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A British Christmas

After Nana gave the phone call to the FA's disciplinary panel on December 20, she saw her red card rescinded on the grounds of a "wrongful dismissal claim". As a result, Nana was allowed to play the next Premier League match. Meanwhile, Ukyo Sera was given a retrospective 2-match ban for simulation after the same disciplinary panel reviewed all videos of the incident.

In the following away fixture against Burnley F.C. (December 22), Manchester United defeated their opponents in Lancashire by a score of 3-0. After 18 matches in the Premier League season, Manchester United were trailing Arsenal and Manchester City by 6 and 3 points respectively in the race for the Premier League title. Nevertheless, there was a feeling among the Manchester United players that things will be all right.

For all players in all English clubs, Christmas day was the start of the traditional and crazy stretch of 3 matches between Boxing Day and New Year's Day. The time players spent with loved ones on Christmas day was shorter than anywhere else in the world, but they could still make the most of it.


West Didsbury, Manchester, UK

Tuesday December 25

8:05 AM GMT

On Christmas morning, Kakeru first woke up after a night of passion and love with Nana. Kakeru softly stroked Nana's hair and then her face. As soon as Nana felt her fiancé's warm hand on her cheek, she woke up as well.

"Ohayou, Nana."

"Ohayou, Kakeru."

"Did you sleep well?" Nana asked.

"You gave me quite a wild ride, so it was not difficult to sleep well after that." Kakeru replied.

"What? You're naughty!" Nana then hit Kakeru playfully with a pillow.

"OK! OK! I was just teasing you." Kakeru replied. "I slept well, but I enjoyed what came before a lot more. It was a nice Christmas gift."

"I only hope you didn't strain your leg even a little when we went at it."

"Nah, I'm doing fine fine when I'm standing, walking, or whatever at home. Right now, the cane is just a precaution when I walk outside. I just need to add up some strength and explosiveness in that leg from now on, that's all." Kakeru said.

"I'm glad. It was difficult for me to wait for that much time so your leg can heal well." Nana said.

"Yeah, same for me." Kakeru replied.

Nana leaned her body towards Kakeru, and gave him a long kiss. She also moved one leg across Kakeru's thighs.

"I really love you, Nana." Kakeru said.

"I love you too."

After spending a few seconds cuddling with Nana, Kakeru lifted the sheets, and got up from the bed. He then picked a towel to cover himself on the way to take a bath.

"I'm joining in with you." Nana also picked up a towel to wrap it around her naked body.

"I see what you want here, but are you sure about this? We have to join Yusuke and Noriko so we can go to the Christmas dinner." Kakeru asked.

"We have a solid 2 hours before we get on our way. I'm sure Yusuke and Noriko are enjoying each other's company as much as we do right now. And besides..." Nana then moved up to whisper in Kakeru's ear: "I don't think I can ever get enough of you, Kakeru."

Nana's seductive tone of voice turned Kakeru on.

"Now that you put it this way... Sure. Why not?" Kakeru agreed and smiled.


Around 10:20 AM, Kakeru and Nana already got dressed with their sweaters on, and were almost ready to go. Before they went to grab their coats, Kakeru asked Nana for a moment.

"Hey, Nana. Hold it for a second." Kakeru said.

"What is it, Kakeru?"

"You haven't received your Christmas present yet."

"What would it be?" Nana asked.

"Here." Kakeru opened a rectangular box, revealing a diamond tilted double heart pendant in sterling silver and gold.

"Wow! It's a beautiful pendant, Kakeru."

"You really like it?" Kakeru asked.

"Better than that. I love it!" Nana replied. "Thank you, Kakeru."

"I knew you would like it. The pendant goes well with the engagement ring on your finger." Kakeru said. "After all, it comes from the same jeweller I bought your ring from."

"That makes sense." Nana replied.

"Merry Christmas, my love." Kakeru then put the necklace around Nana's neck before the two of them shared a kiss.

At that moment, Noriko entered in the apartment followed by Yusuke.

"Tadaima... Oh! I hope I'm not interrupting something." Noriko apologized, prompting Kakeru and Nana to break the kiss.

"No, it's fine." Nana replied. "Kakeru just gave me my Christmas present."

"Nice pendant right there, Nana." Noriko said.

"Thanks."

"So, are we going now?" Yusuke asked.

"Yep. We'll take the Qashqai." Kakeru replied.

"I will drive." Nana added.

"Oh, and don't forget the Christmas cake." Noriko said.

"I have it right here." Kakeru replied as he reached for the box that contained the cake.

Kakeru, Nana, Noriko, and Yusuke then got on board of the SUV. Since Noriko's parents were living in the small town of Altrincham, to the Southwest of West Didsbury, it was a drive that would take a little less than 20 minutes. Altrincham is a very cozy and busy market town in its own right; it is nicknamed the "Kensington" of the Greater Manchester area.

"It's really a nice town." Yusuke said.

"Yep. My parents moved here after they left Japan a few years ago. I also like it here." Noriko replied.

"I can imagine why."

Then Noriko noticed that Yusuke was looking nervous. He was shaking his hands a little.

"What's wrong, Yusuke?" Noriko asked.

"No-nothing."

"Come on and tell me. I've never seen you like that until now." Noriko said.

Yusuke then took a deep breath before he said: "Well, I'm nervous about meeting your father. After all, you didn't tell him about us yet."

"I really want to make a surprise for him. After all, I'm sure he would say that I was long due to have a boyfriend at my age." Noriko replied.

"Yeah, but what if he doesn't like me?" Yusuke asked.

"Then I will stand by your side and support you as I always do. You're my boyfriend, and that's all that matters to me."

"Noriko is right. Anyway, I think you're getting nervy for no good reason. Her parents are very nice people. You'll see." Kakeru said.

"Everything is going to be fine. So take a deep breath and relax." Nana added.

"Be brave, Yusuke." Yusuke said to himself out loud.

A few minutes later, Kakeru and his friends finally arrived at the right address. Noriko's parents' house was located in a neighbourhood where all properties were single houses.

Altrincham, Greater Manchester, UK

10:45 PM GMT

Noriko led the group, and rang the doorbell. In the following few seconds, Robert opened the door.

"Hello, Noriko! Merry Christmas." Robert greeted.

"Merry Christmas, Dad." Noriko hugged her dad. "It's always nice to come back home."

"Nice to see you again, Kakeru. You too, Nana." Robert switched from English to Japanese.

"Same for me, Robert-san." Kakeru shook hands with Robert.

"I'm really glad to be here." Nana said.

"Oh, I see you brought a friend with you." Robert said, noticing Yusuke standing behind his other friends.

"I'm... I'm Yusuke Saeki, Lewis-san." Yusuke introduced himself timidly.

"Of course, I know who you are. It's great to see a young player making his mark so well and so quickly at United. I'm sure your two friends here are happy for you." Robert replied, shaking hands with Yusuke.

"Well... Thank you."

Meanwhile, Noriko couldn't wait to break the ice anymore when she saw how hesitant Yusuke was in front of her father. She grabbed Yusuke by the arm, and pulled him very close to her.

"Dad... Yusuke is not only Kakeru and Nana's long-time friend. He is also my boyfriend." Noriko said.

Suddenly, there was a deafening silence after Noriko made the situation clear. No one dared to speak first for a few seconds.

"Is this true?" Robert looked at Yusuke deep into his eyes.

"Well... Yes, it is exactly as she said." Yusuke was turning pale.

"Since when?" Robert asked.

"We started dating back in early November." Noriko replied.

Then another awkward silence came. As for Kakeru and Nana watching the scene, there were not quite sure about how things would unfold. Surprisingly, Robert cracked the silence with a laugh.

"Welcome to the family, young man!" Robert hugged Yusuke, who was the most surprised man on Earth at that moment.

"So, it is right for me to be your daughter's boyfriend?" Yusuke asked.

"Of course! Noriko was invested for so long into her studies and career ambitions that I was wondering if she would be able to find a man. At the same time, I was always confident that she would choose her man wisely." Robert replied.

"Well, I'm honored. I love Noriko, and I promise to take good care of her, Lewis-san."

"Yes, but please call me Robert. Since we are both adults in this country, I'm fine with you calling me by my first name."

"If you say so, Robert-san, you can also call me Yusuke."

"Well, come in. Come in." Robert led the 4 youngsters inside the house. After removing their shoes and hanging up their coats, Kakeru and his friends entered the living room.

"Sayuri. Look who is here." Robert said.

"Welcome home, sweetheart." Sayuri greeted her own daughter.

"Thanks, Mom." Noriko embraced Sayuri.

"Our daughter also brought her boyfriend alongside their friends." Robert said.

"Nice to meet you, Saeki-kun. My name is Sayuri. I'm Noriko's mother."

"Nice to meet you." Yusuke bowed before he turned towards Noriko. "Is it me or you really resemble your mother?"

"Yes, that's what everyone says except for the eye color I inherited from Dad." Noriko replied.

"I see we are already quite a nice little group with 6 people. Are we expecting someone else?" Kakeru asked.

"There is also Grandpa Harry coming soon." Noriko replied.

"So, Yusuke, I read that you also study while being a professional footballer. What is your field of studies?" Robert asked.

"I study economics."

"Well, I think I can let both of you get acquainted a little more. I will help Mom preparing the dinner." Noriko said.

"I will help too." Nana said. "Having you would help us to, Kakeru."

"OK." Kakeru replied.

Kakeru, Nana, Noriko, and Sayuri moved into the kitchen. Part of the dinner was already sent into the oven for roasting, but there was more to be prepared. In the British tradition of a Christmas dinner, the meal is usually eaten in the early afternoon.

"Is it OK to leave Yusuke like that?" Kakeru asked.

"He will enjoy talking with Dad. When it comes to the topic of economics, Dad can keep talking for a while with someone who is studying in the same field, and keep that person's interest alive. For Yusuke, it will be gold. But for me, trying to follow Dad in a conversation about economics would be like studying a language that is extremely difficult to learn." Noriko replied.

"L-O-L." Kakeru said.

"I'll leave the cake on the side. What else do we have to prepare?" Nana asked.

"The turkey has been put in the oven for roasting a little less than 3 hours ago. Since the turkey takes 4 hours and 30-45 minutes to get well roasted and ready, I need people to prepare the vegetables and other appetizers." Sayuri replied.

"Nana and I can take care of the appetizers. If we're done quickly enough, then we can give a hand with the veggies." Kakeru said.

"That's fine by me." Nana added.

"Let's do this." Sayuri finished.

Then all 4 people carried on preparing what's left of the dinner. Meanwhile, Yusuke and Robert were still discussing about economics, especially various applications of various business models. A little before 11:45 AM, the doorbell was heard once again.

"Ah, I guess that is Noriko's grandfather." Yusuke said.

"Yep. I will open the door." Robert said. "And by the way, speak English if you talk with him. My father doesn't speak Japanese."

"I will."

A few seconds later, Harry arrived in the living room alongside Robert.

"Yusuke, this is my father, Harry. Dad, this is Yusuke Saeki." Robert introduced Harry to Yusuke and vice-versa.

"Nice to meet you, Mister Harry." Yusuke greeted.

"It's a great pleasure to finally meet you, young Mister Saeki." Harry gave Yusuke a real man's handshake.

"Grandpa! Great to see you." Noriko greeted.

"Hello, Noriko." Harry hugged Noriko. "You're looking good."

"When we have someone who could personify Santa Claus anytime, it makes it even better." Noriko replied. The reference to Harry's long and white beard got everyone in the room laughing.

"Oh, Dad, Yusuke is also Noriko's boyfriend. I only met him, and I like him already. On top of being a good footballer, he knows his stuff in economics." Robert told Harry.

"Is that so? It must run in the family to find partners who are good-looking and intelligent at the same time." Harry said.

"I'm flattered." Yusuke replied.

"It smells really good in the kitchen. Is dinner ready?" Harry asked.

"Give it 40 minutes for the turkey. There will be plenty for everyone." Sayuri replied as she entered the living room alongside Kakeru and Nana.

"Great to see you again, Mister Harry." Kakeru said.

"The feeling's mutual for me, young man. How's your recovery?"

"I'm at the point where I'll be working on leg strength and explosiveness. Perhaps I can take part to a few training sessions with the lads before the New Year." Kakeru replied.

"As much as I would like to see him back in the lineup, it's better if he builds enough stamina first to play at least 45 minutes of football." Nana said.

"If United can just hang in there a little longer, I have no doubt that we will be fine when Kakeru will be back." Noriko said.

"Well said, Noriko. We will put up a stronger shift starting tomorrow to make our fans enjoy their Christmas vacation." Yusuke replied.

A little less than 45 minutes later (around 12:30 PM), dinner was finally ready. The content of the dishes were worth the sight themselves as they represented what was typically found in a British Christmas dinner: a roast turkey served with stuffing and gravy; sausage rolls; devils on horseback; cranberry sauce; roast potatoes; boiled vegetables, particularly Brussels sprouts. After Kakeru and Noriko took a few pictures of the dishes with their smartphones, everyone sat down at the table.

"That is quite a sight to remember with all of those dishes." Kakeru said.

"It sure is." Nana added. "Much better than a bucket of fried chicken from KFC in Japan."

"Thanks for inviting me on this day, Noriko." Yusuke said.

"Anytime. Now that you have met my folks and that they like you, you will always be welcome on occasions like today with the whole family." Noriko replied.

Then Robert knocked the spoon a few times on a glass to have everyone's attention.

"Before we start, I will ask for the best voice in the room to lead the prayer. Dad, the honour is yours as always."

"Thank you, Bobby." Harry replied before he went on with the prayer with his unique voice. "Dear Lord, we give thanks for this time when we can all be together. We give thanks for this food, which is bountiful and delicious. We give thanks for this joyful holiday when we can celebrate our Savior and his love for us. With joy we pray... Amen."

"Amen." everyone else at the table said.


It then took only 90 minutes for the dinner to be finished. Of course, Nana and Yusuke had to maintain balance in food intake as they were scheduled to take part in the next match on the following day. Kakeru also had to watch his own intake as he was scheduled to do gym work in late afternoon. Nevertheless, they really enjoyed the dinner. After the main course, it was time to eat the Christmas cake. At the same time, it was also a perfect opportunity for Harry to tell a few stories to entertain everyone.

"This is a very good cake." Harry said.

"Well done. I wonder who we have to thank for this delicious dessert." Robert asked.

"I wished I did, but it wasn't me." Noriko replied.

Everyone from the Lewis family then looked at Nana.

"I have to give full credit to Kakeru. He's the one who made the cake for a change." Nana said.

"To be fair, I had a very good teacher." Kakeru looked back at Nana.

"Grandpa, can you tell all of us that story about your trip to the Canadian Rockies from many, many years ago?" Noriko asked Harry.

Harry laughed out loud at the thought of the story before he began to tell the tale.

"Well, I was always fascinated about the beauty of the Rocky Mountains. It was in the 1980s. We were 3 Englishmen who arrived in Vancouver, and who went to visit the mountains you usually see on postcards from Vancouver. We had 2 Aboriginal Canadians, or First Nations people as they say, to guide us. Because we could have faced bears, pumas or even wolves in that region, a number of us had guns."

"Did you carry a gun?" Kakeru asked.

"No, I didn't. I didn't. I couldn't stand the thought of shooting another animal. I love animals. Anyway, we were in the territory of all those wild animals. On one night, one big grizzly bear tore through the tent with his paw. That bear had his big face coming in…"

"And what happened next?" Yusuke asked.

"I just went 'YAAAAAAAAA!!!' and BAM!"

Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke were shocked by Harry's reaction in the story.

"Smashed straight to the nose! He went like 'ugh, ugh', and ran off. He never came back." Harry said.

Then everyone in the dining room burst into laughter.

"Wow! That's quite something of a story, but I can guess that the bear had the scariest moment of his life." Kakeru said.

"But the best thing is that he saved that bear's life in the end. Isn't that right, Grandpa?" Noriko said.

"Hahaha! Yes, he didn't get shot at all, and it was better that way. After that, we met less hostile animals during our trip." Harry replied. "The funniest thing about my incident with the bear is that my favorite actor, Brian Blessed, did the same thing to a polar bear on an expedition to the North Pole. It was quite a coincidence in our respective life experiences."

Then everyone laughed even more. After a few more funny life stories, Yusuke wanted to talk about the Lewis family members' memories about matches on a December 26.

"Since all of us will be at Old Trafford tomorrow for the Boxing Day match, I would like to hear what your best football memories are on such a British tradition." Yusuke said. "Let's start with Mister Harry."

"Well, it was in December 1977. I was with a group of friends when we went to Goodison Park. United had a very bad team back then while Everton was the team to beat at the time in the season. And yet, the lads came on top 6-2 at the end of the day. When you say that Christmas time can bring happiness to people even in bad times, it was a great example." Harry said.

"Nice." Yusuke replied. "What about you, Robert?"

"Believe it or not, it was not that far back. For me and Noriko, 2012 was our favorite memory for a December 26. United gave up the lead 3 times against Newcastle at Old Trafford, but came back 3 times before winning the match 4-3 deep in stoppage time." Robert replied.

"It was the last time I left Japan to England for Christmas before I travelled back the other way. After that, I met Kakeru and Nana, and Fergie retired." Noriko added.

"Wow! I remember watching that match on Japanese television, and I was just astonished by the fighting spirit from United on the day." Kakeru replied.

"That's a big reason why we all love the club in our family. Through thick and thin, we stand tall." Noriko said.

"By the way, I think it's time Kakeru and his friends come see something Bobby and I have kept on for years. Come and follow us." Harry said.

Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke then followed Harry and Robert upstairs and towards the attic. Once Robert opened the door, the 3 Japanese youngsters were amazed by what they saw inside. There was a very large collection of football memorabilia, which included shirts, framed photos, trophies, player cards, scarves, toys, and a lot more. Several items were a few decades old and yet well preserved through the test of time.

"My goodness! Is this all about Manchester United?" Kakeru asked.

"100% United." Harry replied.

"I have seen the collection at the Old Trafford museum, but this is a great collection of items related to our club." Nana said.

"When loyalty for one club runs deep in your blood, this is an example of how you show it." Noriko replied.

"Sometimes, I wish I was born in a culture like this." Yusuke said.

"It's not about being born in it. It's all about living in that culture and then loving it as well." Robert replied.

"You're right." Yusuke said.

"In all of your time as a fan, who were your favorite United players?" Kakeru asked Harry.

"I had a lot of favorites over the years, you know. I have to say Bobby Charlton and George Best top the lot since I named my son after them, but I also have to say you and Yusuke remind me of a number of favorites." Harry replied.

"Who are they?" Nana asked.

"Yusuke's style reminds me of some of the best defensive and box-to-box midfielders we had like the late Duncan Edwards, Bryan Robson, and Roy Keane. Like those three, Yusuke is fierce, physical, competitive, and yet very intelligent and skillful."

"It's nice to hear it from you. I just hope to honor them in the best way I can." Yusuke said.

"At least, he has Michael Carrick as his mentor to learn the ropes towards becoming a top midfielder." Noriko added.

"That's right. Carrick is also a player I really liked although he was so underrated." Harry replied.

"What about me?" Kakeru asked.

"Definitely Ole Gunnar Solskjaer." Harry replied. "Solskjaer was really clinical, knew where the goal was at all times, had good technique, had good touch, and could hold his own with speed and strength."

Every Goal - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - Manchester United

Every Goal - Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - Manchester United

All 126 goals for Manchester United

"I was too young to remember Solskjaer. I think he was more injured in his last few seasons, but I keep hearing his name among the fans. Didn't know he was that good in a team that had the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney, and Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the majority of goals." Kakeru said.

"Before those injuries, he was the perfect squad player who would have taken a red card for the team if needed to save a goal. He always came to give everything where he would be asked to play. Just to give you an idea about how good he was, he took over the right wing from David Beckham and cemented it for himself before those injuries came." Harry replied.

"That's pretty much like how Kakeru plays up front anywhere he is asked to." Nana said.

"Well, I need to take a closer look at videos of how he played to make my own idea. Still, I believe you, Mister Harry." Kakeru added.

"Just take as much time as you need to learn about Solskjaer. He is perhaps the best finisher I have seen in the red shirt." Harry replied. "Right foot, left foot, headers, volleys, inside the box, outside the box, you name it."

Then Kakeru looked at the various pictures on the wall. One of the black and white pictures got his attention though; it was a younger Harry sitting between 2 players.

"Mister Harry... Is this you with Bobby Charlton?" Kakeru asked.

"Yep. On the right of the picture, the other player is Denis Law. It was during training camp in the summer of 1963."

"Were you a player at the club?" Nana asked.

"I came through the ranks of the Manchester United Academy as a local lad, and I worked very hard to have a very good camp. I was a very good winger back then, and people said I could have competed with the great George Best around the time he made his professional debut in September of that year." Harry replied.

"What happened afterwards?" Kakeru asked.

"I picked up a very bad knee injury just before the 1963-64 season started, and I never played again." Harry replied.

"We're very sorry to hear about it." Yusuke said.

"What did you do afterwards, Mister Harry?" Nana asked.

"I started doing all kinds of jobs around Old Trafford for a couple of years. On one day, Bobby Charlton talked to me about one local radio station that was looking for an assistant to their celebrity sports host. Bobby said that I could have a shot at the job since I have a very good voice and am very articulated for someone who was playing. Bobby really made it easy by introducing me to them, and I finally got the job after an interview. Since then until my retirement, I spent more than 40 years of great moments as a radio host in Manchester."

"That's a better end to your story." Kakeru said.

"If it wasn't for my friend Bobby Charlton, I'm not sure where I would have been after an early retirement from a playing career. It was a great reason why I named my son after him." Harry replied.

"I have a feeling there's a moral of the story, Grandpa. Care to tell them?" Noriko asked.

"For you who play the game as professionals, you have to remember that it isn't just about hard work. All of you had a good share of luck, and you will need that luck in due time. Even when things don't turn right for you, the most important thing is to never give up at all."

Kakeru then nodded. "I will remember those words."

"Me too I will." Nana and Yusuke added.

Kakeru, Nana, Yusuke, and the Lewis family then spent some more time before the clock reached 3:00 PM. At that time, Kakeru and his friends took the drive to drop Noriko home, and then report themselves with the rest of the team in Carrington.

In West Didsbury:

"Well, this is it. We'll see you after the match tomorrow." Nana said.

"Thanks. I hope you and Yusuke will have a good game." Noriko replied.

"We will. But before you go, I will need one last good luck charm." Yusuke said.

"Of course." Noriko replied by giving Yusuke a kiss.

After Noriko got off the vehicle, Kakeru and Nana looked at Yusuke.

"What?" Yusuke asked.

"It never gets old to see how sweet you and Noriko are as a couple." Nana replied.

"With her father and her grandfather already liking you, do you think about getting further in your relationship with Noriko soon?" Kakeru asked.

"Give me a break, Kakeru. I should say 'give us a few years' instead. After all, it took the two of you around a decade to be where you are in your relationship." Yusuke replied.

"Touché." Kakeru said.

"Let's get going, guys. We have a match to think about." Nana said.

"Yes, Boss." Kakeru and Yusuke replied altogether, which got everyone laughing out loud.

Finally, the 3 Japanese players got on their way to Carrington. Nana and Yusuke were set to join the short first-team training session at 4:30 PM while Kakeru was set to work his leg strength under the physiotherapists' watch. Then Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke would later leave Carrington for the Lowry Hotel alongside the rest of the team ahead of the game on the following day.


Wednesday December 26

Manchester United vs. Watford (Premier League match 19)

Old Trafford, Manchester, UK

In England, one of the long-held traditions is to have all 20 Premier League clubs to play matches on the day after Christmas. Boxing Day, as December 26 is known in British-influenced cultures, gets its name from an old custom where the rich gave boxes of gifts to the poor. While there usually is a winter break in most countries, matches are played throughout the festive period in England. The Boxing Day tradition is often the perfect occasion for entire families from the home side to go to a match altogether.

As the Boxing Day tradition demanded, the kickoff time for Premier League matches was set in one of the following times: 12:30 PM, 3:00 PM, 5:15 PM, or 7:30 PM. For this match at Old Trafford against Watford F.C., United were playing the first match of the day on the 12:30 PM kickoff. Nana and Yusuke were among the starters. Meanwhile, Kakeru was the host for the day in a private box where sick kids and their parents were invited to attend the match. Around 30 minutes into the match, Kakeru received a call on his smartphone.

"Hello." Kakeru answered the call.

"Ah, Mister Aizawa. This is Dr. Montgomery."

"Good afternoon, Dr. Montgomery. I didn't expect you to call me today. What's going on?"

"I didn't think about calling you today neither, but I have some good news I want to share with you."

"Go ahead." Kakeru said.

"The young girl you saw in my department, Mei-Ling, will receive a kidney very soon. We found a match. I was informed about it around an hour ago." Dr. Montgomery replied.

"That's great news!" Kakeru exclaimed happily. "How long would it take for her to recover from a kidney transplant?"

"Normally, it would take between 5 and 10 days if there are no complications. Nevertheless, I'll let you know around what day and time she comes out. She has become very fond of you and Miss Mishima. Mei-Ling even said that she would like both of you to see her on the day she leaves the hospital."

"That's good to me. I will tell Nana about the news. We'll wait for your call. Thank you, Dr. Montgomery." Kakeru replied.

"My pleasure, lad." Dr. Montgomery replied. "How is the match going at Old Trafford?"

"We have most of the ball, but we have yet to find a breakthrough." Kakeru replied.

"Well, I hope you will win today. Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year."

"Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year too, Dr. Montgomery." Kakeru then ended the phone call.

In the following seconds, Kakeru texted to Nana about what Dr. Montgomery just told on Mei-Ling's situation. Meanwhile, the match continued as the match came closer to halftime. United were still looking for the opening goal.

Martin Tyler: Only 2 minutes before halftime. Still no score, but United have the upper hand.

Laying a siege against the Watford penalty area, the Manchester United players attempted everything to find a gap. Romelu was running with the ball down the left wing with 2 Watford defenders on the chase, but had to stop when the defenders blocked any direct path to goal. The Belgian chose to make a 180-degree turn before he laid the ball off into Anthony's stride. Then the Frenchman dribbled his way past 2 Watford defenders.

Martin Tyler: Lukaku... That's a terrific run by Martial...

Instead of shooting, Anthony passed the ball towards the front of the Watford goal. The ball appeared to be rolling on its way out, but Pog was closing in to the ball.

"Pog, ici!" Nana shouted.

Having heard Nana's shout, Pog poked the ball sideways with his right foot. With the ball rolling on a silver plate towards her, Nana struck a powerful shot that flew past the Watford defenders. The Watford goalkeeper had no chance to reach the ball as it flew into the top corner of the net. Old Trafford then suddenly erupted.

Martin Tyler: GOOAAL! They've got one at last, and it's Nana Mishima!

"Great goal, Nana!" Kakeru exclaimed before he gave high fives to the children who were with him in the private box

Meanwhile on the pitch:

"What a blast, Nana!" Yusuke congratulated Nana.

"Attagirl, Witch!" Matthias added.

"Well done, Witch!" Pog added.

"Thanks, guys." Nana replied as all of her teammates mugged her in celebration.

At the same time in the stands:

"Great shot, Nana!" Noriko exclaimed.

"That's how to do it!" Robert added.

"That was marvelous. She must have slept well yesterday." Harry said.

"Yep, she showed a lot more energy than anybody else out there so far. I will take it on any day." Noriko replied.

After Nana's teammates started moving back for the restart, she then looked at the private box where Kakeru was. When Nana pointed towards the private box, Kakeru happily acknowledged her reaction with a thumbs-up sign. Later in the match, Nana provided the assist on her team’s second goal on the way to a 2-0 win for Manchester United. She was also named the best player of the match.

After the match, Nana read the text message Kakeru sent a little earlier about Mei-Ling's situation.

'I can't wait to see you walking out of the hospital, Mei-Ling. We'll be there. This is quite a Christmas season to remember for you and for us.' Nana thought, showing a big smile on her face.


Sunday December 30

Heathrow Airport Terminal 4, London, UK

8:25 AM GMT

After the victory against Newcastle United, the crazy stretch of the festive season continued with Manchester United going down south for a tough match against Tottenham Hotspur in London (December 29). The Red Devils prevailed with a 2-1 victory against the "Spurs" in order to maintain their chances in the title race. After the match, Noriko, who travelled with the Manchester United away contingent of supporters to a London-based Premier League match for the first time in her life, joined Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke to enjoy the rest of the Saturday in London.

Yusuke also had his bags ready to take a flight that would take him to Abu Dhabi, where the Japanese National Football Team was about to hold a training camp ahead of the AFC Asian Cup in the United Arab Emirates. Yusuke could have played the following match like other Premier League players from Asia and Australia would do, but Manchester United allowed the release of their Japanese midfielder so he can enjoy time to get used to the Emirati climate and then fully prepare himself ahead of Japan’s first match in the tournament. On that Sunday morning, Kakeru, Nana, and Noriko made sure to see Yusuke take his 9:00 AM flight at Heathrow airport.

"Well, I guess this is it. Best of luck in the Asian Cup." Kakeru said.

"Thanks, Kakeru. We will fight to bring that trophy home." Yusuke replied.

"If we could, we would have followed you all the way to the Emirates to support Japan." Nana said.

"Yeah, me too." Noriko added.

"I'm really glad to hear it, but Manchester United will need you more than ever." Yusuke replied. "Besides, we still have a title race to fight for from now until May."

"You're right." Nana said.

"I will come back stronger and make sure to score my share of goals by the time you come back, Yusuke." Kakeru added.

"When are you scheduled to start training on the pitch again, Kakeru?" Yusuke asked.

"Hopefully, I should be back on either Thursday or Wednesday." Kakeru replied.

"Regardless, just make sure we get closer to the top if not at the top by the time I come back in late January or early February."

"Deal." Kakeru replied.

Then Yusuke shared a high-five handshake with Kakeru before he did the same with Nana. Finally, Yusuke turned towards Noriko.

"I will definitely miss you when I'll get over there, Noriko." Yusuke said.

"Me too, Yusuke. Still, I'm really happy that we had plenty of fun for ourselves after yesterday's match. If things get a little stressful between matches, just think of that." Noriko replied.

"I sure will." Yusuke then hugged Noriko tightly. However, he and Noriko both agreed not to kiss in public as their relationship was not public knowledge yet.

"Go get them in the Asian Cup, Yusuke!" Noriko said.

"Absolutely!" Yusuke finished.

Finally, Yusuke moved his way ahead towards the security checkpoint with his luggage. On the way forward, Yusuke turned one last time to wave goodbye to his girlfriend and to his friends. Minutes later, Yusuke moved out of sight beyond the security checkpoint.

"What did you guys do yesterday after the match?" Kakeru asked.

"You know... the sort of thing that a couple does when lovers have quality time together. Lots of." Noriko replied.

"Ah... OK. It was obvious." Kakeru simply said with some embarrassment.

"I must say you've really changed since you and Yusuke got together. You even talk about your relationship more openly with us." Nana added. "You sure you don't want to make your relationship public yet?"

"Only when he and I will feel comfortable enough to do so. The other players still haven't met me yet." Noriko replied.

"The best time could well be after a big win with him back in the squad then." Nana said.

"That would be ideal." Noriko replied.

"Time to get back to business then. We have some big matches coming ahead." Kakeru said.

"Let's do this!" Kakeru, Nana, and Noriko said altogether.

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