Kazu, the oldest active player in Portugal, can continue to play at 56 years old. | FRIDAY DIGITAL

Kazu, the oldest active player in Portugal, can continue to play at 56 years old.

Tomoyoshi Miura's continuation of active career depends on sales at "Tanimachi Sushi Restaurant. ⁉️

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Oliveirense’s Tomoyoshi Miura makes his first official appearance in the second half against Académico de Biseu in the Portuguese Second Division on April 22 (Photo: Kyodo News)

Tomoyoshi Miura, a.k.a. Kazu, who turned 56 this season in his 38th year as a professional soccer player, is still active with Oliveirense of the Portuguese Second Division. He signed a contract on loan in February of this year, and on April 22, he made his first appearance since his transfer in an away game against Académico de Biseu, breaking the record for the oldest active player in the league. In addition to his extraordinary desire to remain active and the training required to achieve this goal, there is one person who is helping to make Kazu’s motivation to remain active until his 60th birthday a reality: J1 Yokohama FC chairman Yuji Onodera, 57.

Originally a businessman in the food service outsourcing business, he became the largest shareholder of Yokohama FC in 2005, and while managing the soccer club, he also sought to expand into the world of food service, launching “Sushi Ginza Onodera” in 2013. The restaurant has grown to become a famous Michelin-starred restaurant and has opened outlets around the world, which is why King Kazu is still working there.

The man who bridged the gap to move to Portugal

The J. League soccer team will celebrate its 30th anniversary on May 15 this year, and Kazu is, of course, the only player who played a full match in the frenetic 1993 season opener (V Kawasaki – Yokohama M), which drew 59,626 spectators at the National Stadium in Tokyo, who is still active in the league.

It is surprising that he is still an active player at 56, but this season he is playing in the Portuguese league. He has not played overseas since 1999, when he played for Zagreb in the Croatian League. At an online press conference held on Kaz’s birthday, February 26 this year, he said, “Every time my birthday comes around, my desire to be on the pitch gets stronger,” and his enthusiasm for continuing his active career has not faded at all.

At the age of 56, many salarymen are thinking about their second or third careers. It was at this time that Kazu’s move overseas came to fruition. He has been taking excellent care of his physical condition. His personal trainer and other members of “Team KAZU” are backing him up, including his diet. In Portugal, he says, “I am exhausted after training, but that exhaustion makes me feel fulfilled. But that exhaustion is also a sense of fulfillment. The reality is harsh, however, and since turning 50, Kazu has been used only in two ways by Yokohama FC: as a starter and playing 60 minutes, or as a substitute at the end of a game when the team is leading.

It is impossible to talk about Kaz being able to continue his active career without strong supporters. One of them is Yokohama FC Chairman Onodera, who was instrumental in Kazu’s move to Portugal.

In 2001, he took over Medical Support Corporation, a food service company founded by his father Shingo in 1983, and is the general manager of the ONODERA GROUP, which unites 33 group companies and employs more than 20,000 people. In the fiscal year ended March 31, 2011, the company recorded sales of 114 billion yen (non-consolidated).

Mr. Onodera began capital participation (in the soccer world) after Kazu-san moved from Kobe to Yokohama FC in 2005. In 2006, he created the position of assistant player-manager for Kazu. Although Yokohama FC is directed by a coach younger than Kazu, Chairman Onodera is the same age as Kazu, so they have good chemistry, and I don’t think he felt as uncomfortable as people around him thought he did.

Last November, Mr. Onodera acquired Oliveirense, which was founded in 1922. The club was in the Portuguese second division, and its performance has been poor, including relegation to the third division for the 2020-21 season. The ONODERA GROUP is the first soccer club to own both a J-League club and a European club. Why was this necessary?

Tomoyoshi Miura (right, photo: Kyodo News) playing in the opening game of the J-League season in May ’93.

Kazu’s opportunities with Yokohama FC have declined dramatically since the ’18 season at the age of 51, but because of his contribution to the birth of the J-League and the fact that his name value has not diminished, every off-season he is inundated with offers, mainly from domestic leagues, to join the club. Last season, he was loaned to the Suzuka Point Getters of the Japan Football League (JFL), a mixed pro-am league.

At that time, he says, “Chairman Onodera proposed that he continue his active career with Yokohama FC while holding the right to organize the team, as he had done in 2006. However, Kazu himself insisted on continuing as an active member of the team.

The club was rocked midway through last season when an incident involving alleged cheating in a match against Sony Sendai in November 2008 came to light. Kazu, who had hoped to continue playing for the club this season, was facing the possibility of losing his place in the worst-case scenario. It came as a pleasant surprise to Kaz when Onodera bought a Portuguese club and transferred him to that club as a player. Kazu, who started his professional career in Portuguese-speaking Brazil, would be able to clear up the language problem.

In the case of loan transfers in soccer, the player’s salary is paid by the club that owns the player. Yokohama FC, which lends Kaz, gets a rental fee from the club, and the head of the club is the president of Yokohama FC, which means that Onodera is the president of both clubs. Onodera is the de facto owner of both clubs, so there was no need to worry about whether or not he could pay the money, and the rental transfer could be seen as a buyout to assist Kazu in continuing his career.

Kazu’s future is secure if he can bid for Ichibanmaguro?

ONODERA GROUP started a sushi restaurant as a food service division in 2001 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its founding. With the main restaurant in Ginza as its base, the company has opened 13 restaurants in five regions, including Shanghai, Hawaii, and the United States, as well as in Japan. This year, too, he won the first tuna auction at the Toyosu Market in Tokyo on the fifth day of the New Year with a 212 kg tuna that sold for 36,040,000 yen.

This year is not the only one. This is the fourth time in three consecutive years that the ONODERA GROUP has won the first tuna auction on Toyosu. Some people even said, ‘Kazu’s future is secure because he was able to bid for the best tuna.

To bid for the best tuna, sushi restaurants and wholesalers prepare nearly 100 million yen every year to make the first bid of the year. The average price of a single tuna is around 5 million yen, so at the time of the first auction in the New Year, they are financially in the red. However, the fact that the tuna is auctioned off at the beginning of the year is reported on wide TV shows and other media, and this has a tremendous publicity effect both in Japan and abroad.

Even with the COVID-19 crisis, the popularity of Japanese tunas overseas remained strong, and the fact that Sushi Ginza Onodera continued to be the top tuna restaurant for three consecutive years increased the credibility of the restaurant, which continued to receive a high 4.5 rating in word-of-mouth reviews. In 2009, Onodeira opened a sushi restaurant in Omotesando and a tategui restaurant in Ginza, creating the image of a casual eatery serving high-end sushi, and the number of restaurants is likely to increase. If the “ONODERA GROUP” can win the bid for the best tuna, Kazu’s departure this year will be safe,” is no joke.

The rental contract between Kazu and Oliveirense will expire this summer. On the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the start of the J-League season on May 15, Kaz made the following comment: “I have always loved soccer.

I want to continue playing soccer, whether in the J-League or in Brazil, I want to play in various places. I would like to play in the J-League, in Brazil, and in many other places, but I have my own level now (laughs). Right now, I’m working hard every day to make the squad for next week’s game (against Treense in Portugal’s second-division league).

Kaz, who hopes to continue his active career after this summer, will be looking for his next club, mainly in Japan, but the key to whether or not his wish will be realized is the sales of the sushi restaurant that his “running partner” is developing.

Yuji Onodera, chairman of the “ONODERA GROUP,” who is assisting Kazu to continue his career (from Onodera’s FaceBook).
Kaiten Sushi Onodera is located in Omotesando. The prices are a little higher than those at most conveyor-belt sushi restaurants, but the restaurant was packed with customers even during the daytime on a weekday.

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