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Merveilleux Malheur :Previous Chapter«Home Page»Next Chapter: Smiles Before Christmas

The Ex-Kamakura High School Duo

Monday December 18

Royal Manchester Children's Hospital

5:34 PM GMT

In the last 4-week block of integrated clinical practice before Christmas, Kakeru was assigned to the Royal Manchester Children's Hospital. On each block under a particular medical theme, every medical student usually receives teaching sessions on general medicine, specialist or acute medicine, and surgery. Other than teaching and case-based discussions with other medical students, the medical student spends most of the time interacting with patients.

At the end of the day, Kakeru finished writing his patient history and general examination reports. Before Noriko would come to pick Kakeru up due to the latter's injury restrictions, the Japanese young man stopped by the Café to buy a cup of tea.

"Mister Aizawa." a familiar voice said.

"Dr. Montgomery." Kakeru recognized the Scottish nephrologist, Dr. Jonathan Montgomery.

"You're fancying a cup of tea at the end of your day?" Dr. Montgomery asked.

"I do. And you?" Kakeru returned the question.

"I was about to buy one too."

A couple of minutes later, Kakeru and Dr. Montgomery sat down at a nearby table.

"How's your leg?" Dr. Montgomery asked.

"The wound is healing very well on the surface, and the doctor told me that I’m about to switch from crutches to a cane very soon since I almost feel no pain anymore. People often say I heal quickly. I even tried to start walking a few steps forward at home without any support, but it will take a little time to find my normal gait back. Still, I know I will hit the gym hard and fast when I meet that objective."

"As long as you don't force yourself too much, I think you will be just fine." Dr. Montgomery said. "And by the way: will you and Ms. Mishima take part in the players' visit to the hospital on Wednesday? I know you have clinical work on that day, but I know the kids would like to see you in all departments."

"I will. Nana and I spoke with our respective supervisors. In my case, we agreed that I would get to my routine in the morning before the players arrive at the Royal Manchester Children's in the afternoon. Then we go see the kids in all departments. I really can't wait to see their smiles." Kakeru replied.

"That's very good news for the kids."

"Yeah, I think it would be a good reminder for all of us that there are things in life that are more important than good or bad footballing results. Sometimes, I'm guilty of carrying myself away when things go wrong." Kakeru said before he took a sip of his tea.

"It's just human nature to react strongly when something bad happens to oneself or very close to oneself. Wisdom comes as you get older and earn more life experiences; you will say the same thing when you'll be my age, young man."

"I'm sure you're right, Dr. Montgomery."

"Do you have news about that boy you brought to us in October? The thing I remember about him is that he was reading a lot of books during his time at the hospital. His parents said that he was not the most hard-working child at school before his illness." Dr. Montgomery asked.

"He's doing great. As for the book thing, I only told him that I want to become a physician because I want to help people in having a healthy life since we all want to be healthy. Perhaps he was inspired by what I said, and then decided to become a much better student, but it was not intentional. I don't know." Kakeru replied.

"Well, we can only hope he will find his path to a happy life as an adult."

"I hope it too." Kakeru said.

Kakeru felt his smartphone vibrating, and then looked at the text message.

"My ride has arrived. Thanks for the talk, Dr. Montgomery." Kakeru said.

"My pleasure. See you on Wednesday if not earlier." Dr. Montgomery finished.

Then Kakeru got on his way towards the exit door where Noriko was waiting in her Ford Focus.

"Hey, Kakeru!"

"Hey, Noriko! Ready for tonight's match?" Kakeru dropped the crutches on the backseat, and then hopped into the car.

"Always. I hope Nana, Yusuke, and the others will catch those Foxes." Noriko said.

"Is Sarah coming over to watch the game?" Kakeru asked.

"Yep! That means we'll have to cook for 3 when we get back."

"Let's do this." Kakeru finished.


Founded in 1884 as Leicester Fosse F.C., Leicester City Football Club is a club based in Leicester, in the East Midlands. Because the local county of Leicestershire is known for its foxes and fox hunting, the team first incorporated the fox into the crest in 1948. Hence Leicester City F.C. has been nicknamed "The Foxes" ever since. Throughout the club's history between 1884 and 2015, Leicester City only had 3 League Cups, one FA Community Shield, and one League One (equivalent to a third division in English football) title to show. During that time, the club's best finish was second place in the old Division One in 1928-29.

In the 2015-16 season, Leicester City were at the heart of what could be argued to be the most stunning underdog story in sports history when they won the Premier League. After barely surviving relegation in 2014-15, Leicester City signed Italian manager Claudio Ranieri after firing the previous manager in the midst of a scandal. Before the 2015-16 season, bookmakers gave a 5,000-1 odds on Leicester City to win the title. Under Ranieri, Leicester City made an exceptional start to the season. Striker Jamie Vardy led the line with 24 Premier League goals, including a record streak of 11 consecutive league matches with at least one goal scored. In several matches, the spirit and the determination of the Foxes helped them win vital points that ended up carrying the club to the finish line.

Although Leicester City was since no longer a team that fights for top honors, they were still a side that could still give a hard time to any opposition. The nucleus of the 2015-16 Premier League-winning team was mostly intact with leaders like Danish goalkeeper Kasper Schmeichel – son of legendary Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, Jamaican defender Wes Morgan, German defender Robert Huth, Algerian winger Riyad Mahrez, and English striker Jamie Vardy.

During the summer of 2016, Leicester City signed Akira Takajo for a club record transfer fee after the latter made his name on European soil for a couple of years. In the last summer transfer window, Leicester City signed midfielder Ukyo Sera from Dutch club F.C. Utrecht. The 2 Japanese players were expected to re-create the chemistry from their Kamakura High School days. After a few ups and downs for a couple of months, the duo finally found its groove as a force to reckon with.

Leicester City vs. Manchester United (Premier League match 18)

King Power Stadium, Leicester, UK

7:50 PM GMT (10 minutes before kickoff)

In the players' tunnel, it was the usual routine for both teams. The Manchester United field players were dressed with red shirts, black shorts, and black socks. Meanwhile, Leicester City field players wore their all-royal blue kits. Some of the Leicester City players wished good luck to the Manchester United players and vice-versa. However, the bulk of the pre-match talk in the tunnel involved 4 Japanese players – 2 on each side.

"Hey, Saeki." Akira said.

"Takajo-san. How are you doing?" Yusuke asked.

"I'm in a good run of form. You better watch me going."

"I expect a good match, but I'll do my share to stop you." Yusuke shook hands with Akira.

"We'll see about that." Akira then turned his attention towards Nana. "Mishima-san."

"Takajo-san." Nana shook hands with Akira. "I'm looking forward for this match."

"Me too."

"No greetings for me, Mishima-san?" Ukyo asked.

"It has been a long time, Sera-san. The last time you were an opponent, it was in the high school regional finals." Nana said.

"You were the manager on the bench for Enoshima. I remember." Ukyo replied.

"What I mostly remember from that match, except that we won, is that you playacted to get one of our players sent off."

"Nana, no..." Yusuke tried to prevent a potential escalation.

"Well, I had a shot, and he fell for it. It shouldn't matter since Enoshima won the match though." Ukyo said.

"You should have been ashamed back then." Nana looked deep into Ukyo's eyes for a few seconds.

"That's always the problem with my fellow Japanese; too few pragmatists." Ukyo made the last remark, and then shifted his gaze towards the tunnel ahead.

At that moment, the referee and his 2 assistants moved their way towards the front of the 2 columns of players. A couple of minutes later, the referee led the line for both teams to come out of the tunnel. Inside the King Power Stadium, the Leicester City supporters greeted their team with the noise of thousands of cardboard clappers, which have been a trademark since the 2015-16 season.

While Kakeru and his friends were watching the match on the official British broadcaster for Monday night matches, Sky Sports, the Premier League's international broadcast featured Daniel Mann as the main commentator.

Daniel Mann: Welcome to the King Power Stadium. Well, Manchester United and Leicester City have had their share of tight contests in the last few years. The José Mourinho era at Manchester United started with a 2-1 win over Leicester City in the 2016 Community Shield. Things have changed for both clubs since, and Manchester United are now the ones looking to get back to the top. Can Manchester United cut Arsenal's lead down to 3 points at the top? It's live!

For this match, Manchester United kicked things off. Since the philosophy for both teams was mainly about quick counterattacks, the average fan could expect a match with a good share of action going back and forth.

In the 4th minute:

Daniel Mann: Jamie Vardy... he has to deal with Valencia in front of him.

The English striker came rushing with the ball, and faced Antonio. Arriving within 5 yards of the Manchester United penalty area, Vardy waited for a teammate to cause a distraction before deciding to take on the Manchester United defender one-on-one. On the next second, Vardy made a dash, and then skillfully pushed the ball for himself through Antonio's legs. At that moment, Vardy only had the goalkeeper to worry about.

Daniel Mann: Vardy has a way through... but Smalling steps in.

In a desperate situation, Chris Smalling came in, and kicked the ball away before Vardy could take a shot. In the follow-through, both players collided. Nevertheless, the corner kick was conceded to Leicester City.

"Well done, man." Yusuke gave Chris the congratulatory high-five handshake.

"Thanks."

"Keep an eye on Takajo, Yusuke." Matthias ordered.

At that moment, both teams set themselves up for the upcoming corner kick. Yusuke moved into his assigned position. United's defending play zonal marking rather than man-to-man, but Yusuke has his eyes on his former teammate and striker, Akira Takajo. Meanwhile, Nana was guarding the area by the far post.

PEEP!

The Leicester City player took the corner kick, and launched the ball towards the near post. Spotting the danger as he saw Akira making the run, Yusuke attempted to get to the ball first. However, the height advantage Akira has on Yusuke allowed the former to touch the ball first. The deflection was flying towards the inside of the far post...

Daniel Mann: Good ball for Takajo! Saved off the line by Mishima!

Nana managed to jump just high enough to get her head into the shot's trajectory. The loose ball was then recovered by a Manchester United player who started a counterattack, but a Leicester City player tackled out of bounds.

"Gracias (Thanks)." David de Gea said to Nana.

"De nada (You're welcome)." Nana replied before she switched to her own thoughts. 'That was just too close for comfort.'

Although Leicester City didn't score the opening goal with the opportunities they just had, the Foxes were down to business with momentum on their side. It really didn't take long before the next scoring opportunity came when the Foxes turned up the pressure in United's half.

In the 7th minute:

The ball was played in the air for a few seconds as Leicester City tried to launch the ball towards their strikers while the Manchester United defenders. However, Chris put his hands on Akira while jumping up to clear the ball in the opposite direction.

Daniel Mann: It's a foul by Chris Smalling. It's a free kick for Leicester City from a dangerous position here.

"What? I went for the ball." Chris asked the referee for an explanation.

"You impeded the striker with your hands on his shoulders." the referee replied.

"Come on, ref. That was soft." Matthias pleaded for his defensive partner.

There was nothing to change a referee's mind. As the Manchester United players set up the defensive wall on the edge of their own penalty area, the Leicester City free kick takers were talking about the strategy. It was between Ukyo Sera and the 2015-16 PFA players' player of the year, Riyad Mahrez.

'Tough to say who will take the kick. This would be a good spot for a left-footed player like Mahrez, but a right-footed specialist like Sera-san can also shoot from there.' Nana thought as she looked from her position.

PEEP!

Daniel Mann: Mahrez... Sera takes...

Riyad Mahrez made the first run, but chose to go over the ball. On the following second, Ukyo struck the ball above the wall before the ball dipped on its way towards the top corner of the goal on the goalkeeper's left. Despite David de Gea's attempt to stop the shot, the ball struck the twine in the back of the net.

Daniel Mann: ...AND SERA HAS SCORED!!! He took it magnificently. Ukyo Sera gives Leicester City the lead within 7 minutes!

While the Manchester United players looked at each other for an explanation, Kakeru and his friends in West Didsbury couldn't believe what just happened.

"For crying out loud!" Kakeru exclaimed.

"Nothing the goalkeeper could do on that." Sarah said.

"It was silly to give away such a free kick in the first place. It's the 4th time in a row that we concede the first goal." Kakeru replied.

"Right now, it's up to Nana and her teammates to start playing football. Leicester had most of the early running so far, so we have to take the initiative back soon." Noriko said.

"Yeah. We don't have much of a choice now." Kakeru replied.

"Time to go at Leicester hammers and tongs now." Sarah finished.

Back to the King Power Stadium, the Manchester United players kicked the restart with full intent of wiping the Foxes' early lead as soon as possible to take the crowd out of the equation. In a matter of a short time, the Red Devils finally started getting serious scoring chances on Kasper Schmeichel's goal.

In the 10th minute:

Chris took the ball across the halfway line before passing the ball towards Yusuke. However, Mahrez's presence forced Yusuke to make a pass backwards to Matthias. Looking ahead quickly, Matthias spotted Anthony several yards in front and on his own on the left wing.

Daniel Mann: Köhler... There's Anthony Martial.

Anthony pushed forward with the ball until he faced 2 Leicester City defenders on the edge of their own penalty area. At the very moment a teammate ran on the left wing to lure one defender's attention, Anthony then made a sudden 45-degree backward turn to his right, and skimmed the front edge of the penalty area to pick a shooting lane.

Daniel Mann: Some space he's opened up!

Despite the presence of 3 Leicester City players attempting to block all shooting lanes, Anthony struck a shot that was intended to curl and reach the bottom corner to Kasper Schmeichel's left. However, the shot went just wide to the post, much to the relief of the stretched Leicester City goalkeeper.

Daniel Mann: Ohh! Wide it goes.

"Merde (Damn it)!" Anthony exclaimed.

"Bon tir (Good shot), Anthony." Nana applauded her teammate for the shot attempt.

"Bien essayé (Good try)." Pog added, giving the thumbs-up.

Only a few minutes later – in the 16th minute to be precise, the Red Devils found themselves launching another serious attack in Leicester City's half again.

Daniel Mann: Martial will take the throw.

Anthony took a throw-in that was quite deep in Leicester's territory. After a pass to Ashley, the Mancunian left-back passed the ball to Pog, who then passed the ball backwards to Yusuke. Finally the ball was passed as far back as to Matthias just across the halfway line.

Daniel Mann: Here's Köhler. It's towards Mishima...

Matthias then passed the ball back into Leicester's half and to Nana, who then performed a give-and-go with Yusuke. As Nana pushed forward, she passed the ball towards Anthony, who then flicked the ball into Pog's run.

Daniel Mann: Oh, what a beautiful ball! Now it's Paul Pogba...

Pog received the ball inside the Leicester City penalty area, but the goal was at an angle. Without hesitation, the Frenchman decided to hit a quickly low cross intended for a teammate in front of goal.

Daniel Mann: Oh! Touched away by Schmeichel, and just away from Lukaku! How close was that?

Anthony's shot/pass went towards Kasper Schmeichel's left, but Leicester City's Dane touched enough of the ball to deflect it wide to goal. At the very same time, that deflection was enough to desynchronize Romelu's run towards any loose ball. The ball was then recovered and cleared by a Leicester City defender.

In West Didsbury:

"Man! That was so close." Kakeru said out loud.

"It was inches away, really." Noriko added.

"That was our best chance so far. Still, we are getting closer and closer." Sarah said.

"There are gaps in their back 4. It looks to be a matter of time now." Noriko said.

'Just keep on going, lads.' Kakeru thought.

Feeling that a goal was getting closer and closer, the Manchester United players continued to lay the siege against the Leicester City goal. As much as the Foxes were trying to hold onto their lead by keeping the opposition away, it was a very difficult task against a talented side when "parking the bus" is not part of the Foxes' identity.

In the 21st minute:

Daniel Mann: Here's Mishima.

Nana then made a long aerial pass forward towards a running Anthony. With a great first touch, Anthony took the ball down to his feet just outside the penalty area. However, the presence of 2 Leicester City defenders forced Anthony to make a small back pass to Romelu.

Daniel Mann: Good first touch by Martial... Now, it's Lukaku.

Knowing that Ukyo was quickly arriving from behind, Romelu then made a pass towards Pog on the left. While most players had their eyes on Pog, Nana was sneaking her way in the Leicester City penalty area. The Little Witch made a hand sign that called for a pass.

Daniel Mann: Pogba with the chip to Mishima...

Pog chipped the ball forward to Nana. However, nobody expected Nana to use the back of her head and redirect the ball into a danger area. The aerial pass was inch perfect for Romelu, and thus the Belgian surprised Kasper Schmeichel with a powerful header at point blank.

Daniel Mann: It goes across to LUKAKUUUUU!!! OH, FANTASTIC! And Manchester United have equalized. It's 1-1!

After Romelu ran towards the nearest corner flag to celebrate his goal with his trademark "I can’t hear you" gesture, he was quickly mobbed by his teammates.

"Great pass, Witch!" Romelu congratulated the passer.

"Great hit, Rom!" Nana replied.

"Gros but, mon gars! (Huge goal, man!)" Pog added.

"Well done, lads. Let's stay focused now." Matthias said.

Meanwhile in West Didsbury:

"That was an amazing goal!" Kakeru exclaimed.

"The buildup was first class. Nana really surprised everyone with that last pass." Noriko made the remark.

"That's a contender for the goal of the month." Sarah said.

"We have a match now. Come on, lads!" Kakeru finished.

Back to the King Power Stadium:

"I can't believe we let them attack us like that." Ukyo said.

"It's only 1-1. We can still push forward and re-take the lead." Akira replied. "Use your bag of tricks. If you see me or Jamie in the clear, send the ball."

"Okay, Akira. Just make those runs forward." Ukyo finished.

With the score tied, both teams went on the offensive. Nevertheless, both teams also displayed strong team defence. Despite Manchester United's pool of talent being superior to Leicester City's, the Foxes' strength was direct play. For the East Midlands side, feeding the strikers at all costs was the key of their success.

In the 32nd minute:

Daniel Mann: Here's Mahrez trying to run past Young.

Riyad Mahrez ran in full speed down the right wing to lead the counterattack into United's half. Looking ahead, the Algerian winger launched a through ball into the path of speedy Jamie Vardy. Suddenly the action carried itself into the Manchester United penalty area.

Daniel Mann: Great ball! Jamie Vardy... can he go all the way?

With Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea rushing towards the ball, Jamie Vardy chose to try hitting the ball over the goalkeeper. David then touched the ball to make the save, but he lost sight of the ball as he tried to protect himself from Jamie Vardy when the latter ran dangerously close. The result was that the ball was still loose.

Daniel Mann: Saved by De Gea... Loose ball... Sera coming in!

Ukyo tried to reach the rebound inside the penalty area, but Matthias arrived quickly to tackle the ball away to safety. Ukyo then went down from the very moment his legs made contact with Matthias' legs, which got the thousands of Leicester City supporters screaming for a penalty.

Daniel Mann: OHH! SERA GOES DOWN! But the referee points the other way.

"RUBBISH!" Ukyo shouted at the referee, who pointed the foul in Leicester City's direction.

"YOU'RE KIDDING US, RIGHT?" Akira added to the protests at the referee alongside several other Leicester City players.

"That was a dive with a purpose. Sera, you're in the book." the referee pulled a yellow card out of his pocket, much to the local supporters' utter displeasure.

Daniel Mann: Well, he was right on the spot, but he didn't point to it.

"No way, ref! You got it all wrong." Ukyo walked away while wagging his index finger in a no-no gesture. He even had a sarcastic smirk on his face.

"You were never going to get a penalty with that. Don't bother anymore." Yusuke reprimanded his former teammate for the dive.

TV replays showed that Ukyo went on purpose for the contact with Matthias when the latter was kicking the ball away. Then Ukyo put the emphasis on the hard landing as he looked for the penalty, but the referee rightfully saw it as a deliberate dive.

"That's a ridiculous decision." Akira continued to argue with the referee.

"Just get on with it, will you? It's no use trying now." Matthias tried to calm Akira down.

"I didn't ask you for anything, Köhler." Akira replied dryly while showing the German an icy glare.

"Think you're tough? Well, think again." Matthias said before his eyes changed into a meaner look. "Come anywhere near me with that attitude again, and I will kick you into the stands."

Meanwhile, Nana was looking at her goal from some distance. She knew her team came close of conceding a second goal.

'They went on the counterattack really quickly, and we were slow to react. If it wasn't for Big Dave and Matthias, we would be down by a goal again. We have to take the game back in their half.' Nana thought.

After that last counterattack from Leicester City, United maintained control for most of the remaining minutes before halftime. However, genuine chances on goal were not coming for the Mancunians until the last minute of the first half.

In the 45th minute:

Daniel Mann: Young with the throw... Pogba.

After Ashley made the throw-in to Pog, the Frenchman was quickly shadowed by a Leicester City player. In an attempt to escape his marker, Pog tried using a trick before he was brought down by the defender. The end result was an indirect free kick with a distance of at least 30 yards away from goal.

Daniel Mann: Pogba was impeded. It's a free kick for Manchester United.

In a conversation between a few Manchester United players about free kick strategies, one player volunteered to take the free kick.

"I will take it." Nana said.

"Think you can send it in a dangerous area from that distance?" Matthias asked.

"Just go for the ball in there or make a distraction. I will get that on a target." Nana replied.

"OK, Witch." Romelu said.

"Put a good one in there." Yusuke added.

Finally, Nana was left alone to take the free kick while her teammates moved up inside the Leicester City penalty area. Upon the referee's signal, Nana whipped a right-footed shot that was curling leftwards. Matthias and Romelu were tussling with their respective markers while keeping eyes on the ball. As the ball went into a descending trajectory, almost everyone was surprised to see it bounce off the grass and towards the goal.

Daniel Mann: Mishima... Oh, delicious ball!

However, Kasper Schmeichel made a last ditch effort by stretching his hand to the ball. The only outcome was a corner kick.

Daniel Mann: That's a really good save by Schmeichel!

'Damn! It was perfect but for the goalkeeper.' Nana thought.

On the TV replays, Nana's attempt was well read by Matthias and Romelu as they both served as decoys on purpose while the ball was goal-bound with the bounce. Although it was the kind of shot goalkeepers hate, Kasper Schmeichel was quick to react at the very last second. The following corner kick came to nothing for Manchester United, and then the referee blew his whistle for halftime.

PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEP!!!

In West Didsbury, Kakeru and his friends reflected on the first half:

"Too bad we didn't capitalize on that free kick. That would have been a beauty of a goal." Kakeru said.

"Yeah, I agree. So far, it's decent to get out with a 1-1 scoreline. However, I'm quite worried about that Japanese playmaker they have." Sarah added.

"On the few sparks Sera had, he was dangerous. Should he find a way to link up with the strikers, we could be in trouble." Noriko replied.

"I think we were caught flatfooted a few times. We have to react quicker and keep them as far away as possible from our goal." Kakeru replied.

"When Sera went down earlier, I thought for a split second that the referee might fall for it. That was a good decision in the end. Still, Kakeru, is he always doing that?" Sarah asked.

"Sera? He is a self-proclaimed pragmatist on the pitch, and he won't shy away at taking a dive unlike the vast majority of Japanese players. He will try again if he sees the opportunity."

"That's probably the only part I don't like among Japan's best players in the National Team. I just hope he won't try again tonight." Noriko said.

"I'm crossing my fingers on that one." Kakeru finished.


The second half started with very little action between the 46th and the 54th minutes. Neither team was able to find the exploitable gap as of yet while building up the pace back to full match speed. However, the match only needed either a good chance or a goal as the spark that brings the excitement back.

In the 54th minute:

Daniel Mann: Martial's on the break...

Anthony ran forward with the ball down the left wing and deep into Leicester City's territory. As the Frenchman arrived right on the lateral edge of the Leicester penalty area, several blue shirts already came in to defend the goal.

Daniel Mann: Can't get through... Martial... Saeki...

Anthony cut a long pass towards Yusuke, where everyone expected him to take a long shot. However, Yusuke chose not to shoot, but passed to Pog on the left instead. The French midfielder then took a long shot with both pace and dip, but Kasper Schmeichel managed to get in a position to catch the ball with both hands.

Daniel Mann: Pogba will fancy it, but Schmeichel makes it look easy.

Kasper Schmeichel attempted to start a quick counterattack for Leicester City by throwing the ball far ahead to his left winger. However, the pass went too far ahead of its intended recipient. The ball was recovered by Manchester United defender Chris Smalling.

Daniel Mann: A wasteful pass by Schmeichel. Smalling... Köhler...

After Chris recovered the ball, he and his partner Matthias passed the ball to each other a couple of times in their own half. When Matthias passed the ball towards Yusuke by the center circle, the Japanese midfielder was not aware of what was coming for a split second.

'This ball is mine.' Akira thought as he chased Yusuke down, and tackled the ball away.

Yusuke did not see Akira arriving nor did his Manchester United teammates warn him. To make things worse, the tackle turned into a pass towards a dashing Jamie Vardy. Leicester City's English striker also found a gap between 2 united defenders to run through.

Daniel Mann: Great challenge by Takajo! Now, here's Vardy in some space...

Vardy was running all alone towards the Manchester United goal, but Matthias kept on running in order to narrow Vardy's shooting angle even further. As Vardy was about to shoot, Matthias desperately tried to put his body in the way. However, the shot got through... only to hit the crossbar and out, much to the Leicester City supporters' disbelief.

Daniel Mann: VARDYYY!!! He grazes the top the crossbar.

The biggest feeling of relief was with the man who conceded that goalscoring chance, Yusuke.

'Man! I really messed up big time there. We're lucky to be still at 1-1.' Yusuke thought.

"Come on, Yusuke! Keep your radar working now." Nana said to Yusuke in distance before she turned to the defenders. "And talk to each other, guys!"

"Witch is right. I should have warned you about Takajo." Matthias said to Yusuke.

"I should be careful and quicker to react next time as well." Yusuke replied.

Meanwhile, Akira was looking towards the Manchester United goal.

'You were lucky, Yusuke. But I can see where we can strike now. It won't take long now.' Akira thought.

Manchester United and Leicester City then continued their see-saw game. In the 59th minute, that see-saw game ended up producing another moment of end-to-end action.

Daniel Mann: Here's Takajo... Ukyo Sera...

Finding no room to run forward, Akira made a pass back towards Ukyo, who then passed the ball to his left to his midfield partner. However, Nana and Yusuke closed down on that midfielder. As a result, Yusuke tackled the ball away from the Leicester City midfielder, and took the ball away.

Daniel Mann: Ndidi was closed down. Here's Saeki...

Yusuke then tried to play the long ball towards Romelu, but Leicester City captain Wes Morgan headed the ball in the opposite direction. Nevertheless, Pog intercepted the loose ball, and then passed it to Anthony on the left. The action was moving deeper in Leicester City's half.

Daniel Mann: Anthony Martial... towards Lukaku, but Robert Huth comes in with the header.

Anthony attempted to dribble past a couple of Leicester City defenders, but then chose to go for a chip pass towards Romelu. However, German defender Robert Huth interposed himself by heading the ball away towards a teammate, who then chose to clear the ball towards the halfway line.

Daniel Mann: Takajo... to Sera...

Standing on the halfway line, Akira headed the ball down and backwards for Ukyo. Within a split second, Ukyo spotted Jamie Vardy making one of his trademark runs between the Manchester United defenders. The former Kamakura High School playmaker wasted no time, and sent the through ball into Vardy's path for a breakaway.

Daniel Mann: Ohh! Superb ball by Sera! It's Jamie Vardy on the run again... Can he seal it this time?

Again Matthias was forced to run after Jamie Vardy to prevent a shot. However the English striker went at full speed down the field, and finally reached the edge of the Manchester penalty area. Although Matthias caught up with Vardy, Leicester's English striker quickly blasted the shot to the goalkeeper's left and off the inside of the post. The end result got the vast majority inside the King Power Stadium erupt.

Daniel Mann: AND JAMIE VARDY HAS DONE IT! Just before the hour mark, Leicester City are back in front, 2-1!

After a few celebrations around Jamie Vardy, Akira came to congratulate Ukyo on the way back for the restart.

"Great pass, Ukyo!" Akira said.

"Thanks. Good thing you passed that ball."

"We're back in the lead. Now watch out for their attacks." Akira said.

"Yes. Trust me on that. I will follow the Little Witch like a shadow." Ukyo finished.

Meanwhile, the Manchester United players were still shocked after repeating more or less the same mistake of allowing the long balls to find the Leicester City strikers. However, it was not quite the kind of incident that could destroy United's confidence.

"They won't get away easily with the win." Yusuke said to Nana.

"Yeah, this is far from over." Nana replied.

"We have 30 minutes left, lads! Let's go for the next one." Pog said.

"YES!" the Manchester United players replied.

In West Didsbury, the same sentiment was shared by 3 people watching the match on TV:

"We have been undone by a simple play, but that's nothing we can't solve." Noriko said.

"We still have 30 minutes to get something out of this match. If there's a team that can do it, that's us." Kakeru added.

"Come on, you Reds!" Sarah shouted.

United then started launching more attacks forward in an attempt to salvage something from the match. Around the 63rd minute, the Red Devils applied strong pressure deep in the Foxes' half.

Daniel Mann: Good leap by Lukaku. Now, it's Pogba...

In a short spell where the ball was played in the air in the middle of the pitch, Romelu outjumped Ukyo in order to support Nana in regaining control of the ball. When Pog took the ball, he started the attack by running past the center circle.

Daniel Mann: On the left towards Young...

Pog passed the ball towards Ashley. After a run of several yards, Ashley passed the ball to Anthony at the very edge of the Leicester City penalty area. With several Leicester City defenders in the area, Anthony was forced to pass the ball back to Pog.

Daniel Mann: Martial... Pogba...

"Pog! Here!" Nana called for a pass, but she was shadowed by Ukyo no matter how hard she tried to shake him off.

Pog had Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez standing their ground within close range, but the 2 Leicester City players didn't attempt to take the ball away from him because of other players in red nearby. That hesitation was the time window Pog needed; he moved forward by 3 yards before he unleashed a 35-yard shot with plenty of venom, swirl, and dip.

Daniel Mann: POGBA!!! Oh, what a save by Schmeichel!

The ball was flying towards the top corner of the goal, but Kasper Schmeichel managed to jump in mid-air to get enough of a right hand on the ball. As a result, the ball bounced away and behind the goal line, thus Schmeichel conceded a corner kick.

"Great shot, Pog!" Nana gave a hand of applause to Pog's last effort.

"Quality stuff, man. That's something for them to think about." Yusuke added to the praise.

However, the following corner kick came to nothing as a foul was called against one of the attacking Manchester United players. Nevertheless, that did not stop the Red Devils from continuing their attacks on the Foxes' goal.

In the 66th minute:

Daniel Mann: Here's Paul Pogba...

Rushing beyond the halfway line, the French midfielder made one of those runs he was known for. With some quality footwork and strength, Pog ran past a couple of Leicester midfielders before he spotted Romelu in preparation to run between defenders. When Pog made a pass destined to go into Romelu's path, the Belgian was then tripped by Robert Huth.

Daniel Mann: Free kick for Manchester United.

Despite Huth's complaints, the referee stood by his decision to award a free kick. What was interesting is that the location of the following free kick was almost on the spot where Ukyo first gave the 1-0 lead to Leicester City. With the Leicester City wall in place, it was up to either Nana or Pog to strike the ball.

PEEP!

Pog made the first run towards the ball, but then walked past the ball at the very last second. Fooled by the dummy as they expected the French midfielder to fire another scorcher, the Leicester City players jumped upwards. It was all Nana needed to strike the ball underneath the wall and towards the goal. Unfortunately for Nana, Kasper Schmeichel managed to track the ball by making a well-synchronized dive to catch the speedy ball on the ground.

Daniel Mann: Good catch by Schmeichel on a good shot by Mishima. Leicester City took Pogba's bait, and allowed Mishima to strike the ball underneath the wall. But Schmeichel did very well.

'Damn!' Nana thought. She knew it was a good chance gone begging again.

Meanwhile in West Didsbury:

"That was well struck by Nana." Noriko said.

"Very clever to try hitting it under the wall, but she was not lucky enough to beat the keeper." Kakeru added.

"Good thing Pogba took that long shot from 35 yards earlier. I'm sure the Leicester City defenders were totally convinced he would take the shot." Sarah said.

"Yeah, it means we can threaten them from more than one place in midfield. It works for us, especially with Sera marking Nana so tightly since they scored." Kakeru replied.

"We have to find a way to get that goal soon." Noriko said.

"We keep on trying. That's a good thing at least." Kakeru finished.

After that last scoring chance, Leicester City made 2 changes; including the replacement of Jamie Vardy by Japanese veteran forward, the energetic Shinji Okazaki.

For all of United's concentrated efforts in attacking the Leicester City goal, the Foxes continued holding their ground defensively. It was becoming more and more frustrating by the minute for the visitors. Furthermore, the threat of a counterattack from the home team was still very present.

In the 70th minute:

Daniel Mann: Mkhitaryan... Lukaku... it's a bad pass.

In the middle of a Manchester United attack that was moving forward, Romelu made a pass sideways with the expectation that Nana would take it. However, Ukyo was there.

"This is mine." Ukyo said.

Daniel Mann: Intercepted by Sera.

"Damn it!" Nana exclaimed.

Ukyo took away the loose ball, and started running in the opposite direction. Despite Nana and Pog's efforts to impede Ukyo, the Japanese midfielder in blue managed to get through. From just beyond the center circle, Ukyo launched a long ball towards Akira down the right wing.

Daniel Mann: Good forward ball by Sera. On now for Takajo...

Akira came up facing Matthias, but then spotted Shinji Okazaki in a good position. Within a split second, Akira made the drop pass towards the inside edge of the Manchester United penalty area, where Shinji Okazaki was lurking on the ready to take the shot.

Daniel Mann: Okazaki! Good save by De Gea...

Okazaki's shot was parried by David de Gea, but it bounced towards Akira, who had the goal gaping. Instinctively, Matthias came in, and tackled Akira down and hard. The contact on the tackle was so hard that several thousands of Leicester City supporters shouted for a penalty.

Daniel Mann: Takajo, DOWN HE WENT! Wait! The linesman's flag is up. Takajo is offside.

What saved United was the fact that Akira was offside when he went for the ball before Matthias made the tackle. The linesman waved put his flag up to signal the offside, and thus anything that happened afterwards did not count. As much as the Leicester City supporters were angry at the referee, Akira was particularly angry at Matthias.

"Scumbag!" Akira called Matthias out.

"Come on, then!" Matthias stood tall, and came up facing Akira within only a few inches apart.

Within the next 2 seconds, players from both sides separated the 2 clashing players.

"This ain't over between you and me!" Akira said.

"Leave him alone. It's no time to do anything stupid." Shinji Okazaki tried to calm down his teammate and fellow countryman.

"Keep talking, you idiot." Matthias replied.

That last clash got the temperature rising in the game with both teams starting to build up a genuine dislike of each other. At that point in time, one lapse in concentration or one moment of brilliance was all it took to tilt the result in one direction or in the other.

In the 75th minute:

Daniel Mann: It's recovered by Saeki... now Pogba...

Starting from inside the Leicester City half, Yusuke passed the ball towards Pog. The Frenchman ran a few yards ahead with the ball before being confronted by 2 Leicester City players.

"Pog!" Nana shouted for a pass to the Frenchman's right.

"Witch!" Pog passed the ball towards Nana.

Daniel Mann: Over to Mishima...

"Not working with me." Ukyo said as he tried to block direct passing lanes.

"Watch this." Nana said before she chipped the ball over Ukyo and towards Romelu.

The Belgian was inside the penalty area. As Romelu showed his back to the Leicester City goal, everyone expected him to try something for himself with the ball. However, the Belgian only had to lay the ball off sideways and into Pog's run. The Frenchman continued his run forward and in some space to shoot...

Daniel Mann: Great pass to Lukaku... into Pogba's run. He's in some space...

Taking full advantage of the gap left open by the Leicester City defenders, Pog struck the ball to perfection past Kasper Schmeichel. And suddenly, it was total silence inside the King Power Stadium except for the travelling Manchester United supporters.

Daniel Mann: AND HE FINDS THE BACK OF THE NET! PAUL POGBA!! An outstanding team goal by Manchester United and a beautiful finish by Paul Pogba! For the second time on the night, Manchester United have come back from behind. It's 2-2.

Pog celebrated his goal by performing a signature Billy Dance before he was joined by his teammates in the celebrations.

"Joli tir (Nice shot), Pog!" Romelu congratulated first.

"Merci! Belle passe, mon gars (Thanks! Great pass, man)." Pog replied.

"Bien joué, vous deux (Well played, both of you)." Nana added.

"On leur a collé tout un but là (We stuck one hell of a goal to them there)." Anthony added.

"Nice goal, big guy." Yusuke said.

"Let's go for the next one!" Matthias rallied his teammates.

Meanwhile in West Didsbury:

"Get in there! That was mint for a play!" Noriko shouted.

"Beautiful team goal, lads!" Kakeru exclaimed.

"Now that's the Manchester United we all love." Sarah said.

"Let's grab a third goal on top of that. They are in the ropes now." Kakeru replied.

"I'm sure we haven't seen the last of this match. Come on, United!" Noriko finished.

With United back on terms on the scoreboard for the second time in the evening, the Leicester City team was shell-shocked. For a stretch of a few minutes after the equalizing goal, the Foxes fell back into a more defensive approach. At the same time, the Red Devils kept on coming with a winning goal at stake.

In the 79th minute:

Daniel Mann: Cleared by Huth... only as far as to Saeki. Now towards Pogba, and back to Saeki...

As United pushed several players inside the Leicester City half, Yusuke took the ball, and looked around for a passing option. For one split second, Yusuke saw his teammate Romelu running around the edge of the penalty area to provide a passing option. The pass came almost immediately.

Daniel Mann: Saeki... a pass to Lukaku.

Romelu's presence lured a couple of Leicester City defenders out of position. Then the Belgian passed the ball into Nana's path.

Daniel Mann: Through for Mishima...

Nana slipped her way through, and was looking to reach the ball before the rushing Kasper Schmeichel. It appeared that the Little Witch would beat the Danish goalkeeper.

"Not on my watch." Ukyo came in almost neck-to-neck with Nana.

Unseen by the referee and by the linesman, Ukyo grabbed Nana's shirt while going as far as to sneakily pull her downwards. Nevertheless, Nana managed to stretch her leg out to lob the ball above Kasper Schmeichel.

Daniel Mann: Can she put it away?

Everyone watched agonisingly as the ball was looping ahead and out of reach of the Leicester City defenders. However, the ball bounced just wide to the post. There was a collective sigh of relief among the Leicester City players, coaches, and supporters.

Daniel Mann: No! The ball bounced just wide to the post.

In the aftermath, a few Manchester United players shouted at the referee for a penalty, but to no avail.

"He pulled my shirt! Referee!" Nana complained.

"What was that?" Romelu asked as well, but the referee brushed away all pleas.

"Keep on diving all day if you want. That won't change a thing." Ukyo quipped at Nana.

"Shut your face, Sera! You're the one with a yellow card for diving today." Nana retorted.

"We'll see who gets the last laugh today."

Nana then glared into Ukyo's eyes, but her Manchester United teammates pulled her away. Nevertheless, Yusuke was not going to remain silent about what just happened with his former Kamakura High School teammate.

"We all know that you pulled Nana down. You're lucky not to get sent off on a second yellow." Yusuke said to Ukyo.

"Don't think that you guys are entitled to anything because you're in a big club, Saeki."

"The more I see you play today, you make me sick." Yusuke said before he walked away.

"Whatever." Ukyo finished.

At that point in time, only a few people could foresee how that non-call would bear a huge weight of consequences later.

In the 81st minute:

Daniel Mann: It's a corner for Leicester City.

With both teams setting up inside the Manchester United penalty area, Ukyo waited for the signal to take the corner kick.

PEEP!

Ukyo kicked the ball towards the near post, but it was deflected away and outside of the penalty area by a Manchester United defender. Riyad Mahrez was there to try a shot, which was slowed down by Yusuke's partial block. However, the end result was that the loose ball came within Akira Takajo's range...

Daniel Mann: Mahrez! Blocked by Saeki! It can go anywhere...

Surprised by the sudden appearance of the ball inside their own penalty area, Ashley and Matthias desperately tried to clear the bouncing ball away. Unfortunately, Akira stuck his foot in first to strike a half-volley that left no chance to the Manchester United goalkeeper.

Daniel Mann: TAKAJOOOO!!! HE'S DONE IT! And Leicester City have regained the lead. It's 3-2 with a little less than 10 minutes and stoppages to go.

In West Didsbury, Kakeru and his friends watched the celebrating Leicester City players with utter disgust.

"Bollocks!" Noriko exclaimed.

"Now I have every reason to be angry at the referee for earlier." Kakeru said.

"Yeah, we should be tied at the very least instead of falling behind. Stupid referee." Sarah added.

"This will be tough, but we have to stay focused now and go get the next goal." Noriko said.

"Do you think Sera might come up with more shenanigans?" Sarah asked.

"That's what I'm mostly afraid of. He's trying to throw the bait at everyone, even after his yellow card." Kakeru replied.

"Keep your cool, lads." Noriko said for herself.

Far from giving up, the Manchester United players pushed forward, looking for the elusive third goal. José replaced Yusuke with the more attacking-minded Ander Herrera in midfield for United. Time was running against the visitors, but the turn of events that was about to unfold would be all but expected.

In the 84th minute:

Daniel Mann: Good control by Manchester United. Herrera... towards Mishima...

After Ander made a pass towards Nana, the Little Witch had to deal with a nearby Leicester City midfielder. With great skill and good timing, Nana performed a sombrero flick in an attempt to shake off her opponent. However, the Leicester City player instinctively tripped Nana and conceded the free kick.

Daniel Mann: Mishima has been tripped. Free kick for Manchester United...

The crowd at the King Power Stadium was upset at the call. In the midst of the collective displeasure on the home side, Ukyo walked his way towards Nana, and started shouting harsh words towards her.

"Now you really piss people off, kono ama (you *****)!"

"What did you say?" Nana got up, and started walking towards Ukyo as well.

"You heard me, you pink candy ass." Ukyo poured even more oil on the fire.

"Says who, you rat?"

At the very moment Nana and Ukyo barely bumped into each other, Ukyo dropped down to the ground like a sack of potatoes. The immediate reaction coming from Nana was to put her arms up in the air to plead her innocence.

Daniel Mann: Now Sera goes down. Was there contact made by Mishima with the head?

"Hey! What the hell is wrong with you?" Akira pushed Nana, who brushed his hand away.

"Ask that question for that idiot here." Nana pointed to Ukyo, who was still lying down on the pitch.

"Beat it, Takajo!" Matthias came in shoving Akira to defend Nana.

"Beat it yourself, tough guy." Akira replied.

Within 2 seconds, both teams gathered with some pushing and shoving before the referee called for order. As soon as both teams calmed down, the referee called Nana over.

"Mishima... That was violent conduct. You're done for tonight." the referee said before he produced the red card.

Daniel Mann: It's a red card! It's going from bad to worse for Manchester United!

Nana's initial reaction to the red card was one of utter shock. Not wanting to waste more time in self-interest above the team's interests, Nana silently walked off the pitch. Disappointment and despair were eating her from the inside at that moment, especially while she endured the taunts from the home supporters. However, the other Manchester United players were totally angry at the decision.

"What was that for?" Ander asked the referee, who remained silent.

"That was a clear dive by the other guy, and you know it. You're a homer; that's what you are!" Romelu added.

"That was a headbutt for you? You can't even see a headbutt in front of you, and even less over there. That call is bullshit!" Matthias said to the referee as well.

"You took the bait! You really took the bait, and you got it all wrong!" Pog added.

At the very same time the Manchester United players continued to argue against the referee, the TV replay showed the ugly truth of the incident. Nana had her head leaning slightly forward when she bumped Ukyo's chest, but there never was any headbutt motion at all. Furthermore, the contact was made at a ridiculously low speed. It was a ridiculous dive from Ukyo, but the referee took the bait.

Daniel Mann: There was absolutely nothing in that, nothing. That is just unbelievable. Nana Mishima has been sent off on the most innocuous of contacts with a little more than 5 minutes of normal time to go.

Meanwhile in West Didsbury:

"You dirty cheating bastard! Are you proud of yourself now, rat face?!" Noriko shouted at the television.

"I just don't believe it. Is he shitting us? That's the lowest of the low." Kakeru said.

"I'm just... I'm lost for words, really." Sarah added.

"That's it. I'm not here to just watch anymore." Kakeru said right before he picked up his smartphone.

"Who are you calling?" Noriko asked Kakeru in Japanese.

"I'm calling Miwa Shibata. The last thing Nana needs is an unfair 3-game ban on an unfair red card, so it's time to prepare her defense now." Kakeru replied.

"What did he say?" Sarah asked Noriko.

"He's calling his agent now. That woman is also Nana's agent, and it's about preparing a case in Nana's favor in front of the FA." Noriko replied.

Seconds later, Kakeru dialed Miwa Shibata's number. During the Premier League season, Miwa works mainly in Manchester, providing representation for both Kakeru and Nana.

"Hello."

"Miwa-san. Kakeru here. Are you watching the match right now?" Kakeru asked.

"Yeah, I'm recording it as well. I just saw what happened out there." Miwa replied on the other end of the communication.

"What do you think of that?"

"If you ask me, Kakeru-kun, I say it's a disgraceful dive. The kind of thing I have seen so very few times in my life."

"I'm calling you because I'm sure Nana will call you later to inform you of her intent to appeal that red card. What's your opinion about that? I believe you and the people at the club should go all the way with the appeal to the authorities." Kakeru said.

"Based on what I see here, I think we can make a successful appeal. However, we have to be careful since the FA has a history of bias against United at times on disciplinary issues." Miwa replied.

"If we can show that Sera has a past history of cheating his way to get players sent off, might it definitely tilt things in our favor?"

"I suppose so, Kakeru-kun. But what do you mean by that?"

"In my stuff, I kept a video recording of the Enoshima vs. Kamakura match from my first year in high school. If I send you an interesting clip involving Sera in that match, can you leak it to the British journos out there?"

"I could, but are you really sure about doing this? I mean that Sera-kun is one of your teammates with the National Team after all." Miwa asked.

"What he did back then was already wrong, but what we've just seen is a hell lot worse. For the sake of the National Team, it's better for everyone that he has nowhere to hide himself. And since Nana is involved, I'm willing to do anything to help her." Kakeru replied.

Miwa took a few seconds before she replied: "Very well. I will start writing the statement now, and I will come back to the club's officials tomorrow. Make sure you send me the video clip so I can look at it first."

"I will send it right after the match." Kakeru said. "And if Nana calls you later, tell her that I already called."

"I will. Good night, Kakeru-kun."

"Good night, Miwa-san." Kakeru ended the phone call.

"So how did it go?" Sarah asked.

"She's going to prepare the statement for an appeal. Meanwhile, I will give her some material she can work with. Watch this space." Kakeru replied.

'It looks like Kakeru really decided to stop playing nice after that incident.' Noriko thought.


After Nana's red card, the Manchester United team could not find their focus back. Although a few half-chances were created, nothing directly threatened Kasper Schmeichel's goal. As a result, the match ended 3-2 in favor of Leicester City, and United were stuck with 6-point deficit from the top of the Premier League standings.

At the end of the match, Yusuke came to have a little chat with Ukyo between the benches. Ukyo was replaced shortly after the incident that saw Nana earn a red card.

"Good game, Saeki." Ukyo said.

"I'm only doing this because I value sportsmanship, but I'm shaking hands with the devil."

As the handshake took place, Yusuke surprised Ukyo with a very firm handgrip that was crushing Ukyo's right hand.

"What was that for?" Ukyo asked, still holding his right hand.

"You made a big mistake. I didn't spend much more time in this country than you did, but I learned my fair share to understand the mentality here. By doing what you did, people will boo you and call you names for a long time, and referees will no longer protect you as they would for any other player. When you earn a reputation of being a cheat in this country, people will think twice before giving you the benefit of the doubt." Yusuke replied.

"Who do you think you are to lecture me on the game?"

"Except for giving 'friendly' advice this once to a former teammate, I don't care. If I see you try cheating again in our next encounter, I will make you taste real pain in open play." Yusuke gave Ukyo a death glare before he left towards the players' tunnel.

When Yusuke finally entered the dressing room, he saw Nana at her designated seat. She was sitting alone with a towel on her head.

"I fell for it, Yusuke." Nana said.

"Forget about it. He dived, and the referee took the bait. Besides, I have a good share of blame to take for not shielding the Ds better today." Yusuke replied.

"I did one thing wrong on that incident though: I came towards him as he laid the trap."

Then the players who were on the pitch walked in the dressing room.

"Don't take too much of the blame, Witch. We all could have done better." Matthias said. He wrapped his arm around Nana's shoulder to comfort her.

"That red card was wrong. I hope to God that referee will get demoted. I'm standing by you like everyone else." Pog added.

"It was a bad decision by the ref. That was Sera's fault; he already tried to cheat us earlier with that dive to get a penalty." Ashley added.

"Regardless of what happens next, we're all behind you. Just keep on fighting like you always did, Witch. That's what we like about you." Matthias said.

"Thanks, everyone." Nana replied.

Then José Mourinho came to give a quick post-match talk, and said a few good words to keep the team's morale up. After the team talk, José asked Nana to meet him in his temporary office. Rui Faria was also in the office to take part in the debriefing of the red card incident.

"I will tell you now that Rui and I have our own opinions about what happened out there. Before we all watch the video of the incident, I would like to hear your version first, Nana. What happened out there?" José asked.

"Boss... After I got tripped, Sera came to me, and started calling me with names I wouldn't dare to repeat here. I came towards him, and we bumped into each other. My forehead barely made contact with his chest, then he went down, and the referee said there was no doubt of violent conduct. After that, there came the red card." Nana replied.

"That's a good report for the facts, Nana. But what do you personally think about it?" Rui asked.

"Well... I believe he fell too easily. It was a dive, but I take full responsibility for one mistake I made."

"What is it?" José asked.

"I lost my composure for a moment, and came towards him when I should have expected a trap. On that, I have no excuse."

José then took a few seconds before he replied: "Very well. Let's have a look at the incident itself now."

And then José, Nana, and Rui watched the video on José's laptop. Re-watching an incident from a third person's perspective was painful, but necessary in debriefing players and in making adjustments for the future.

"Just like I said." Nana said.

"I agree with you, but that doesn't mean we have no ground to make an appeal. We have plenty to appeal about here. Has something like this ever happened since you made you joined the club?" José asked.

"Never."

"I guess words must have hurt more since they came from a Japanese opponent today. Unfortunately, this kind of incident will happen again with a number of people who don't accept women in this game. I was one of those people too." José remarked.

"I understand, Boss."

"Listen, Nana, you are a very important player on this team, but I have to be sure that the opposition doesn't see you as a vulnerable target. Can you keep your cool better should a similar situation come up in the future?" José asked.

"Just give me another chance, and I won't disappoint, Boss." Nana replied.

"Good... I will give a call to our legal affairs staff. Meanwhile, call your agent so all parties can come up with a strong statement to the FA. Other than that, have a rest while thinking about the discussion we just had." José said.

"I will, Boss. Thank you." Nana finished, and then left the office.


10:30 PM GMT

Around half an hour after the talk, Nana got herself cleaned up. On the way towards the team bus, Nana gave Miwa a phone call to tell about her decision regarding the mandatory 3-match ban following the red card.

"Hai, this is Miwa Shibata here."

"I hope you're not too busy, Miwa-san."

"Ah, Nana-chan. I’m not too busy. I'm really sorry for what happened tonight."

"Thank you. I'm calling to tell you that I want to appeal the red card. I know that I made one mistake, but that should not justify a red card. I really don't want to sit out for 3 matches."

"I'm already working on a statement. Kakeru-kun called me right after the incident, and told me to expect an appeal from you. I also think we can win the appeal." Miwa said.

"Oh... Well, I'm glad you're already on it." Nana replied.

"Thank Kakeru-kun instead. I will get in touch with the club's officials tomorrow. Try to get some rest for tonight. I will call you when we have something new coming up."

"Thank you, Miwa-san. Good night." Nana ended the phone call.

Nana then sighed in relief at how Kakeru and Miwa reacted quickly after the incident. Before she got on the bus, Nana decided to call Kakeru in West Didsbury.

"Nana?"

"Hi, Kakeru. I hope I'm not bothering you."

"Not at all. I knew you would be calling."

"What do you think of the red card?" Nana asked.

"I was really disgusted with the dive. It was even worse than the time when Sera acted like a pest to send a player off in high school." Kakeru replied.

"Miwa-san said that you called her right after the incident. Why?"

"I knew you would appeal even if you think the one mistake you made was to go towards him. I was never going to stay put after seeing that, so I decided to help in the best way I can. I sent Miwa-san something that should hopefully help your case."

"Kakeru... Thank you. I'm really glad you're taking care of me, even at a distance."

"After everything you did for me for many years, I will always be willing to support you for everything."

"I'm really tired." Nana said between yawns.

"Have a safe trip back to Manchester. When you get home, make sure to have a good night of sleep. Besides, we have to be in good spirits for the little ones on Wednesday."

"You're right. Good night, Kakeru."

"Good night, Nana."

After all Manchester United players, coaches, and staff got on the bus, the team began its journey from the King Power Stadium to Manchester. By the time Nana came back home much later, it was a little over 1:00 AM on Tuesday. Just by sleeping at Kakeru's side, it was enough for Nana to take her professional woes away from her mind, and start thinking about something more positive for what is coming ahead.

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