Chapter 14: Rendezvous with Immortality
Sunday May 19, 201X
91st minute – Beginning of injury time
As the 4th official and the stadium's public address announcer indicated a minimum of 7 minutes of injury time, the home supporters let out a deafening roar to cheer their team up, hoping for a last gap title-winning goal to be scored within the next 7 minutes.
Martin Tyler: Oh, we're gonna have 7 added minutes and that has invigorated the supporters here.
The Manchester City players only tried passing the ball around and pushing it deep in United's territory. At the same time, the Manchester United players tried applying pressure and win the ball back before moving up in numbers; yet this tactic came up with a major risk: the possibility of a counterattack.
Carlos took the ball with him towards the corner flag and forced a throw in City's favor. After wasting a little bit of time, Pablo made the throw-in for Carlos, who then accidentally gave away possession in United's favor as the give-and-go attempt went out of bounds. Patrice quickly made the following throw to Nemanja, who then passed to Michael in the center of the field.
"Michael!" Rafael shouted from his position on the right flank before United's veteran English midfielder sent the long ball for his younger Brazilian teammate.
After running down the wing for some distance, Rafael moved a little on the inside and spotted Kakeru facing Ricky just outside the box. The Brazilian made a through pass that reached Kakeru, who then flicked the ball left for Robin inside the box. With no immediate option forward, the Dutchman passed the ball backwards to Nana.
Martin Tyler: A flick by Aizawa... Van Persie... Mishima is there...
Although Vincent was playing with knock Nana off the ball, the young Japanese woman kept her balance and found a shooting angle. With a quick movement of her left foot, she fired a shot that got past Joe's reach, but the ball bounced against the post.
Martin Tyler: Mishima... against the post!
As Pablo tried to get to the rebound first, Nana quickly went sliding in first to deflect the rebound away from the City defender. Pablo fell down in the follow through of Nana's tackle, but the referee deemed that there was no foul. Hence, the play continued as the ball was rolling left towards with Ryan. The Welshman was in a good position to strike the ball.
Martin Tyler: Comes out for Giggs!
The ball was struck from Ryan's stronger left foot, but the ball hit Matija off the inside of his left thigh and deflected behind for a corner.
Martin Tyler: And in the way was Matija Nastasic. It's a corner.
Every time the ball went out deep in City's territory, it was as if the crowd raised their tempo as louder roars were heard on each occasion. On the following corner kick, Ryan shot the ball in, but it was cleared away by Gareth... only to Rafael at 30 yards from goal. Spotting Ryan walking away from the corner, Rafael made a pass towards him. However, the pass lacked pace and was intercepted by Carlos, who put the afterburners on to lead City's counterattack. When Carlos saw his teammate Edin in support, he tried to send a through pass for him. Fortunately for United, Michael pulled himself back into a defensive position and intercepted Carlos' pass. Without wasting any time, Michael passed forward to Wayne, who then relayed the ball for Kakeru on the right flank inside the attacking half.
Looking to send a through ball forward for a teammate, Kakeru's cross hit Gaël and the ball bounced in the middle towards Nana. Although the play seemed to go nowhere, Nana instinctively flicked the ball forward to the left, just between Pablo and Matija. Through that gap, Ryan ran in with a burst of speed and the supporters got up on their feet.
Martin Tyler: It's Giggs... he's found by Mishima... Can he do it this time?
Sprinting all the way into the inside of the box, Ryan delayed his shot before he arrived at 12 yards from goal. At the same time, Matija ran all the way back while Joe sprinted forward, both trying to cut Ryan's shooting angle. As City's Serbian central defender plunged his legs forward to create a barricade, Ryan shot the ball past Matija, but not quite past Joe as the City goalkeeper stopped the ball dead with his left leg before he covered it.
Martin Tyler: Oh, Giggs was trying to put it between the goalkeeper's legs as it is often the way strikers do score in those circumstances.
As Joe recovered the ball, he was in no hurry to let it go quickly as the strategy for City still remained to waste as much injury time as possible.
City controlled most of the possession time since the last scoring chance missed by Ryan and despite the numerous efforts from the Manchester United players. A few spectators already left the stands in anticipation of a very disappointing finish and even more bragging to come from the 3,000 City supporters in the Southeast corner. Even worse for Manchester United, they conceded a free kick in City's half of the field at the end of the 96th minute.
Martin Tyler: Despite all the efforts and the goals scored, you could feel it wasn't going to be United's day today.
After the free kick was taken with less than 60 seconds to go in the final minute of injury time, the City defenders passed between themselves and back to the goalkeeper. Joe took the opportunity to kick the ball far away from his end. As the ball flew deep into United's half, Nemanja got to the ball first before Edin could reach it. Nemanja's header flew ahead towards Wayne, but Yaya got there first and headed the ball towards Carlos.
Martin Tyler: It's now a run by Tévez towards the corner flag and it should almost be the last action of the match if he wins the corner, you feel.
As Carlos tried to put the ball out for a corner, he tried to shoot the ball off Patrice and behind. However, the kick bounced off Patrice and then off Carlos; it was in fact a goal kick and a ball boy immediately gave a spare ball to United's goalkeeper De Gea. At the very same time, Sir Alex shouted orders for his players to move forward.
Martin Tyler: Tévez will protest, but it’s a goal kick and possibly one last attack to come. Ferguson is standing on the sidelines screaming "Get forward, we can still win it here."
De Gea saw Robin at the two-thirds up of the pitch and inside City's half. With no hesitation, the Spanish goalkeeper kicked the long aerial ball forward to Robin. As Yaya stood blocking the Dutchman's path, Robin made a little diagonal back pass into Nana's path. The young Japanese woman already had some momentum as she ran forward.
Martin Tyler: Van Persie, Mishima...
"No pasará! (You won't pass!)" Javi shouted as he charged towards Nana.
As Nana moved close enough to Javi, she made what seemed to be a regular roulette move by using her right foot. However as City's Spanish defensive midfielder waited for the turn by moving forward to block Nana, she pulled the ball back again with the inside of her left foot and came back around the other way. As a result, Nana got past Javi pretty easily.
"The Witch Turn! It's much faster than ever before!" Mai exclaimed as she identified Nana's signature feint.
Meanwhile, Gareth tried preventing her from passing forward by going into a sliding tackle from the side. "Oh no, you don't!" Gareth shouted.
In order to keep the ball and continue pushing forward, Nana gripped the sides of the ball with both her ankles, bent her knees and then jumped forward while holding the ball between her ankles. When Nana went over Gareth's tackle and was at the peak of her jump, she released the ball to push it forward. It was a perfectly executed Blanco Hop.
Martin Tyler: Brilliant moves to get past her markers...
Suddenly, Nana spotted Kakeru starting his run to get behind City's defense and wasted no second before she unleashed a killer pass through several City players. In no time, the ball arrived at Kakeru's feet.
Martin Tyler: Great pass for Aizawa through the defense...
When Kakeru received the ball, he made a straight run towards the goal, but had a short distance to cover before reaching the inside of the 18-yard box. However, Ricky was already putting his left arm all over Kakeru's collarbone and on the right side of Kakeru's neck while running just behind.
'I don't care if I get sent off as the last man. I'll take you down here and now to win the title!' Ricky thought.
'Damn! I'm not strong enough to pull it through into the box. I can't do it!' Kakeru thought as he felt his own strength faltering against Ricky's challenge. Kakeru also knew there would be no sure opportunity to score a goal if he's brought down.
"You can't do it?" a voice suddenly asked in Kakeru's head.
'What?' Kakeru asked himself.
Suddenly, time seemed to have frozen at Old Trafford and Kakeru then found himself thrown into a totally white room. The last time something like that happened, it was when Suguru took over Kakeru's body in the middle of a match a while ago. Looking around, Kakeru saw no one there at first.
"Soccer is not just about strength, even in the most desperate situations." the voice said behind Kakeru.
When Kakeru turned around, he was astonished to see that the source of the voice was none other than Suguru appearing before him.
"Nii-chan!" Kakeru exclaimed.
"Yes. So are you going to give up because Vernardi's physically stronger than you when your teammates need you to score the goal?" Suguru asked.
“No... But what should I do to beat him in this rain now that he's all over me?” Kakeru replied.
"Vernardi's strong, big and tall; I won't deny that. However, you have also grown many qualities of your own: speed, ball control, positioning, intelligence, finishing skills, feints of all sorts, passing and more. I was there to show you the steps on how to do it, but you were the one mastering everything because you followed your own instincts. Those are all the qualities you need to outsmart someone like him." Suguru said.
"You think I can still do it now?" Kakeru asked.
"I know you can do it by yourself. That's why I won't do it for you here and now. Just remember in your past; you did it before against Leonardo Silva and Taku Yukimura. It doesn't matter if it's high school soccer or the biggest professional stage; the same rules still apply." Suguru replied.
Suddenly, Kakeru remembered how things went in the past and then realized what he had to do next.
"Yes. Now you remember. It's all up to you." Suguru said as he started walking away.
"Wait, Nii-chan! Will you still watch over me, even long after this day is gone?" Kakeru asked.
"Even if you don't feel my presence right away, I will still keep watching over you. I'm really proud of how far you've made after all those years, so keep going strong as you will improve alongside the best players in the world now and become much better than I ever was." Suguru turned back and replied with a smile.
"Thanks, Nii-chan." Kakeru said.
"No, Kakeru. Thank you for getting this far by fulfilling your own potential as I always believed you would."
"I will do it, Nii-chan!"
"I know you will. Spread your wings and fly! Here it goes, Kakeru!"
Suddenly, the white room and Suguru both vanished. Then Kakeru found himself back to where he was in the action at Old Trafford. Having found a new inner strength, Kakeru managed to keep his balance. Then with a reflex movement from his right hand, Kakeru swapped Ricky's arm and finally got away from the Argentine's challenge at last.
Immediately, Kakeru stopped the ball and kicked it back with his left foot. Then Kakeru proceeded with a quick turn on which he took back the small pass he made for himself in the end and then found himself ending on the opposite side of Ricky's body. Surprised by that very bold feint, Ricky tried to spin his body quickly towards the same direction taken by Kakeru, but slipped to the ground because of the sudden turn of his massive body combined to the pace of his run on the slippery surface, a result from the ongoing rain.
Martin Tyler: He shakes off Vernardi... THIS MUST BE IT!
In an instant, Kakeru took the last defender out of the equation and found himself all alone against the Manchester City goalkeeper as the last obstacle inside the box. The Manchester United supporters in the stadium all stood up on their feet and held their breaths at this precise moment.
'What is this aura? Is this what Leo said about the other brother? No, it's different.' Ricky thought as he realized something very different from before with Kakeru. The aura was indeed different and powerful.
"I'll not let you score!" Joe shouted as he charged towards Kakeru head-on.
As Joe moved within 3 yards from Kakeru, he went sliding to the ground trying to cover as much space on the ground as possible, but Kakeru also proceeded quickly with another feint. Suddenly, Kakeru and the ball both seemed to disappear at the same time from Joe's sights for a fraction of a second.
"What?" Joe asked himself out loud.
By the time the City goalkeeper realized what just happened, Kakeru already went past him. It was the result of the Phi Trick Revolution, Kakeru's ultimate weapon in his repertoire of techniques. With the goal wide open, Kakeru tapped the ball into the lower part of the middle of the goal and left no possible doubt on the outcome.
Martin Tyler: AIZAWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA!!!
Gary Neville: OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOHHHHHHHHH!!!
At this very instant, the place erupted with nearly 72,500 voices shouting their lungs out in unison for a level of noise that was nothing short of 130 decibels. It was wild euphoria inside the stadium as well as in any place on the planet where United fans watched this moment.
With his mind still blanked from all the surrounding distractions for a moment, Kakeru took a quick glance at the referee and then saw the latter pointing back to the center of the field after his whistle. Once Kakeru realized that the goal was officially given, he immediately ran towards the area where his family and friends were seated. In a matter of a few seconds, Kakeru jumped into the greeting arms of his family and friends in celebration.
"You did it, Kakeru! You did it!" Mrs. Aizawa said while embracing her son.
"You're the best, Kake-nii!" Mito added as she also embraced Kakeru at the same time.
"That was a beauty, Kakeru! YOU DID IT!" Noriko exclaimed as she reached forward to pat Kakeru's head.
At the same time, M. Aizawa was also ruffling Kakeru's hair in celebration while Noriko's parents and Taeko were still jubilating off their seats. Within 2 seconds, Nana, the other 9 Manchester United players on the field and the 5 healthy substitutes crowded Kakeru by the stands to celebrate the goal despite the intervention of the stewards assigned to control crowd movement in the area.
Martin Tyler: AIZAWA HAS DONE IT FOR REAL THIS TIME! IT'S 5-3 FOR MANCHESTER UNITED AND THERE SHOULD BE NO WAY BACK NOW!
Gary Neville: UNBELIEVABLE! 96:59 is the time of the goal, Martin!
Martin Tyler: When all hope seemed to have vanished, the 2 Japanese youngsters combined to create an unbelievable climax at the very last second of the season. It's a Red Rising Sun pushing the Blue Moon back into the shadows!
Meanwhile in Yokohama, it was jubilation among the Enoshima alumni. Coach Iwaki also kissed Ayaka in the middle of the celebrations while M. Mishima gave high fives to Araki and to some of Kakeru’s closest friends.
"I'll buy all the pints for everyone, people." the English expatriate told M. Mishima and Coach Iwaki as he joined the celebrations.
"It's perhaps a little late at almost 1:00 AM." M. Mishima said with a little smile.
"Never too late in Manchester, it's not, especially after this! UNITED! UNITED!" the Englishman finished with a wide grin on his face.
Back at Old Trafford:
"I'm so proud of you, Nana!" Mrs. Mishima said as she hugged her daughter.
"That was amazing, Witch!" Mai added while embracing Nana at the same time.
"Thanks, Mom! Thanks, Mai-chan!" Nana replied.
"Now have fun!" Mrs. Mishima replied before she let Nana follow her teammates to get ready for the restart. On her way, Kakeru greeted Nana with a kiss on the top of her head to say "Thank you".
Alan Keegan: MANCHESTER UNITED GOAL... SCORED BY NUMBER NINE... KAKERU AIZAWAAAA!
On the other side, it was total bewilderment for the 3,000 City fans and for the Manchester City players inside the stadium. All the City players were down in complete dejection after that massive hammer blow delivered by Kakeru. Some of them were sobbing in despair. In an outburst of anger, sadness and frustration, Ricky kicked the ball straight into the crowd. However, the referee saw that last act of petulance.
"Hey! That was dangerous, Ricky. You won't get away with that; you're off!" the referee said as he pulled the red card out of his pocket. A few City players protested, but to no avail.
Martin Tyler: If it wasn't bad enough for City, they are now down to 10 men.
Gary Neville: It was petulant by Vernardi and worth a straight red, no doubt. Somehow, it is justice for the previous incident in which he should have been sent off. I'm sure the FA disciplinary panel will have a serious look into his case.
Ricky was devastated when the red card was shown to him. Adding to Ricky's misery, the home team supporters started shouting jeers and laughing mockingly at him as he walked the long path of shame in tears towards the exit tunnel. From the fans' standpoint, there was nothing to feel sorry about Ricky after all the classless things that he did.
A very short time later, the Manchester City players all moved back to their positions under the referee's order to restart the game although some were still distraught. Upon the signal from the referee to kick things off again, the City players pushed forward in numbers with only one chance left. After a few passes and when enough City players moved inside the box, Pablo launched a long ball in the box, but United's skipper Nemanja easily got first to the ball and headed it away immediately. Then Kakeru kicked the loose ball down the field and deep into City's half.
Martin Tyler: Cleared by Aizawa. That should do it!
PEEP, PEEP, PEEEEEEEEEEEEP!
Hearing the long-awaited final whistle, the Manchester United supporters raised the roof at Old Trafford with a roar and sustained cheers in celebration.
Martin Tyler: THEY HAVE DONE IT! MANCHESTER UNITED ARE THE CHAMPIONS OF ENGLAND AGAIN! They had to beat the defending champions by 2 goals. They had to come back from behind. But Kakeru Aizawa and Nana Mishima re-energized Manchester United, and gave the game an extraordinary conclusion. Just as their predecessors did, the 2 youngsters repaid their manager's faith with a League title and engraved their names into immortality for this club.
All the Manchester United substitutes dashed to join the field players celebrating on the pitch. Paul also took off the coach's track outfit and was wearing his player's kit under it. The veteran "Satnav" joined the celebrations as a player for the last time. Meanwhile on the bench, Sir Alex was still celebrating with other members of his coaching staff and the rest of the support personnel.
In the midst of the celebrations on the pitch, Nana jumped straight into Kakeru's arms for a mutual embrace. Furthermore, Kakeru gave Nana a kiss as emotions overflowed for both of them in this very moment of wild euphoria. Unlike what happened after Enoshima defeated Shuukyu over 2 years ago, the 2 Japanese youngsters were not embarrassed in letting their emotions dictate their actions in the middle of the celebrations. After the kiss lasted a few seconds, the mutual embrace continued for over half of a minute before they went on to celebrate with other teammates together.
"Look at Kake-nii and Seven. They're so bold!" Mito said as she watched the whole scene from her seat.
"Kakeru and Nana are no longer kids, Mito." Mrs. Aizawa replied with a smile.
"I'm really happy for Nana." Mrs. Mishima said as she wiped a few tears of joy.
"Absolutely pure chemistry between them; nothing can beat that. That's how they have always been since I first met them." Noriko said.
"Are you sometimes a little jealous of them, Noriko-chan?" Mai asked.
"Even if I was, I would feel bad about feeling that way because Nana and I became friends so quickly. Just by seeing them so happy both on and off the pitch, I can smile as well. After all, they are some of the best friends I can ask whenever I need someone to support me." Noriko replied.
Meanwhile, a majority of Manchester City players were still inconsolable and left straight down the exit tunnel. However, some of the City players stayed on the pitch to shake hands and congratulate the new Champions of England. Among them, Vincent, Gareth and Joe came to shake hands with their rivals in good sportsmanship.
"Good match, Aizawa." Joe said to Kakeru
"Thanks, Joe." Kakeru replied as he shook hands with the City goalkeeper.
"Well played, boy, and sorry about Ricky. His behavior was not in the best interests of our team." Vincent said.
"I know. Thanks, Vincent." Kakeru replied.
Nana and Gareth shook hands as a display of the mutual respect that grew during the course of the match. "Excellent match, girl. All credit to you for holding your ground and breaking the barrier between genders." Gareth said.
"Thanks, Gareth. I'm glad you didn't hold yourself back, but forced me to play at my very best instead." Nana replied.
After the handshakes with the City players, Sir Alex arrived to embrace both Kakeru and Nana in celebration. "I'm really proud of you, both of you!" Sir Alex exclaimed.
"Thanks, Boss. We wouldn't have done it without your faith in us in the first place." Nana replied.
"I'm sure your brother, Suguru, would be very proud of you, Kakeru." Sir Alex said.
"I really wish he could be here to see this special moment, Gaffer." Kakeru said as he wiped a few tears off his eyes.
"I'm sure he's watching you from the heavens right now." Sir Alex finished as he pointed to the sky before moving on to congratulate his other players. Then Robin went in to celebrate with Kakeru and Nana. Their Dutch friend was also very emotional as it was also his first Premier League title. Soon after, Paul came in embracing Kakeru and Nana as well.
"Superb pass for Kakeru on that goal, Nana! Great goals that you scored, both of you!" Paul said.
"It's all thanks to your teachings, senpai." Nana replied.
"Thanks, senpai. Are we eligible for medals? I don't think we made enough appearances to earn medals." Kakeru asked.
"Don't worry about it. Even if you didn't make 5 appearances, the Boss will keep 2 medals for you as special dispensations." Paul replied.
Kakeru and Nana then showed their most radiant smile, realizing they were about to receive their medals on this day. At that moment, a classic victory song was heard throughout the stadium. Going along with the crowd, Kakeru, Nana and some of their teammates added their voices in the singing:
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS, MY FRIENDS,
AND WE'LL KEEP ON FIGHTING 'TIL THE END.
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS.
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS.
NO TIME FOR LOSERS
'CAUSE WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS OF THE WORLD.
Then, Kakeru and Nana were approached for a quick live interview in English on the pitch by touchline reporter Geoff Shreeves.
Geoff Shreeves: Kakeru, it was an unbelievable performance you put to win the League for your team. What was it like to make such an impact in your debut?
Kakeru: Yeah. As you say, it was unbelievable. It is a dream for me to perform so well in my first game, but it really doesn't matter who scores the goals. All we wanted was to win the game by 2 goals and we did it. We played well for most of the game. They scored on our mistakes, but we bounced back every time. The team showed a lot of character through adversity.
Geoff Shreeves: Nana, could you ask a better scenario for your debut? What does it represent for you to be the first woman to play against men in professional football?
Nana: I couldn't ask for better, really. I was very happy to score our 4th goal and make the pass on the winning goal. But still, it's all credit to the team. The guys helped me settling in and they provided passing options every time. I want to thank the manager for giving Kakeru and I the opportunity to play today. I also thank Scholesy for being such a great mentor since we arrived in Manchester. As a woman, I'm really proud of showing everyone that women can succeed in a men's game and I hope more women will soon fulfill their own dreams of playing professional football while breaking the gender barrier.
Geoff Shreeves: Kakeru, what does it feel to score a dramatic title-winning goal like that in the Manchester derby, in the very last minute of the season?
Kakeru: Yeah, it hasn't sunk in, really. But over the years, long before I came here, the fans have always been fantastic. It's great to feel the energy from the fans giving us the boost we need to carry on and win matches.
Geoff Shreeves: With 2 goals, Kakeru, you are the Barclays Man of the Match. Congratulations! Enjoy the celebrations.
Kakeru: Thank you. Cheers!
Following We Are the Champions, another song followed through the speakers of the entire stadium; it was the club's official anthem since 1983. At mid-way into the song, Noriko invited Mai and Mito to sing: "It's the easiest part of the song that's coming. Come and sing with us!”
"Of course!" Mai and Mito replied.
GLORY GLORY MAN UNITED,
GLORY GLORY MAN UNITED,
GLORY GLORY MAN UNITED,
AS THE REDS GO MARCHING ON, ON, ON!
After the song ended on the last chorus being played 3 times in a row, the few remaining Manchester United players left the pitch under the cheers from the supporters. Obviously, Kakeru and Nana received the loudest cheers as they waved to the crowd and walked out last. At the time, the players would take a short break in the dressing room for the time the technical crew to set up the podium ahead of the upcoming trophy presentation and the awarding of the winners' medals.
Just before turning into the corridor leading to the dressing room, Kakeru and Nana saw the attendants nearby carrying the Premier League trophy. The big prize itself was made with a main body of solid sterling silver, 2 golden lions above the handles on either side of the trophy, a gold crown on top and ribbons with the Manchester United colors (red, white and black) attached to the handles.
"It's hard to believe that lifting silverware over my shoulders as a player has become such a rare occasion since my time in California." Nana said.
"It was worth the wait, no? After all, this is one of the biggest prizes any professional player can win for a club." Kakeru replied.
"Yes, you're right. Earning a medal and hoisting this trophy are already great feats to add in our résumés." Nana agreed.
'We did it, Nii-chan. Our first big step at professional level led us to our greatest triumph so far. Yet, this is just the beginning.' Kakeru thought.
Suddenly, Kakeru felt strong chest pains and then collapsed onto the ground.
"Kakeru! What's going on? Talk to me!" Nana asked, but Kakeru wasn't able to answer.
'What is going on? What is this? Nii-chan?' Kakeru asked to himself in his thoughts.
"This is only a taste of things to come, Kakeru." Suguru's voice suddenly said to Kakeru.
"What?" Kakeru asked with a weak voice.
"Someday, you will live this life, fulfill your dreams and become a legend of a player. But it's not for today." Suguru's voice replied to Kakeru.
"Wake up, Kakeru! Wake up! WAKE UP!" Suguru's voice echoed even stronger.