Sea of Red in Saitama
Following their victory in Yokohama, Manchester United continued their preseason tour of Japan with a Shinkansen ride to Nagoya. Once there, the players went to visit places like Nagoya Castle, the Osu Kannon temple, and the nearby shopping district. Even for Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke, it was the perfect moment to discover a different corner of Japan they never saw before.
Following a day of rest and further exploration of Japanese culture in Nagoya, the team went back to training on the day before their match against Nagoya Grampus. The hard work that was done in training to tighten the defensive side of the team's game appeared to pay off as United defeated Grampus on July 26 by a final score of 4-0 in front of a full capacity crowd at Toyota Stadium. Kakeru and Nana both started the match, and played the first 60 minutes, in which Kakeru scored the opening goal before joining forces with Nana in a spectacular pass-and-move play between both players that led to Romelu Lukaku's 2-0 goal.
After the match against Nagoya, the Manchester United team traveled back to the Tokyo Metropolitan Area as the final match of the preseason tour of Japan was set to be played against J-League's leading club at the time, Urawa Red Diamonds. For the Japanese players involved with Manchester United, they knew it would be everything but an easy affair in Saitama.
Saturday July 29
Urawa Red Diamonds vs. Manchester United (Preseason match 5)
Saitama Stadium 2002, Saitama, Japan
As the Manchester United team bus made its way on the Tohoku Expressway, en route to the stadium in late afternoon, Kakeru was thinking hard about the upcoming match as the fixture was about to be special for personal reasons.
"Hey, Kakeru. Still thinking about those 2 players you talked about?" Pog asked.
"Yep! Kaoru Matoba and Michirou Takase are 2 of my best friends since our days in the same high school team. I knew I might play a friendly game against them one day, but I never thought it would be this soon. I'm really excited."
"When they played with Kakeru to make the front 3, they were almost invincible together. That's why I'm sure the other side wants to perform well tonight." Nana added to Kakeru's reply.
"Well, I'd be happy if they give us a run for our money. We never back down from a challenge after all." Pog said.
After the Frenchman went back to his seat, Yusuke joined Kakeru and Nana in the conversation. "I guess it feels as if it was just yesterday that Matoba-san and Takase-san were still your classmates and teammates at Enoshima."
"It sure does. We are still in our early 20s after all." Kakeru replied.
"I am under the impression that they made great progress based on what I saw on DVD, but it's hard to tell when I haven't faced them on a regular basis. Do you think they have made enough progress to be part of the national team?" Nana asked.
"If not for now, I think their time will come soon. They may not have that kind of international experience yet, but I would never rule them out since our current national coach has good faith in young players." Yusuke said.
"I hope they will make it through, Yusuke. I would be very happy to see them having a crack at the national team." Kakeru replied.
"Me too, Kakeru. They are both proud competitors with skills that not many Japanese representatives have after all."
Finally, the bus left the expressway, and arrived at Saitama Stadium. For almost 2 hours, the players prepared themselves for this important match as it was a last chance to make an impression for some, or a chance to solidify their starting positions for others. José told Kakeru that he would be playing for the whole match. The experiment of the day was to see how Nana would perform from a wide forward position in a 4-3-3 formation.
Just before leaving the Manchester United dressing room for the match, José made one final speech to his players: "People, this is the last game of our tour in the Far East. I don't think I need to remind everyone about what is at stakes tonight. But still, you made good progress as a group, and that's something you can all be proud of. Tonight… Urawa Red Diamonds. You know the drill; you have worked hard for this. Watch out for the big number 29; he's faster than you think. The little number 11 is a trickster, but he's not pushed around that easily, so stay focused. And when you get the ball, pass and move quickly. Their defenders won't be able to keep up with us. Yes?”
"YES, BOSS!" all players replied in unison.
In the players' tunnel, Kakeru and Nana stood by Kaoru (number 11) and Michirou (number 29) as both teams were waiting for the referee's signal to walk forward.
"Hi, Kakeru! How are you doing?" Kaoru asked.
"Doing great so far. I've heard you and Takase are quickly becoming fan favorites in Saitama." Kakeru replied while hugging his friend.
"We had our break last season, and we made the most of it, thanks to the coach." the tall Japanese forward, Michirou Takase, said. "Looks like you're ready for the new season, Nana-chan."
"Thanks, but I will only feel ready for sure when we'll face Arsenal in 8 days." Nana replied as she shook hands with the former Enoshima giant.
"I see. Still, I hope you won't take us lightly. We are ready to play tonight."
"I have no doubt about that, Takase. Just give it all, Enoshima Tower." Nana replied.
"E… Enoshima Tower?" Takase froze at the words just like he used to in his high school days.
"Oh… Sorry." Nana apologized.
"I see he’s still not used to being called that way." Kakeru said to Kaoru.
"We better avoid using that nickname at all costs." Kaoru finished.
When both teams arrived on the pitch for kickoff, they were greeted by mass choreography, tifos, chants, and relentless flag waving that are typical of the intimidating atmosphere that illustrates why Urawa Red Diamonds have some of the most passionate supporters in the world, especially in the ultras' end of the stadium. The vast majority of the 63,000 spectators, Urawa and United fans alike, wore red shirts, giving the impression that Saitama Stadium was a sea of red for the occasion. The most resounding sound in the stadium at the time was the terrace chant named "Pride of Urawa", which uses a mix of French, English, and Japanese lyrics.
ALLEZ OH, ALLEZ OH,
ALLEZ OH, ALLEZ-OLÉ-ALLEZ-OH
ALLEZ OH, ALLEZ OH,
ORETACHI NO URAWA REDS.
URAWA REDS, URAWA REDS,
URAWA REDS, URAWA REDS,
URAWA REDS, URAWA REDS,
PRIDE OF URAWA REDS.
While the Urawa players wore kits that looked almost identical to the Manchester United home kit (red shirt, white shorts, black socks), the team from England wore its full black away kit for this match. As Urawa Reds were using a 4-3-3 formation, Anthony was standing right in front of Kaoru as opposite wide forwards before kickoff.
'Anthony Martial... I've been watching him for a few years now. Here's my chance to show that I belong in the same league as he does.' Kaoru thought
'Il a quand même du feu dans les yeux. Il n'est pas intimidé du tout (He has quite some fire in his eyes. He's not intimidated at all)' Anthony thought.
Meanwhile, Nana and Takase had their gazes locked into each other's.
"It's not today that you'll make a fool out of me again, Nana-chan."
"I never backed down from a physical challenge, either in training or in a match, Takase. Go ahead then."
Finally, the referee blew his whistle for kickoff. In the center circle, Kakeru passed the first ball backwards to Paul Pogba while the 63,000+ crowd roared in excitement.
In the first 5 minutes, United controlled most of the game by passing and moving the ball around while launching sudden attacks, all thwarted by the Urawa defenders until the 6th minute. At that time, United launched another attack after Eric Bailly intercepted a loose ball, then passing to Daley, to Pog, and then through for Nana running down the right side. Having gone past Urawa's defender down that flank, Nana sent a low cross that appeared destined for Kakeru.
"Don't think about it!" one of Urawa's centre-backs said as he and his partner rushed to stop any attempt from Kakeru.
However, knowing he lured 2 defenders by himself, Kakeru flicked the ball with a backheel pass for Anthony instead of taking a shot. Cutting his run inside the box and behind Kakeru, Anthony ran with the ball past the goalkeeper while making the latter fall on the wrong side. With the goal gaping, the Frenchman easily opened the score for the visitors
"Nice goal." Kakeru congratulated his French teammate.
"Let's grab another one, guys." Nana said after she joined the celebration.
In the stands, Hikaru, Chisa, and the rest of Kakeru's fellow medical students were also watching the match.
"That was superb by Kakeru and Nana-chan." Hikaru said.
"Amazing indeed." Chisa replied.
"Confidence is running high between them." Shunsuke said.
"That's the gap of class between them and most players in the J-League. Our national teams are fortunate to have players like Kakeru and Nana." Daisuke added.
"It looks like they're always hungry for more when they play." Hikaru finished.
However, Urawa Reds found a little bit of life only 3 minutes later. Starting with a pass forward from midfield towards Kaoru arriving in the opposite direction, he made a quick sombrero flick over Daley, and then made a U-turn at full speed to follow the ball. Having caught Daley flatfooted, Kaoru waited the perfect moment, and then sent a high ball across towards Takase's head. The former Enoshima giant struck a powerful header that was saved, but only just saved by United's goalkeeper deflecting the ball out of play with his fingertips.
"Sorry. That number 11 got me burned there." Daley apologized to his goalkeeper.
"C'mon, lads! Mark those 2 players tight." Manchester United goalkeeper Joel Pereira ordered to all of his defenders. Pereira is the Red Devils’ third goalkeeper.
On the following corner kick, the ball struck Takase's head again, but was forced to hit it high and wide because of the tighter marking from United's defenders. Nevertheless, it was a clear warning which said that Urawa Reds would not give up without putting a fight.
In the 21st minute, both teams had their share of ball possession although United were the better side at keeping the ball. However, United conceded an indirect free kick in their territory as Michael fouled Kaoru 40 yards from goal. On the following free kick, Kaoru sent the ball high towards the mass of players. Having lost his marker, Takase headed the ball perfectly into the top corner of the net, and equalized the score at 1-1, sending the local supporters inside Saitama Stadium into frenzy.
While Takase was congratulated by Kaoru and his teammates, Joel was livid again at the poor man-marking on Takase by the defenders.
Pog then rallied his teammates. "C'mon lads! It's only 1-1. We push hard, and get back on top."
"We need to capitalize on our chances because they will if we don't." Kakeru said to Nana.
"Yeah. Pass and move quickly; that's the key." Nana replied.
Just 3 minutes later, Urawa were on the attack again as Kaoru tried to attack down his flank. This time, Daley did not flinch, and forced Kaoru to make his move first. Kaoru crossed the ball towards the front of the Manchester United box for Urawa's main striker, Tadanari Lee, but the pass was intercepted by Nana, who provided extra support at the back.
From there, Nana ran with the ball for some distance before she sent it forward to Daley. The Dutch left-back then passed to Michael, who followed with a one-touch pass towards Anthony. The French winger ran with the ball for 20 yards before he sent a quick through pass for Kakeru in the box. Because the pass went a little too close to the Urawa goalkeeper, Kakeru's point blank shot bounced off the goalkeeper and away. Fortunately for United, Pog dashed in at the right time to collect the follow-up, and then score the 2-1 goal with a shot from outside the box.
"Nice shot!" Kakeru congratulated.
"We should really thank Witch instead. She's the one who started it all." Pog replied before he turned towards Nana. "You did a great play at the back, Little Witch."
"Thanks, Pog. I'm not just an attacking-minded player." Nana replied.
Following the first 25 minutes of the match, Urawa then chose to use for a more conservative approach as they sat for most of the time in their territory although United had a couple more scoring chances. While Urawa had a few counterattacks at the same time, United excelled at attacking the ball carrier, retrieving the ball, and counterattacking swiftly. However, both teams nullified each other's attacks and counterattacks. As a result, not much happened until the halftime whistle.
In the Manchester United dressing room at halftime:
"OK, the plan is simple in the second half: keep the tempo high. The thing is... when I told you to keep eyes open on the 29 and the 11, there was a reason for it. They burned us a few times too often, so it must stop. If you face the 11, never make the first move, anticipate, and cut his passing options. The big 29 is a problem, but his luck will end here." José addressed to his players before he turned his gaze towards one of the substitutes. The substitute in question was a tall Caucasian man with brown hair, brown eyes, and a distinctive musketeer beard.
"Matthias, you're ready for a big challenge?" José asked.
Matthias Köhler, one of the best defenders in the world and a German international, said: "Always. So what's the plan, Boss?"
"Same thing as most of the time. If the big 29 comes by the box, you follow him like a shadow. On their corner kicks, you stick with him. You start the second half." José replied.
"OK, Boss. He's mine."
After the halftime speech, the Manchester United players went back to their halftime habits such as re-hydrating themselves with energy drinks, eating bananas or energy bars to get that extra energy. As they did so, Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke discussed about that Matthias' upcoming introduction into the game.
"If the Boss brings Matthias on now, that means playtime is over for Urawa." Nana said to Yusuke.
"I agree. Whenever I see him on TV or in person, he always looks like a rock at the back."
"At 192 cm (6'4") and 90 kg (198 lbs) with the power he has for a player in his prime, I'm afraid Takase won't be able to do anything against him." Kakeru said. "Although Matthias only played his first 30 minutes the other day against Nagoya because of the extended summer vacation he was allowed, the Boss had no hesitation in making the call at all. It shows you how serious the Boss can be if he feels that some players are not playing well."
"It's the first time I feel the Boss being unhappy. Knowing his reputation, I hope I'll never end on the wrong side of him." Yusuke asked.
"Nevertheless, he knows how to say the right thing just like Sir Alex Ferguson used to do." Kakeru replied. "Don't worry. He's one of the best motivators I've ever seen, and he will always defend you as long as you do your job with an exemplary attitude."
Meanwhile in the home team's dressing room:
The Urawa coach addressed to his players: "We got out of the first half down only by a goal, but we have shown them that we can keep our composure, and hit them on the counterattack. They will bring on other players, but the plan remains the same: stay compact, and hit them on the counterattack. This is the real test, gentlemen. Understood?"
"YES SIR!" the Urawa players replied.
"Show me what you can do in the second half."
Minutes later, both teams came back out onto the pitch under the cheers from the few tens of thousands Urawa Reds supporters as hopes of a comeback were still there. While Urawa Red Diamonds made a couple of tactical changes, all eyes turned towards the 2 Manchester United substitutes as they were announced to the crowd. Matthias replaced one of the 2 central defenders while Henrikh replaced one of the starting midfielders. As a result, Nana returned to midfield at the start of the second half.
"Oh dear... Is Mourinho really serious?" Kaoru asked out loud.
"What do you mean?" Takase followed with a question.
"It looks like they have decided to send their best defender against you now instead of waiting the 60th minute. Matthias Köhler, one of leaders of the German Nationalmannschaft."
"How much should I worry about him, Kaoru?" Takase asked.
"A lot, I'd say. Physical and aerial play, well-timed tackles, good positioning, solid man-marking, ball control, top notch defensive and offensive awareness… he's one of the best defenders in the world. Just play wisely against him, and save your energy."
"Try not to think too much about your opponents, you two. This is where you'll lose focus." the Urawa captain said.
"Yes, captain." Kaoru and Takase replied together before they went back to their respective positions for the start of the second half. Following Urawa's tactical changes, Takase was moved to the centre-forward position.
As Urawa kicked off the second half, the home team passed the ball around for a few seconds before it went to Kaoru. Having spotted Takase in a good position, Kaoru sent the ball high so it would go behind United's back line. As Takase expected to receive the ball, Matthias appeared almost out of nowhere to cut the pass with a clearing header a split second before both players ran into each other, and fell. The referee blew his whistle to call a free kick against Takase, but Matthias got up almost immediately as he absorbed the impact better than Takase did.
When Takase got up a couple of seconds later, he then realized how strong his new opponent was. 'Kaoru was right. He is a very tough guy.' Takase thought.
In the 50th minute, Urawa started a counterattack after absorbing United's pressure. One of Urawa's midfielders spotted Takase running, and then passed towards him as it appeared Takase could break away towards the goal on his own. However, Matthias cut straight towards Takase's path, and then hit the ball with a sliding tackle before the tall Japanese forward could reach it. Suddenly, that tackle also became a long pass forward to Kakeru, who followed the last Urawa defender closely to beat the offside trap. As Kakeru made his run just inside the box, he waited until the Urawa defender was committed before making a pass across for Nana to shoot. Unfortunately for her, the shot was blocked by another defender, and flew out on the side for a throw.
Nana looked up at the sky as she knew how big of a chance that was missed. "I should have buried that." she said out loud.
"Don't worry about that, Seven. We'll get that 3rd goal." Kakeru replied to Nana before he turned to give the thumbs-up to Matthias for the previous defensive play that created the turnover.
After the following throw-in, the Manchester United midfielders passed the ball around for a few seconds before Pog used his skillful feints to shake off his opponents ahead, and then passed the ball to Nana down the flank. Nana sent a cross into the box, only to be deflected behind the goal line by a defender. On the following corner kick, Nana sent a high ball towards the near post before Matthias made contact with the ball on his head in front of Takase. As the header shot appeared to miss the net, Kakeru jumped out of nowhere between 2 defenders, and threw his right foot high enough to make contact with the ball only 2 yards away from goal. Suddenly, Kakeru's blast was a deadly finish as he increased his team's lead at 3-1.
The thousands of Manchester United supporters wearing red in the stadium as well as all Manchester United substitutes jumped out of their seats in jubilation. In response, Kakeru celebrated with a Miroslav Klose-style front flip after he ran for a short distance.
"Great goal, Kakeru!" Nana exclaimed after she jumped on Kakeru's back for a small piggyback ride in the celebration.
"Thanks. Good thing you found Matthias first."
"Way to go, Knight." Matthias said as he hugged Kakeru.
"Great jump too to beat Takase in the air, Matthias. I don't know many players who can jump higher than him."
Meanwhile, in the stands:
"Kakeru's on fire. If I get my numbers right, he's now on 4 goals in 3 matches." Hikaru said.
"He made that goal look so easy, Hikaru. It was a great effort." Chisa replied.
"After what we saw today, he will be unstoppable if he carries on like that." Shunsuke finished.
From that moment forward, Urawa tried to get one goal back by pushing numbers forward while the Urawa supporters never stopped making noise to support their team. However, the well-drilled Manchester United team also put up a shift defensively.
Every single time the ball went towards Takase, Matthias and his fellow defenders succeeded in clearing the ball out or retrieving the ball to launch the counterattack. On Urawa's corner kicks, Takase was unable to make a difference because he was forced to miss his chances, thanks to Matthias' years of experience in European and international football. To make things worse, Takase was getting exhausted rather quickly after going into so many physical duels against the German international.
Having been replaced in the 60th minute alongside with other starters in favor of the remaining substitutes, Nana watched Takase and Kaoru's performances from the bench. She noticed how Matthias' introduction had such a huge impact on Takase's performance.
'Since the restart, Takase hit a wall. I can't say I'm surprised since he never met an opponent like Matthias in the J-League. For Takase's own good, it would be better if his coach pulls him out soon. But then, I can only imagine what Kaoru will have to endure with Matthias in his face later.' Nana thought.
In the 66th minute, Kaoru tried to find a passing option from down his right flank, but found none. Totally isolated and pushed around by a nearby defender, Kaoru had to pass the ball back to his teammate in midfield. However as that Urawa midfielder tried to pass the ball back to Kaoru, Yusuke intercepted the ball and then flicked it to Henrikh, who then picked a long ball forward for the running Anthony. Once Anthony got himself a little deeper inside the box, he waited for support as he didn't have a good shooting angle. With Henrikh cutting into a better shooting position, Anthony passed the ball to the Armenian winger. Fortunately for Urawa, one of the many defenders threw his body in the way as Henrikh took the shot, and the ball flew behind for a corner kick.
"You scored one like that against Nagoya the other night. He just got lucky there, that's all." Kakeru tried to cheer Henrikh up.
As both teams were ready for the corner kick, everyone anticipated Henrikh to hit it long into the mass of players. However instead of hitting a long kick, Henrikh made a shorter pass on the ground to Anthony, who took advantage of the slight confusion to cross a high ball into the box. Waiting at the very end of the pass was Matthias, who overpowered Takase and another Urawa defender in the air before striking the ball with a powerful header to make it 4-1 for the visitors from Manchester.
"Great header, Matthias!" Nana exclaimed from the bench as she watched her teammates on the pitch celebrating around the big German.
"Yeah! C’MON!" Ander shouted before he turned towards Nana. "He made it look so easy."
"I'm really glad for him, and for all of us." Nana replied.
"I don't think Urawa will recover from that now." Daley said.
"You're right, Daley. I look at Takase, and he's out of gas." Nana replied as she watched the exhausted Takase being replaced by another player. She felt sorry for her friend and opponent for the night as the physical challenge proposed by her German teammate was just too much to handle.
Despite the 3-goal deficit, a few Urawa players continued pushing forward in an attempt to save some honor. However, the home side exposed gaps that were inviting for quick counterattacks. That mistake proved to be fatal in the 77th minute as Yusuke intercepted a pass before launching the ball forward towards Kakeru, dashing in full speed from the center line with no one following him.
"C'mon Kakeru!" Nana shouted from the bench.
"He's all alone, and no one can catch him!" Hikaru exclaimed as he watched from the stands.
"There's another player coming on his right too." Chisa said as she pointed towards the other United player charging unopposed towards the Urawa Reds' goal. It was Henrikh Mkhitaryan.
With 2 players charging against the goalkeeper, there was not much to be done. Kakeru made most of the run before he let the goalkeeper move forward, and then made a little side pass to Henrikh, who only had to tap the ball in for the 5-1 goal. In response, the Urawa supporters applauded with the greatest of respects while the Japanese United supporters celebrated.
The rest of the game went on with both teams dropping the tempo. Kaoru was the only one of his team who was still trying his hardest, but Matthias shifted his marking on the former Enoshima trickster. Kaoru's frustrating night could be summed in the 85th minute up when Matthias beat him for the ball with a hard and well-timed tackle that sent Kaoru sprawling. Kaoru raised his arms in disbelief when the referee didn't call the foul. In all, it was a difficult learning curve for both Takase and Kaoru.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEP!!!
Finally, the referee announced the end of the match. For Manchester United, it was 5 wins out of 5 games. It was not the result that mattered, but the way that the team improved their form ahead of the season. The red-wearing supporters at Saitama Stadium could only applaud at the relentless effort displayed by Urawa Reds when both teams were still pushing hard until United's 5th goal in the 77th minute.
Among the handshakes between opponents, Matthias and Nana were the first to meet Takase after the match.
"Hey, kid. Don't take it too hard tonight. Just see it as a good lesson for the future. Good game." Matthias said as he gave Takase a handshake.
Since Takase's English was not that good, he just replied with a simple "Yeah, good game." before he turned towards Nana to ask what the German just said. After a few more handshakes, Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke joined Kaoru and Takase to have a little chat in the players’ tunnel.
"Will you be OK, Takase?" Kakeru asked.
"Well, I've been thinking about how close I am to make the national team, and yet some things still look so far away. Even if I get the call, I feel so powerless against someone like Matthias Köhler. To think there are more defenders like him in the world..." Takase replied.
"We don't know if we have what it takes to be any helpful to the national team if we have to face a monster like him someday (sigh)." Kaoru added.
"Don't see it like that. I also had the worst of times when I faced him the first few times in training, so much that I was asking myself what I was doing there." Kakeru said.
"Yep. When Matthias arrived to Manchester from his native Nordrhein-Westfalen, almost no one was able to beat him one-on-one. I had a really hard time, but I kept working harder to find ways to get past him."
"Remember what Matthias said earlier, Takase. Use it as a lesson for the future. Now that you have seen what a world class defender can do, think about improving your skills. Anything." Nana added.
"How?" Takase asked.
"I saw you from the bench in the second half. It was clear that it was just a matter of endurance as well as experience that made the difference. Working on endurance is a good lead to follow." Nana replied.
"Sounds good indeed, Nana-chan."
"What about me?" Kaoru asked.
"From what I saw, some general work on your strength will help. Also improve your shooting, which would make you an even more unpredictable player to play against. Matthias quickly saw through your habits, so that's why he stopped you so easily." Yusuke replied.
"Just work on those in the following months, and then you'll get even better and readier for the international stage." Kakeru added.
"We'll work on that. Thanks, guys, and good luck in England to all three of you." Kaoru said.
"Good luck to you too." Kakeru finished.
After bidding good luck to each other, the friends went to their respective dressing rooms. For Kakeru, Nana, and Yusuke, the time was coming to start a new season. Meanwhile, Kaoru and Takase were hoping that their friends' words of advice would become useful in the upcoming months.
Sunday July 30
Narita International Airport, Chiba, Japan
Early in the following morning, the Manchester United team was ready to take the long flight from Tokyo to Manchester. The 16-hour flight was set to take off at 10:50 AM with a first-class trip on board of a Japan Airlines Boeing 777 from Narita to Heathrow Airport, London. Then a British Airways flight from London to Manchester would take the team home in the early evening just before 7:00 PM BST. For one of the Manchester United players, it was a special day as he was about to leave his homeland to earn his own living as a professional footballer for a very big club in a foreign country.
"Having a few butterflies?" Kakeru asked.
"I'm excited... in a good way. I've been training my whole life for this, Kakeru." Yusuke replied.
"It was the same feeling for us back a few years ago." Nana said.
"Don't worry too much about it. After all, you'll be in good company as our new neighbor in West Didsbury, Manchester." Kakeru added.
"You told me that there's a vacant apartment right below yours. Right, Kakeru?" Yusuke asked.
"Yep. The previous landlord wanted to sell the whole duplex last week, but we convinced him to keep the sale on hold until you arrive. We had some help in Manchester though. Anyway, after we arrive, and then settle things down with the sale, the apartment at ground level will be yours. Meanwhile, we won't have to to move anywhere for now; both apartments in the duplex are the same size."
"I see. Is it just the two of you in your current apartment?" Yusuke asked.
"No, there's also Noriko." Nana replied.
"A woman? Who is this Noriko?" Yusuke was surprised when he heard that a woman was also living with Kakeru and Nana under the same roof.
"You'll see her when we'll arrive." Nana replied. "She's really nice, but we won't spoil the surprise for you now."
"All right! It's time to get on board. Let's go, people!" José ordered his players to embark.
Finally, the Japanese portion of Manchester United's preseason tour officially ended. The first chapter of the new campaign was about to be written in exactly 7 days. However, it was first and foremost the time for most of the players to fly back to the city they call "home" for at least 10 months every year.