Over-40 players rolling back the years in Japan’s veteran-packed J-League

Yokohama FC’s Japanese striker Kazuyoshi Miura who is recognised as the world’s oldest goalscorer and oldest player currently playing in a professional league, gestures during J. League YBC Levain Cup soccer match against Hokkaido Consadole Sapporo in Sapporo, northern Japan August 12, 2020, in this photo taken by Kyodo. [Photo/Agencies]

Japan’s Peter Pan striker Kazuyoshi Miura is preparing to play another season despite turning 54 this week, but he is far from his country’s only soccer golden oldie.

Miura, better known as King Kazu, will be looking to extend his record as the oldest J-League first-division starter when his club Yokohama FC kicks off its new season on Saturday.

But he won’t be the only veteran rolling back the years, with nine players over the age of 40 currently lining up for teams across the league’s three divisions.

“I think Japanese culture might have something to do with it,” 40-year-old Keiji Tamada, a striker with second-division V-Varen Nagasaki, told AFP.

“Of course the aim is to play in matches, but I think a lot of players stay with their teams because they feel they can make a contribution beyond that by passing down knowledge and experience,” he said.

Miura, who is preparing to begin his 36th career season, became the oldest player in the world to score in a professional match in 2017, when he found the net aged 50 years and 14 days.

He extended his own J-League record as the oldest starter in September last year, one of four league appearances he made for Yokohama last season.

“I was feeling the joy of playing soccer at a time when the world was facing a tough situation because of the coronavirus,” he said after renewing his contract last month.

“Personally it was not a satisfactory season, but my ambition and enthusiasm for soccer are increasing.”

But Miura, who began his professional career in 1986, is not the only veteran defying Father Time in the J-League.

Former Celtic midfielder Shunsuke Nakamura is still going strong at 42, while ex-Japan internationals Junichi Inamoto, Yasuhito Endo and Teruyoshi Ito are all playing into their fifth decades.

Miura’s 53-year-old former Japan strike partner Masashi Nakayama was registered as a player with third-division Azul Claro Numazu until last month, although his most recent J-League appearance came as a 45-year-old in 2012.