Irons vs. Red Devils
Thursday February 1st
Following the very emotional victory against Liverpool in the FA Cup, there was little time for a rest as the following Premier League match came up quickly on the following Wednesday (January 31) at Old Trafford. Fortunately, United gave a professional performance by defeating Bournemouth by a score of 2-0. Considering the demands of playing 3 matches within 8 days, the training process was changed to prioritize recovery and tactical preparation rather than high intensity work.
Having signed their new contract with Adidas Football a few days before the FA Cup against Liverpool, Kakeru and Nana were taking part in filming and photoshoots associated with their work as representatives for the new Adidas brands. Thursday was very far from being a busy day for the 2 Japanese players, and thus the timing was right to get everything done with the filming crew.
On that sunny winter day in Manchester, the first part of the filming took place near in a local football pitch. The area was closed for the time of the filming.
"Watashi no namae wa Aizawa Kakeru desu, Manchesutā Yunaiteddo de purē shite imasu (My name is Kakeru Aizawa, and I play for Manchester United)."
"My name is Nana Mishima, and I play for Manchester United."
"And cut! Very good intro, you two." Corey Dubois, the brand director, said.
"I agree. It was really good." Miwa added. As Kakeru and Nana's agent, Miwa was keeping a watchful eye on the sponsorship-related work.
"Now, we'll just go with Kakeru saying what you have written about yourself, and in Japanese too. People will appreciate that." Corey said
"OK. I'm ready." Kakeru said.
After Nana moved a little further away, the cameras and the microphones moved into positions so Kakeru would become their center of attention for the following part.
"Ready... and action!" Corey ordered.
"I grew up in Kamakura, Japan. It's a small city by the sea. I played for local schools from elementary all the way to high school in Kamakura and in the neighboring city of Fujisawa. I played there, developed all my skills, and everything until the age of 18. High school in Japan was the most wonderful time because I was able to grow as a player, become more confident, and have the belief that I can succeed anywhere. I signed for Manchester United after graduating from high school, and then I climbed up the ladder from the U21 to the first team. I remember my first game for United; it was in the Europa League. I was a little nervous because I didn't know what to expect. The crowd, the passion, the atmosphere… it is special being at Old Trafford. But once the game starts, I keep my focus. The key as a footballer is to not overthink things when I'm on the ball. You don't realize it, but you can have many ideas on the pitch. When I put on my boots, I'm free to create." Kakeru said in Japanese.
"Cut! Well done, Kakeru. One would believe you have done that all your life." Corey said.
"It is always easy speaking about oneself though." Kakeru replied.
"No need to be that modest. You look really good." Miwa said.
"Nana, you're next." Corey said.
"Coming." Nana replied.
Kakeru then checked his smartphone quickly, and noticed that he received a text message.
"I need to answer a text message, you guys." Kakeru said.
"OK. I'll get this done. Just make sure you don't laugh at me." Nana replied.
After Kakeru moved a little further back, he texted back to the one who wrote the previous message. That person was West Ham United striker and former Manchester United striker, Javier Hernández. Javier is known by his nickname, Chicharito, or simply as 'Chico' to his friends.
"Hi, Chico. Did the guest agree to our little request?" Kakeru texted.
"Yes. The West Ham people talked to her, and she fully agreed to come down and see you after the match." Javier replied.
"That's great! Nana will really be happy to meet her at last."
"We'll make sure to keep it a surprise until the end of the match." Javier texted back.
"Thanks, Chico. I really appreciate it." Kakeru wrote. "By the way, I saw highlights of your team's match form yesterday. It was quite frustrating for you guys."
"It sums up our season so far, but we're still working hard."
"I'm pretty sure you will keep on fighting." Kakeru texted. "Gotta go now. Thanks for the heads-up, and see you on Sunday."
"I look forward to it on Sunday. We'll give it all." Javier finished the live chat.
"Who was that?" Miwa asked Kakeru softly.
"It's Javier Hernández from West Ham." Kakeru replied.
"What did he write you for?"
"Well, it's about..." Kakeru then started whispering in Miwa's ear about the text conversation he had with Javier.
"Oh, that is going to be good." Miwa said.
"We must keep it a surprise for Nana though." Kakeru replied, to which Miwa nodded.
Kakeru and Miwa then quietly watched Nana telling her own short story in English. The Little Witch was arriving to the part where she explains what it takes to be creative player.
"In order to be a creative player, I feel that you need to have the flow of the game within you. When you're in that state of mind, you can see endless opportunities. I feel free to move my way towards the highest levels in football. When I have those boots on, I'm here to create." Nana said.
"And cut! Good job, Nana." Corey said.
"Thanks." Nana replied.
"So what is next?" Kakeru asked.
"First, we'll set up cameras all around the pitch. Then we will film you two doing all kinds of creative moves on the pitch against our football extras. Just think of what you did in night training sessions and physical education classes as you said in that interview a few months ago. Express yourselves." Corey said.
"We can do that." Kakeru said.
"It will be fun." Nana added.
"You can have a break for now. Just give us a few minutes." Corey said.
"OK." Nana replied before she turned towards Kakeru. "Who texted you earlier?"
"It was Chico. We were chatting about old times and about our next match." Kakeru said.
"Well, I expect a good effort coming from him." Nana replied.
"So do I, Nana."
"I have my VIP ticket for that match, so make me proud on Sunday, you two." Miwa said.
"Deal." Kakeru finished.
For the rest of their sponsorship obligations on the day, Kakeru and Nana showcased the full extent of their combined talent in front of the cameras. After the filming part at the local pitch, everyone moved to a studio. At that place, Kakeru and Nana appeared in front of green screens while either posing for photos with Adidas products (especially boots) or performing more skill moves in particular setups. When everything was done, photos and films were sent to the post-production people before the final product would appear on various media platforms a few weeks later. At the end of the day, it was a fun day for both Kakeru and Nana.
Sunday February 4
West Ham United vs. Manchester United (Premier League match 26)
London Stadium, London, UK
Based in Stratford, East London, West Ham United Football Club is one of the most recognized clubs in England. First founded in 1895 as Thames Ironworks F.C., the club is known either as the "Irons" or as the "Hammers" because of its origins. West Ham is a club that has been known for having promoted several young English players through their academy since the 1950s, hence their nickname of "The Academy of Football". Some the most famous academy graduates include 3 winners of the 1966 FIFA World Cup: Sir Bobby Moore, Geoff Hurst, and Martin Peters. In the club's history, West Ham won the FA Cup 3 times, but never earned a higher league position than a third place back in 1985-86. Over the decades, the club experienced several highs and lows, and have not tasted the joy of winning silverware for many years. Nevertheless, the support remains as strong as ever both in London and abroad.
Between 1904 and 2016, West Ham were based at the Boleyn Ground, which was commonly known as Upton Park and first known as Green Street House. Green Street House was known locally as Boleyn Castle because of its imposing nature and an association with Anne Boleyn, who had either stayed at or, as some believe, owned the house. Hence renting the grounds of "Boleyn Castle" the name Boleyn Ground came into being. For that reason, the club's old crest had the facade of a castle on it until the summer of 2016. Nevertheless, the crossed hammers remain the primary symbol of the club.
Visits to West Ham's home ground often were tricky fixtures for Manchester United over the years. However, most of those tricky fixtures took place at the old Boleyn Ground where it was considered a place that other clubs hated to come into. Hardcore West Ham supporters were located a lot closer to the pitch at Boleyn Ground than they are now at the Olympic Stadium. Some people say that the intimidating factor associated with West Ham got somewhat lost with the change in stadiums, especially when the atmosphere surrounding matches became different. Nevertheless, the Red Devils aimed to display a very professional performance, and expected nothing less of an opponent in need of proving critics wrong.
For this match, the visitors from Manchester were dressed all in black. Meanwhile, West Ham field players wore claret and sky blue shirts, white shorts, and white socks. In the tunnel, Kakeru stood right next to his friend Javier. The strikers didn't miss this opportunity to exchange a few good words.
"Hi, Kakeru and Nana." Javier said.
"Oh, hi, Chico." Kakeru shook hands with Javier.
"Nice to see you again, Chico." Nana said.
"How are you doing, Nana?" Javier asked.
"I really feel good, thanks. I can't wait to get out there." Kakeru replied.
"This stadium always brings me happy memories ever since I was in the opening ceremonies for the 2012 Olympics. I hope it will continue." Nana added.
"I hope to score against you guys, but I won’t celebrate if I do. Let's have a good game today."
"It's good. May the better side today win." Kakeru said.
Shortly after, the referee led both teams on the way onto the pitch. As both teams came out into the arena, there was a machine that had been spewing bubbles for a few minutes at pitchside. It was part of the customary entrance for West Ham as their supporters sang in full voice one of most recognizable club anthems in England since the late 1920s: I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles.
I'M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES,
PRETTY BUBBLES IN THE AIR,
THEY FLY SO HIGH,
NEARLY REACH THE SKY,
THEN LIKE MY DREAMS,
THEY FADE AND DIE.
FORTUNE'S ALWAYS HIDING,
I'VE LOOKED EVERYWHERE,
I'M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES,
PRETTY BUBBLES IN THE AIR.
After the song ended, the West Hams shouted "UNITED!" and then clapped their hands 3 times, and then repeated the process one more time before the roar was heard inside the stadium in anticipation of the upcoming 4:00 PM kickoff.
For this match, West Ham kicked things off. For several minutes, both teams look more like studying one another. However, the Red Devils, who were quite the more confident side with 8 wins in a row in all competitions, were the first to launch a serious attack.
In the 12th minute:
Martin Tyler: Intercepted by Aizawa.
Kakeru attempted to push the ball further ahead for himself in the West Ham half, but Pablo Zabaleta tackled him down. The referee called a free kick for United.
Martin Tyler: Fouled by Zabaleta.
"No way! Come on, ref." Pablo pleaded his case, but to no avail.
At the same time everyone was looking at the West Ham defender with his arms up in innocence, Kakeru put his hand to stop the ball, and took the free kick.
Martin Tyler: Free kick quickly taken by United. It's Mkhitaryan...
Kakeru's pass went straight to Henrikh. The Armenian appeared to cut across the width of the pitch, but then sent a through ball between 2 West Ham defenders. At the same time, Nana spearheaded the attack by beating the offside trap.
Martin Tyler: And Mishima's in. Hart comes out, spreads himself...
In full stride, Nana attempted to squeeze the ball through Joe Hart. However, the former Manchester City goalkeeper blocked the shot from point blank. After the save though, the ball was bouncing on its way out until Nana sent the ball back across the face of goal. In that area, Romelu was set to tap the ball in, but 2 West Ham defenders quickly closed down on him.
Martin Tyler: Lining up to put it in, Lukaku...
After a scramble that saw Rom tumbling in front of the 2 West Ham defenders, the ball was squeezed out in a position where another West Ham defender cleared the ball towards the halfway line and out of bounds.
Martin Tyler: He can't get the shot away. It's cleared away by Fonte.
Nana and Rom both looked at each other, hands on their heads. Neither the Little Witch nor the big black Belgian could believe they missed glorious chances to put their team ahead.
Meanwhile in the away supporters' end:
"Bloody Joe Hart!" Noriko shouted.
"I can't believe we didn't score there." Sarah added.
"Joe Hart took a chance by closing down on Nana, and he did well. After that, he was lucky his defenders stopped Big Rom." Yusuke replied. The Japanese midfielder was serving the last match of his 4-match ban that followed the incident with Ryoma Oda.
"Yeah, he did well on the first shot." Noriko said.
"It's a big shame because there is barely anything to talk about so far in the match." Taeko added. The former Nadeshiko Japan captain also made the trip to London alongside Noriko and Sarah.
"It has been boring, but that's the trap we must not fall into." Yusuke said.
After that scoring chance, neither team took a serious crack at goal for several minutes. For the underdogs, West Ham United, it was a good game plan to keep United frustrated before they can try capitalizing on their own scoring chances.
In the 20th minute:
Martin Tyler: Cresswell... He has nowhere to go ahead. Now it's Noble...
Attacking inside the Manchester United half of the pitch, the West Ham players tried to find a gap inside the visitors' defensive setup. The West Ham captain, Mark Noble, then passed ahead towards English midfielder Michail Antonio.
Martin Tyler: Michail Antonio... He's holding his ground against Matić.
Showing his back to the Manchester United goal, Michail held onto the ball against Nemanja's attempts to push the ball away. When Michail saw the veteran Pablo Zabaleta surging onto the wing, the Englishman then passed into the Argentine's run.
Martin Tyler: Zabaleta's making a run on the outside...
Within a couple of seconds, the former Manchester City player came in a position to cross the ball. Instead of launching a pass in mid-air, Pablo sent a ground cross towards Javier, who outran his marker. In a split second after an easy tap-in, the Olympic Stadium erupted.
Martin Tyler: HERNÁNDEZ! He's got the goal against his former club! But more importantly, it's 1-0 to West Ham.
While most West Ham players would have been exuberant in their celebrations, Javier chose to keep a stern face while putting his hands up in an innocent manner. In response, several Manchester United supporters in the away end stood up and applauded the man who was a fan favorite between 2010 and 2014.
"Well, that was typical Chicharito." Noriko said.
"Yep. Give him a good ball inside the box, and he will not miss from there." Taeko replied.
"It looks like our defenders were found sleeping out there." Sarah said.
"I can forgive our left-back for being surprised by Zabaleta doing an overlapping run, but the way Bailly didn't watch his man... that doesn't go well with me." Noriko replied.
"I think he already knows that he messed up. Right now, we need to retaliate quickly." Yusuke said.
United were surprised to see the "Irons" striking on what was their first serious attack. However, the Red Devils had enough firepower to make any opponent pay for a mistake. All they needed was one single chance.
In the 23rd minute:
Martin Tyler: Cresswell... to Kouyaté...
The Irons were looking to implement another attack in Manchester United's half. But as the ball reached the West Ham midfielder, Nemanja was arriving to counter him. The West Ham player attempted a pass, but the ball went off Nemanja's leg and astray for Kakeru to pick up.
Martin Tyler: Good pressure by Matić...
With lots of open space to launch a counterattack, Kakeru sprinted with the ball across the halfway line deeper in the West Ham half. While Kakeru was curving his run more and more towards the middle, Nemanja also followed the counterattack to create a 4v3 situation.
Martin Tyler: Aizawa's on the run. Matić is going down on the outside...
For a split second, Kakeru saw a gap open between the West Ham defenders. At that moment, Romelu was calling for a pass.
"Knight!" Romelu shouted.
Kakeru immediately responded by sending a perfect through pass for the big Belgian, who found himself all alone against the West Ham goalkeeper.
Martin Tyler: But here's Lukaku! Inside of the post, into the back of the net, and Manchester United have the equalizer! It's 1-1. West Ham's lead lasted for less than 3 minutes.
"Great goal, Rom!" Kakeru congratulated Romelu.
"Thanks! Great pass." Romelu replied.
"Let's go for more!" Pog said.
Then the Manchester United got on their way back for the restart.
"That was a great killer pass, Kakeru. It was Suguru-like." Nana said.
"Thanks! I also had a good teacher in you to show me a few passing tips." Kakeru replied with a smile.
Gary Neville: It's a great counterattack goal by Manchester United, but Kouyaté did poorly in midfield. You've got to be better on the ball. It was brilliant by Matić to break up the play, and then he makes the overlap. Everyone thought that Aizawa would use him, but they have a problem as they overloaded at the back post. It's a wonderful pass and a great little run by Aizawa. Then it was whether Lukaku could finish just as Joe Hart comes out, and it was a perfect shot.
The retaliatory goal came swiftly in favor of the Red Devils, and hence momentum came back with the visitors. United started attacking with a more incisive edge. For the Irons, it was back to square one with the gameplan of setting up for counterattacks. However, United were ready to deal with opposition's tactics in more ways than one.
In the 28th minute:
Martin Tyler: Köhler... finds Aizawa on the wing.
Matthias launched a long pass to Kakeru, who chested the ball down by the sidelines. The Japanese forward was already within the attacking third of the pitch when an old opponent came to face him.
"Come on, Aizawa. Come and try me." Pablo challenged Kakeru.
'Time to play clever.' Kakeru thought.
Kakeru slowed down in his own advance for a few yards, and then waited for Pablo to slow down in front of him. When everything appeared to stop completely, Kakeru feinted going right (to Pablo's left), but then went to his left with a sudden burst with speed all the way towards the West Ham penalty area.
"Go on, Kakeru!" Noriko shouted in the stands.
Martin Tyler: Past Zabaleta. What a run...
As Kakeru arrived inside the West Ham penalty area, he had to deal with both Pablo and a diving West Ham defender attempting to block any direct pass or shot on goal. However as both West Ham defenders committed themselves, Kakeru dragged the ball back by half of a yard, and then unleashed a low pass towards Nana. Surprisingly though, the Little Witch of Manchester United was left totally unmarked on the penalty spot.
Martin Tyler: And MISHIMA!!!
Nana's shot struck the top corner, and left no chance for Joe Hart. And within a span of 5 minutes, United transformed a 0-1 deficit into a 2-1 lead. The East Londoners could only look at each other with questions about how that happened.
Martin Tyler: The power couple from Japan combined again. It's usually from Mishima to Aizawa, but it's the finisher who turns playmaker this time. And more importantly for them, they have given Manchester United the lead here in East London.
"You did it, Seven!" Kakeru hugged Nana.
"Thanks. That was a great pass too, Kakeru." Nana said.
"Well done, Witch! Well done!" Pog said.
"Great play, you two!" Matthias added.
"Thanks, Matthias." Kakeru replied.
Gary Neville: Well, he may not have scored, but it's absolutely brilliant by Aizawa. He takes Pablo Zabaleta out of the equation with some good moves; then he goes forward, and waits until Fonte and Zabaleta committed themselves. The pass across to Mishima is fantastic, but you also have to ask who was marking Mishima for West Ham. She was left totally unmarked, and she has made West Ham pay.
Meanwhile in the away supporters' end:
"Amazing play, you guys!" Noriko exclaimed.
"Great goal, Nana-chan!" Taeko added.
"Kakeru did all the work on the wing, but Nana sure found a way to make others forget about her." Sarah said.
"Yeah. She slowed down her run on purpose while the West Ham players were all looking at Kakeru's run." Noriko replied.
"That's only a taste of what we see almost every day in training with them. We have seen more sophisticated stuff between them." Yusuke said.
"What would that stuff be?" Sarah asked.
"Professional secrecy, girl." Yusuke replied, but then said no more, much to Sarah's disappointment.
Before Kakeru and Nana got on the way back for the restart, they performed a quick choreographed patty cake celebration before they finished with a dab for the cameras. Needless to say, the West Ham players were disgusted, and they had only one thing in mind: equalize ASAP.
In the 32nd minute:
Martin Tyler: The pass from Matić was cut... Now it's Kouyaté.
Following an interception in midfield, the West Ham midfielder launched a counterattack by sending the ball down the wing. At that position, Michail Antonio and Matteo Darmian ran after the ball. In that situation, the West Ham winger was the faster player.
Martin Tyler: Here's Antonio! He's got the pace...
Michail then curved his run to enter the Manchester United penalty area. Although several Manchester United defenders fell back to defend the penalty area, Michail sent a pass across that slightly touched Matthias' foot. As a result, the ball appeared to roll behind the intended receiver Nevertheless, Javier adjusted his body position to fetch the ball before taking a shot from a very dangerous position.
Martin Tyler: And it's Javier Hernández!!
The Mexican took the shot from just outside the 6-yard box. However, the shot smacked the crossbar and out of play, much to the disbelief of everyone supporting West Ham inside the stadium.
Martin Tyler: Well, he stands hands on hips and raises his arms. And by his standards, it's a real chance.
Meanwhile in the away supporters' end:
"Phew! Thank God he missed that." Noriko said.
"We were lucky. Our defensive structure went out of the window for a few seconds." Sarah replied.
"The Boss will have a word with them at halftime for sure." Yusuke said.
At the same time, TV replays were shown on the stadium's big screen. Following the last replay, the screen showed the reaction of disbelief from a West Ham fan in the stands. That fan in particular is also a celebrity who could be easily identified by movie watchers.
"Hey, was that Keira Knightley on the screen?" Taeko asked.
"Yes, that's her, alright. One of the best actresses from the UK." Sarah replied.
"She's a lifelong West Ham fan." Noriko added.
"Nana is also a big fan of her. That's what she told me." Yusuke said to Noriko.
"I didn't know that." Noriko replied. "How did she become a fan?"
"I think it has something to do with a movie involving Keira Knightley around the time Nana was still a child."
"Pirates of the Caribbean?" Noriko asked.
"Nope. It's a little older than that." Yusuke replied.
As Noriko dug deeper in her own memories, she finally remembered what movie Yusuke was referring to.
"Oh, yes! That's a good shout. I can see how and why she became a fan of that actress." Noriko said.
"It's one of the reasons why Nana is what she is now." Yusuke finished.
After that missed opportunity, West Ham were mostly pushed away by tighter defensive work on Manchester United's end of things. The Irons kept pushing forward in an attempt to equalize before halftime. However, it was a dangerous game as United looked for an opportunity to hurt their opponents even more on the counterattack.
In the 41st minute:
Martin Tyler: It's given away by Mark Noble. It's Nana Mishima looking to organise a counterattack here...
An attempted pass by the West Ham captain went astray. As a result, Nana picked up the loose ball before she ran a long run beyond the halfway line and into the West Ham half. Spotting Kakeru on the left wing, Nana attempted a pass towards him. However, Kakeru was slightly impeded by Pablo. The referee then blew his whistle when he saw no advantage.
Martin Tyler: The referee has given the foul. Free kick to Manchester United...
Surprising everyone, Nemanja quickly settled the ball down, and kicked it ahead towards the running Kakeru.
Martin Tyler: ...and they have taken it quickly. Now Aizawa...
Having escaped from Pablo's marking for a moment, Kakeru charged down the left wing and inside the West ham penalty area. At the crucial moment, Kakeru made a rolling pass towards the outside of the box so a teammate could take a direct shot on goal. In that position, Pog took a one-timer shot.
Martin Tyler: and POGBA!
Unfortunately for United, Pog's shot rolled just wide to the goal. This time, it was United's turn to be disappointed with a big miss.
"Merde! (Shit!)" Pog cursed.
Neither Kakeru or Nana said anything. They both had their hands on their heads, unable to believe what just happened.
Martin Tyler: Well, if that had gone in, there would have been clear daylight between the two sides. But it hasn't, and it is still a one-goal margin.
Meanwhile in the away supporters' end:
"You've got to be kidding me!" Noriko exclaimed.
"I hope that miss won't come back to haunt us." Sarah said.
"In those situations, you just stay frosty and stick to the plan." Taeko remarked.
"Yep! Right now, we must not falter. We are just one goal away from almost making them quit." Yusuke added.
However, the score remained West Ham 1-2 Manchester United by the time the halftime whistle was blown. For West Ham, tactical adjustments were expected in order to get a result anyhow. On the other hand for Manchester United, the main objective was to finish the job after succeeding to turn the game around earlier.
While Noriko, Yusuke, Sarah, and Taeko were watching from the away supporters' stand, Miwa Shibata was attending the match from an executive box alongside other player agents. During halftime, Miwa was in a lounge where she met a familiar figure.
"Sir Alex Ferguson. It has been quite some time." Miwa greeted back.
Acting as an ambassador for Manchester United, Sir Alex still attends at many of the club's matches as a guest of honor, both at home and away. Despite now being in his mid-70s, Sir Alex didn't really age since he retired by the end of the 2012-13 season at age 71.
"It sure was. How are you doing?" Sir Alex asked.
"I was quite busy, but it was all worth it." Miwa replied.
"Tell me more about it."
"I really worked hard to get both Kakeru and Nana on board with the new Adidas sponsorship deal; that's a great platform for them as internationally-recognized footballers."
"Well, that's great news for them. I know very well how the two of them are doing on the pitch, and it has been superb. But how are they doing in their medical studies?" Sir Alex asked.
"In the circumstances, they are doing very well. Recently, I was able to negotiate a deal with the deans from Tokyo Medical University and the Manchester Medical School. Kakeru and Nana were also involved themselves in the talks. We were able to make arrangements so both of them would complete what would be their final year of clinical rotations on a multi-year timetable. It should help my clients in coping with life as crucial first-team players." Miwa replied.
"I'm astonished. How did you get everyone on the same page this time?"
"Before we started talking about it, I learned about a Canadian-born NFL player who is also studying medicine. I got in touch with that player's agent, and he told me about how they got an agreement. Then I brought up the existing precedent to the attention of my clients and the deans. Thankfully, the deans were both very understanding, so everything went quite smoothly."
"I've dealt with all kinds of agents throughout my career as manager. Some were great guys, and others were bad. But I have to say that you're doing a great job for them." Sir Alex said.
"Speaking of the young ones, it seems that they always find ways to succeed. It was the feeling I had when I met them for the first time even when they were not quite sure about making the jump. In the end, I was never disappointed even though we had to wait before we could see what they can do." Sir Alex said.
"And the good news is that they are still young. We haven't seen their full potential yet." Miwa replied
"Far from it. I have a feeling that something greater will happen to them, Miss Shibata. If it's not this year, it will be soon."
"I hope it too, Sir Alex."
"Well, it was great talking to you again."
"Same for me, Sir Alex. I look forward to next time." Miwa said
"Hopefully at the next match. We will commemorate the Munich Air Disaster anniversary." Sir Alex shook hands with Miwa before they parted ways.
During halftime, José instructed his players to keep things tighter at the back while also trying to be ruthless on the attack. The Red Devils came back on the pitch with a new energy, and started taking control of the action quickly after the second half was kicked off. It only took them 75 seconds to find themselves in an interesting position.
In the 47th minute:
Martin Tyler: Now, it's Paul Pogba... to Aizawa.
United were laying siege around the West Ham penalty area at the time. As Kakeru received the pass from Pog, the Japanese forward looked at the mass of West Ham defenders protecting the penalty area.
'Let's try this against Zabaleta now.' Kakeru thought.
Kakeru almost deliberately slowed everything down before he cheekily pushed the ball forward and started dashing. Pablo's first instinct was to put his body in the way, but it was also what Kakeru wanted.
Martin Tyler: Fouled by Zabaleta, it's a free kick for Manchester United.
"What was that?" Kakeru asked the referee, who just awarded the free kick.
"Pablo, come here!" the referee ordered.
"He ran into me, ref. It wasn't on purpose." Pablo tried to defend his case.
"I already warned you in the first half, but I'm not letting this one go. You're in the book." the referee replied.
"Oh, my God." Pablo was all arms up in despair.
Martin Tyler: It's a yellow card for Pablo Zabaleta.
The location of the free kick stood at a position that was barely appealing for a direct free kick, but quite interesting for an indirect free kick. As everyone would expect, Nana was the one stepping up to take the free kick.
Martin Tyler: Mishima fancies a shot.
Following the referee's signal, Nana took the shot. Much to everyone's surprise, Nana's attempt flew past Joe Hart and towards the frame of the goal. However, a lack of curl on the shot saw the ball smack the goalpost to the goalkeeper's left.
Martin Tyler: OH! Inside of the post! So close to a second goal!
The shot was so hard that the rebound bounced outside of the West Ham penalty area very quickly. Antonio then retrieved the loose ball on the wing, and attempted to make the cross.
Martin Tyler: Back from Valencia...
As everyone thought the cross might go towards a dangerous area, the pass struck a West Ham player before the ball bounced towards an isolated area in the 18-yard box. Lurking there was Pog, who took the shot towards the bottom corner of the goal. In a blur, United took a 3-1 lead.
Martin Tyler: And put away by Pogba! Right place, right time, Paul Pogba makes up for the miss in the second time. And Manchester United have a stronger grip on the match in the London Stadium, and there is plenty of time for more to come.
"Well done, Pog!" Kakeru congratulated his French teammate.
"Big goal, Pog!" Matthias added.
"Gros but, mon gars! (Big goal, man!)" Romelu added.
"Thanks, lads." Pog replied.
Gary Neville: Well, Pogba took full advantage on a little bit of good fortune. That was a great effort by Nana Mishima first on the shot. And then Valencia's cross hits Ogbonna, and the ball then bounced towards Pogba. Look at the way he took the shot: not too hard, but very accurate in the bottom corner.
At the same time Manchester United players and Manchester United supporters celebrated from their respective positions, the West Ham players were still shellshocked following the conceding of an early second half goal.
"COME ON, LADS! Please give me a chance!" Joe shouted at the players in front of him.
"He's right! We need to be more intense!" Pablo added to the words of his long-time teammate.
'We have no choice but to attack now. I'll do everything I can to put us back in the game.' Javier thought.
Being down by 2 goals, West Ham started moving players forward to attempt cutting the deficit down first. However, it was not enough to create serious chances against on the Manchester United goal. Then the West Ham manager made his first substitution by introducing former Liverpool striker, the towering Andy Carroll. Finally, West Ham started to create opportunities.
In the 65th minute:
Martin Tyler: West Ham have a corner.
Following the signal, the West Ham kick taker launched the ball towards the edge of the 6-yard box at the near post. In that area, Andy Carroll redirected the ball towards a slightly unmarked Javier Hernández. In that position, it was an easy header goal.
Martin Tyler: In and off Carroll... Hernández!!! Flag up. Offside.
However, the linesman raised his flag up, meaning that the goal was disallowed. The West Ham players and supporters couldn't believe it. However, TV replays supported the linesman's decision: the defenders moved up when Andy Carroll headed the ball towards Javier, who was left barely in an offside position.
Gary Neville: Well, my first reaction was 'goal'. But the linesman had a good view from his position. Cresswell takes the corner kick towards Carroll. And as Carroll headed the ball towards the dangerous area... Hernández was offside by just a fraction. It was so close, but it was the right call.
"¡Mierda! (Crap!)" Javier cursed out loud.
"Good effort though, Chico. We were lucky." Kakeru said.
"Yeah, but we'll come again." Javier said as he sportingly gave Kakeru a low five.
West Ham didn't take too long to comeback at the Manchester United goal though. Soon enough, their efforts led to another glorious chance.
In the 68th minute:
Pog attempted a pass forward to Kakeru, but the ball bounced off Mark Noble in the opposite direction. On the halfway line, Javier retrieved the loose ball before he attempted to start a counterattack.
Martin Tyler: Blocked by Noble... Hernández picks up the loose ball.
As Javier started going forward with the ball, Nemanja came in with very physical tackle that surely was a foul. However, the referee allowed the advantage when he saw that Mark Noble could retrieve the loose ball to carry on with the counterattack.
Martin Tyler: The referee gives the advantage. Noble...
The West Ham captain immediately launched a through pass on the left and towards Austrian winger Marko Arnautović. Under the roars of expectation in the stadium, the Austrian charged in full speed inside Manchester United's half. Then at 20 yards from goal, Arnautović pushed the ball between 2 Manchester United defenders, and ran himself through that gap.
Martin Tyler: It's Arnautović. He's cutting his way through...
Antonio tried to contain Arnautović as much as possible, but the West Ham player held his ground in the run. Finally, the Austrian took a shot on goal, but David de Gea parried the shot.
Martin Tyler: Ohh! Fine save by David de Gea! It was well hit by Marko Arnautović as well.
The rebound went to Nana, who then attempted a give-and-go with Eric Bailly to start attacking the other way. However, a West Ham player tackled the ball out of play before Nana could try anything. Regardless, the crowd was still buzzing at the last scoring chance that should have cut West Ham's 2-goal deficit into a 1-goal deficit.
Meanwhile in the away supporters' end.
"Damn! That was too close for comfort." Noriko said.
"Since the third goal, we're sitting on the 2-goal lead. That's not the right way to go on cruise control." Sarah added.
"It's something unconscious, but I also hate it. If I were on that pitch, I would be playing harder to slow them down at all costs." Yusuke said.
"Keep your energy though, Saeki-kun. Your team will need it when you come back." Taeko said.
"I know you would do better out there, Yusuke. You better show them first in training." Noriko added.
"I will get back in the starting lineup, and I won't lose my spot. I swear that I will." Yusuke replied.
'You will get there, Yusuke. Perhaps this upcoming week will give you a little bit of inspiration too.' Noriko thought.
Shortly later, the West Ham manager decided to replace Javier with another player with fresh legs. West Ham kept on pushing to find the goal that would plant a big seed of doubt in the minds of the visiting side. However, pushing more players forward also meant playing into the hands of the Red Devils' counterattack strength.
In the 73rd minute:
Martin Tyler: Zabaleta... waste of a ball. Matić, Pogba...
An attempted pass by Pablo was intercepted in the middle of the park by Nemanja's sliding tackle. Then the loose ball went to Pog, who then passed the ball forward to Romelu. When the Belgian striker made his way beyond the center circle, he made a long ground pass on the left wing for Kakeru to run after.
Martin Tyler: A bit long by Lukaku, but Aizawa gets there.
Kakeru retrieved the ball before it could roll out of bounds. At that moment, Kakeru came face-to-face with a West Ham defender blocking the way to the West Ham penalty area.
"Don't let him through!" Pablo ordered his teammates to stop Kakeru from moving forward.
Kakeru then made a few feints to create some space against the nearest West Ham defender. Then at the right split second, Kakeru launched a cross that flew above a few heads before it landed on a silver plate for Romelu.
Martin Tyler: LUKAKU!!! It's 4!
Romelu's powerful header left no chance to the poor West Ham goalkeeper. At that moment, everyone watching the match knew that the game was well and truly over.
Martin Tyler: It's a double for Romelu Lukaku, and his 20th goal of this increasingly prolific campaign. It's West Ham 1-4 Manchester United here at the London Stadium.
"Well done, Big Rom! Nice goal!" Kakeru said.
"Thanks, Red Knight! Nice pass too." Romelu replied.
"We can shut down the shop now. Let's play it simple, and avoid injuries." Matthias said.
"Let's do this!" Nana added.
As the Manchester United players walked on their way back for the restart, Kakeru and Nana had a little chat.
"That was a great pass, Kakeru." Nana said.
"Thanks, Seven. I knew they would try to put bodies against me, but what you taught me about long passes came in handy."
"Thanks to you and Big Rom, we can breathe easier now." Nana said.
A couple of minutes later, José ordered a double substitution. Kakeru and Nana were replaced by Anthony and Ander respectively. On the bench, the 2 Japanese players were given a warm welcome by their teammates and the coaches.
"Well done, you two." José shook hands with Kakeru and then Nana.
"Thanks, Boss. I could have done a little more today though." Kakeru said.
"You'll have a chance for next match if you work as hard in training first. Keep up the good work." José replied.
"Well done with the goal, Little Witch. I will need you for next week as well though. That's why I took you off." José said to Nana.
"Sure, Boss. I understand." Nana replied.
"Enjoy the break. You earned it." José finished.
For what was left of the match, people thought Zlatan would get a few minutes by replacing Romelu. However instead, the Belgian was kept on the pitch in order to have a chance to complete his hat-trick. However, he didn't have the opportunity to do so. The level of energy from both sides went down considerably after the 4-1 goal, and no one tried anything reckless. Finally after 3 minutes of injury time following the 90, the referee sounded the end of the long agony for the East London side.
PEEP PEEP PEEEEEEEEEP!!!
Players from both teams went for a few handshakes as usual.
"Good game, Kakeru." Javier shook hands with Kakeru.
"Thanks, Chico. At least, you scored today while I didn't. There's positivity for you." Kakeru said.
"Yeah, sure." Javier replied before he turned towards Nana. "Good game, Witch."
"Thanks, Chico. Good luck for whatever comes next for West Ham." Nana shook hands with Javier before the latter nodded and walked on his way.
Within a few seconds, the former Manchester City players came to shake hands with Kakeru and Nana.
"Good game, Aizawa. You really gave me a run for my money." Pablo said.
"Thanks. You look tired though." Kakeru replied.
"It's not getting easier to play against you as I get older, I guess."
"You two are almost impossible to stop." Joe added.
"We'll take that as a compliment." Nana replied.
"It is. In a way, I'm glad that I won't play against you two anymore in this season. Good luck for whatever comes next." Joe said.
"Thanks. Good luck to you too." Kakeru finished.
Sometime later, Kakeru and Nana walked out of their respective dressing rooms. Kakeru then took Nana in a corridor that was not too far from the West Ham dressing room. Nana was mostly surprised about Kakeru's reaction.
"Well, tell me what we're doing here." Nana said.
"It shouldn't be long now. I have a surprise for you." Kakeru replied.
"What is it?" Nana asked.
At that moment, Javier arrived to greet Kakeru.
"Chico." Kakeru gave a high five handshake to his friend Javier.
"What is the surprise here? We just talked to each other on the pitch." Nana asked.
"She's the surprise." Javier pointed out towards someone behind Nana.
"Hi, Miss Mishima. It's a pleasure to meet you." a feminine voice with a posh British accent said.
Nana then turned around, and then her eyes lit up when she finally saw the person behind the voice. It was the world-renowned British actress Keira Knightley.
"Oh... my God. It is really you!" Nana exclaimed. "Keira Knightley in person."
"Yep, I am!" Keira replied.
"I just... Wow!" Nana shook hands with Keira. "I'm a really big big fan of your work for a long time."
"I'm really happy to hear it." Keira said.
"I was around 8 or something when I saw 'Bend It Like Beckham' for the very first time. I like the main character named Jess, but your performance as Jules Paxton was something I identified myself with back then." Nana said.
"You were a tomboy?" Keira asked.
"Yeah, I was one hell of a tomboy." Nana replied before both women started laughing. "Just like Jules, I always had a little feisty edge on the pitch, I wanted to show everyone that I can play the game, and I was already that good in football against the boys. When I later became a teenager, I also tried to become as elegant as you although I may not be at your level at all."
"I think you look really elegant both on and off the pitch. In your own way, you are a work of art. That's what I thought when you scored the 2-1 goal." Keira said.
"You're not mad at me for scoring that goal?" Nana asked.
"You did your job, that's all. And besides, I now feel privileged to know that one of my roles actually inspired someone to make fiction become reality and more." Keira replied.
"Thank you." Nana said. "I'm really happy that you came all the way down to see me even though I scored one against your childhood club."
"You should thank your fiancé and his friend Chicharito here. They are the ones who worked together so the West Ham club can set up this moment between us."
"Really?" Nana turned towards Kakeru and Javier.
"Kakeru told me about you being a big Keira Knightley fan. He asked me if we can set up something, so I said yes." Javier replied to Nana.
Kakeru then hesitated for a few seconds before he said his version. "Well, it's just as he said."
"Well, thanks a lot, Kakeru." Nana replied. "That was very thoughtful of you."
"I have heard that you have your share of followers on Twitter. What about we give them something to see and enjoy?" Keira asked Nana.
"Of course! A few pictures would do." Nana replied.
"I think we'll take a few with just Nana and Keira on Nana's phone. Then we finish off with a couple of pictures with all four of us. What do you say?" Kakeru asked.
"That's perfect!" Nana replied.
Then Kakeru took the pictures – mostly with Nana and Keira together – before they took a couple of group pictures. A little later, Nana posted the photos on her Twitter account, and Noriko was quick to notice them.
"Look at those photos, Sarah." Noriko said.
"No way! She posed with Keira Knightley."
The photo aside, the tweet's message explained to Noriko how and why Nana became a fan of the actress.
"Me and Keira Knightley, my favorite actress. Her performance as Jules Paxton was a huge inspiration in my childhood. #BendItLikeBeckham" Noriko read the tweet. "Not that explains everything."
"I loved that movie in my younger days." Sarah said. "Now that we all know, it's a natural fit with everything Nana did to become the footballer she is today."
"True, but I also think Nana is pushing it one step beyond that daydreaming sequence from the movie." Noriko finished.