”
Those were his words in an interview with L’Equipe in 2019. It was not a threat, but a statement of intent. According to Japanese media Nikkan Sports, ‘King Kazu’ is on the verge of signing for União Desportiva Oliveirense, a team in Portugal’s second division.
It would be a strange return to European football, as the Japanese forward has not played in Europe since the 90s, when he played for Genoa and Dinamo Zagreb. He currently plays for Suzuka Point Getters, a Japanese fourth division side.
The key to understanding why a 55-year-old player is set to become a media sensation in the Portuguese second division lies in Oliveirense’s ownership. The club, which celebrates its centenary this year and plays its home games in Oliveira de Azeméis, a city located in the metropolitan area of Porto, is 52% owned by the Onodera Group. The company also owns Yokohama FC, to which Miura belongs. He is currently on loan at Suzuka Point Getters.
It is therefore a marketing-driven transfer move. A team playing in the Portuguese second division is taking the world’s longest-serving player and Yokohama are securing a destination for a player who, due to his age, is obviously far from what is required of a player to compete in the top flight of Japanese football.
A precocious talent, he made the leap from Japan to Brazil at the tender age of 15 and has been going from strength to strength ever since. He was born a year before Hajime Moriyasu, the current Japan coach, and far from thinking of retiring, he is aiming to continue competing in his 36th season as a professional footballer. A unique story in the world that has made him a true icon in Japan.
He was the inspiration for one of the most famous anime series of all time: Oliver and Benji. Yoichi Takashi, the creator of the production, admitted that he had been inspired by Miura when creating Oliver Atom, one of the main characters.