The first Japanese player to ever set foot in Serie A was Kazuyoshi “Kazu” Miura. Before Hideyoshi Nakata and Shunsuke Nakamura, before Takayuki Morimoto and Yuto Nagatomo, there was this little-known son of the Rising Sun who played for the Rossoblu side of Genoa in the 1994-95 season.
Make no mistake: When he joined Serie A, Kazu Miura was the real deal in Japanese football – and to a certain extent, he still is, as he continues to play at the tender age of 50 with apparently no intention to call it quit. During his youth, he had made his way in Brazil journeying through multiple clubs including Palmeiras and Santos before coming back home and breaking through at Verdy Kawasaki – the most titled Japanese club back in the days.
Miura landed in Genoa in the summer of 1994, followed by an impressive cohort of reporters and a string of sponsors which would pay his salary in full – basically turning the whole operation into a zero-cost deal for hand-rubbing Genoan President Aldo Spinelli. The Grifone could experience a maybe unprecedented media exposure and coverage, as Kazu Miura was simply the-first-Japanese-footballer-to-play-in-Italy at a time when Serie A was the most competitive and cherished league in the football world.
It was a true godsend for a football movement which was hungry for glory and international legitimization but still had to qualify for a World Cup.
The future King Kazu arrived in the Belpaese among the curiosity of Italian fans whose only previous exposure to Japanese football had come from the overly famous anime Captain Tsubasa – most of them probably ignoring that the main character in the anime, a local football child prodigy who moves to Brazil to fulfill his dream of becoming a professional player, had been inspired by the figure of Miura himself…
To tell the truth, Kazu Miura’s experience would be short-lived and all but remarkable, compared to those of his fellow countrymen who would eventually follow his steps in the Italian top flight. Miura packed and returned to Verdy Kawasaki at the end of the season, proving that times were not mature yet for the football school from the Rising Sun to make a difference in Europe. With the Genoa jersey, Miura tallied 21 presences and 1 goal only.
But oh, what a goal that was.
Miura decided to put his lone stamp on his Serie A experience in the most important game of all for a Genoano, the cross-town Derby della Lanterna (“Derby of the Lighthouse” – the port’s main lighthouse being the most renown symbol of the Liguria capital city) against much-hated Sampdoria.
It was a dim ray of light in an otherwise dreadful season for the Rossoblu. When they met Sampdoria on December 4th in Round 12, things were already taking a bad turn for Genoa. The club was having poor results and President Spinelli had just replaced a historical coach like Franco Scoglio with Giuseppe Marchioro.
The Rossoblu were mostly relying on their formidable Czech striker Thomas Skurahvy but, when nobody was expecting it, along came this Japanese shortie to score a goal that would gain its little place in the history of the port city.
Fourteen minutes into the game, defender Antonio Manicone flanked the ball into the Blucerchiati box, and Miura, with perfect timing, stretched his right foot just enough to anticipate no less than Walter Zenga – at his first season with Sampdoria after a life spent defending Inter’s sticks – and put it into the net for Genoa’s 1-0.
However, destiny had decided that there was to be no glory for the Japanese star in Italy: Miura didn’t even have the time to celebrate and realize what an historical feat he had accomplished, as Sampdoria equalized less than one minute later with a powerful header by Pietro Vierchowod.
In retrospect, that edition of the Derby della Lanterna was a clear mismatch: Sampdoria had a world-class coach in Sven Goran Eriksson, and could boast players the likes of Pietro Vierchowod, Attilio Lombardo, Ruud Gullit, and Roberto Mancini. It didn’t take much for them to take control of the stracittadina and score twice more to make poor Miura’s achievement even more useless.
Bald Eagle Attilio Lombardo scored the second as he caught a wonderful filtering pass by Vladimir Jugovic, and in the second half, Riccardo Maspero made it three for Sampdoria from the free kick spot. Fabio Galante gave the Grifone supporters an ephemeral hope as in the 87th minute he fired the ball past Walter Zenga from point-blank range, but the score didn’t change any more.
Times were tough for Genoa, and even worse times were about to come. After sacking also Giuseppe Marchioro and ending the season coached by youth club trainer Claudio Maselli, the Rossoblu lost on penalties a relegation play-out against Padova and disappeared from the Serie A radar for more than a decade.
Perhaps Kazuyoshi Miura just found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Still, and even when it comes to playing and scoring in Serie A, he was a pioneer for the football movement of his Country.
December 4, 1994 – Serie A 1994-95 Round 12
SCORERS: 14′ Miura (G), 15′ Vierchowod (S), 24′ Lombardo (S), 83′ Maspero (S), 87′ Galante (G)
|SAMPDORIA: Zenga, Mannini, Ferri, Gullit, Vierchowod, M. Serena, Lombardo, Jugovic, Platt, Mancini (89′ Salsano), Evani (81′ Maspero) (Nuciari, M. Rossi, Bellucci) Coach: Eriksson|
|GENOA: Tacconi, Torrente, Caricola, Manicone, Galante, Marcolin, Ruotolo (63′ Van’t Schip), Bortolazzi, Onorati, Skuhravy, Miura (Micillo, Delli Carri, Turone, Signorelli) Coach: Marchioro|
REFEREE: Mr. Ceccarini from Livorno