Would You Mind If I Play? - Chapter 13[Updated at: 2021-01-11 03:57:18]
Chapter 13: The Opponent
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
Upon returning home after an intense training session, Zhang Jun found that his home was honored with the arrival of a guest.
“Zhang Jun, look who’s here?” his dad greeted him.
The visitor turned and Zhang Jun was momentarily speechless. “You?”
“Hehe. We meet again.” Chen Huafeng smiled.
“How did you…”
“I’m your father’s student. I’m here today for a visit,” the reporter explained. “Although I knew my instructor had a son, it never crossed my mind that it’d be you. What a coincidence!”
“Never crossed my mind either.”
“I met him a few years ago when I went drawing in the Taihang Mountains. I stayed in his place while I was there,” Zhang Jun’s father said, patting Huafeng’s back. “He was still a third-year high school student back then; but now, he’s working. How time flies!”
“Yeah! I was at that age then. When Mr. Zhang climbed Taihang for sketches, he stayed at my house; I learned a lot from him during his half-month stay with us. That’s how I developed an interest in photography. The high school exams were after that, and then, I enrolled in Journalism at Fudan University.”
“I heard you went to Shanghai to work after graduation, so how did you end up in Luoyang?” Zhang Weiguo asked.
“Don’t mention that place! Shanghai wasn’t the place for me! I worked for a newspaper, but the Shanghai boss looked at me like I was some sort of thief. I couldn’t stand it, so I resigned.”
“I understand, you can be quite eager.”
“So, I was on another job-hunt, but the employers would reject my applications whenever they heard that I was from Henan. Why do Henan people have such a bad reputation outside of the province? And who should us Henan people be hiring in return? Either way I really couldn’t get myself hired, so I came back to Henan, relocating here in Luoyang.”
Growing disinterested the conversation about “adult problems”, Zhang Jun bid them well and went to his room. He retrieved a copy of High School Soccer from his bag and started reading; the vivid text and imagery seemed to bring him back to that game.
Yang Pan’s passes were simply exquisite; when Zhang Jun made his run, he could see the ball soaring towards him in an almost aesthetic curve. He leaped, aimed and arched his head firmly. Then, he heard the beautiful sound of the ball brushing up against the net as he scored! He did not even stop to confirm if the ball had really gone in, running instead towards Yang Pan with arms open wide.
He always trusted Yang Pan and their tacit understanding when it came to soccer. Anytime he saw Yang Pan sprinting towards the ball, he would dash into the box―because Yang Pan would definitely send the ball to him. Then, he just needed to leap and nod the ball softly towards the goal.
Even if Shui Huajun managed to equalize and subsequently give Zhong Xin the lead, he did not feel flustered. As long as he was playing alongside Yang Pan, he knew that they were unstoppable; it had been that way ever since they were children; naturally and unsurprisingly, Yang Pan equalized the score quickly. The long shot was a clear reminder of the first time he fired one those shots during their first game in middle school; it scared everyone silly back then.
He also remembered Yang Pan’s reaction on that bygone day―at the sight of the goalpost’s poles being knocked over, there was no quieting him down for the rest of the day. To be fair, they were made of wood and had aged considerably. Nevertheless, it was still genuinely amusing to see it getting knocked down by a little student’s shot from over 20 m away! Yang Pan even asked their gym teacher afterwards, “Teach, does this count as a goal?”
The teacher looked at Yang Pan as though he was gazing upon an extraterrestrial life form. He was not even able to conjure up a sentence. Zhang Jun had always prided himself as the most skilled player among his classmates, but from that day onwards, he began to feel a sincere admiration towards another player. And with that, he became buddies with Yang Pan.
Yang Pan’s scoring also did a number on Zhong Xin’s morale―he was accomplished in such matters after all. In the National High School Soccer Championship this summer, Yang Pan shot once after nine seconds, but it was enough to put last year’s fourth-placed team out of commission for the rest of the game. A single high school student took a shot from 30 m away and knocked both the keeper as well as the ball into the goal! Not to mention, the goalie was immediately given a substitution.
In the next game, it was Yang Pan’s long shot that guided their victory once more; this time, over Kai Ta High. Therefore, in every game that followed, whenever he raised his feet, any defender who was marking him would subconsciously move aside. That was when he got the nickname: “Morale Killer.”
Just before Shu Guang got their win against Zhong Xin, Yang Pan’s shot rebounded from the woodwork. When the other team’s defense thought that they were out of the woods, Zhang Jun plunged forward like a ghost and appeared where the ball dropped, diving and sending the ball into an empty net. It looked easy, but without his natural instincts, Zhang Jun would not have appeared in that precise location at the precise time, making the precise move; there were numerous past examples where, in similar situations, players would miss empty goals.
It felt good to win, but he was not as ecstatic as his seniors. He did win a national title before after all, and even if it was on a middle school level, it still counted as having the experience. But Su Fei’s words yesterday moved him―Was football played for one’s self? Just to feel the delight of scoring? Just to feel the body letting loose as the player dashed around the pitch? If not, what else was there?
Zhang Jun found an answer in Su Fei’s excited face yesterday. Although he did not understand English, he finally understood the lyrics of “Do You Mind If I Play?”―the elegant theme song of the French World Cup .
Would you cheer for me if I win? Would you cry for me if I lose? Would you mind if I play?
I can be more, but would it matter if there’s no one to share with? What meaning was there in a one-man victory? No cheers when I score, no comfort when I lose; who am I even running so hard for?
Zhang Jun played the song with his hi-fi system and closed his eyes to soak in the world within the music. In that dimension, he ran to his heart’s content across green pastures, and his ears were filled with the chants of hundreds of thousands of people. Everyone was shouting his name―those voices seeped into his blood, heating it up and warming his body; what a wonderful sensation it was! He met those cries with open arms to embrace it all.
Su Fei decided to visit Zhang Jun and borrow a few books on football. But when she rang his doorbell, neither his parents nor Zhang Jun himself greeted her by the door―it was the reporter instead.
“Is that Su Fei?” Zhang Weiguo asked.
“It’s me, uncle.”
Chen Huafeng was also taken aback. How did he bump into two acquaintances in one afternoon?
“He’s at his room, go look for him.”
“Oh, thanks uncle.”
Su Fei made a beeline for Zhang Jun’s room while Huafeng pointed at her. “Isn’t she the manager of the Shu Guang High School soccer team?”
“Hehe! That’s right!” Zhang Wei Guo chortled. “Her family just moved here a month ago, next to us. Su Fei often comes by, looking for Zhang Jun. And she’s such a good girl! Thoughtful, well-behaved and excellent in her studies. She’ll be a good teacher for my clueless Zhang Jun.”
Chen Huafeng looked pensively at Zhang Jun’s door.
Once Su Fei entered, she was startled again as she found Zhang Jun standing in the middle of his room. It was filled with music and he stood with his arms spread wide open. But instead of disturbing him, she closed the door softly and found a spot to sit.
The length of the track felt so short and Zhang Jun was left unsatisfied as he opened his eyes. He jumped at the sight of Su Fei, who held her chin as she watched him. “Eh! Su Fei? When did you come inside?”
She smiled. “When you were dreaming.”
“That’s right! Your expression just now was so rich, you had to be dreaming. It was hilarious!” Her laughter was heavenly.
Zhang Jun thought about what he had been feeling. “Yup! It was a beautiful dream!”
Li Yongle was on his bed, flipping through the copy of High School Soccer he swiped off Zhang Yang. He had already gone through every article written about Shu Guang, Zhang Jun and Yang Pan. However, his thoughts were not on the article.
The story went that Zhang Jun and Yang Pan had already shown their brilliance during their middle school years. In the summer of their third-year , they led Kai Ta Middle School to their first national title.
Li Yongle recalled his own days in middle school. Under the influence of youth and his rebellious tendencies, he started playing truant, getting into fights and spending long hours at arcade. He looked at the attention his teachers and parents gave him as restraints. He met Zhang Yang later on, and with their similar thinking as well as personalities, they became best friends almost immediately. They were the typical teenage troublemakers and representatives of their school’s failing students. This lifestyle of theirs stretched on late into their third middle school year.
Yongle could not recall what got into him at the time, but one fateful day, he went with Zhang Yang to watch a soccer match in his school field. It was only a qualifying match for the National Middle School Soccer Championship between Shu Ren Middle School and Kai Ta Middle School, but it changed his life.
It had been a one-sided game; the score was 5 : 0 when it ended. A classmate of his was playing the role of center back, and though he did not like the guy, the player did have skillsThe Opponent. But in the pitch, he made a clown of himself thanks to Kai Ta’s No. 11. The defender was floored time after time and he was not even able to reach the other player’s jersey to foul him; watching him pick his wretched self up, even Yongle began to feel sorry for the guy.
And then there was that No. 7, whose long shot hit the woodwork but kept the goalpost quaking for a very long time.
“They’re so good! Who are they?” Li Yongle could not stop himself from wondering.
“No. 11 is Kai Ta’s Zhang Jun, No. 7 is Yang Pan,” a voice came from behind.
Li Yongle turned to see a uniformed and bespectacled but frail-looking boy. He was also watching the game.
He climbed over to sit beside him and asked, “Who are you?”
“Li Yongle, I believe?”
Li was a little shocked. “How did you know who I am?”
“Li Yongle and Zhang Yang are the top hoodlums of Shu Ren Middle School. How could I not? I can remember names very well.”
“Then, do you know them too?” Li Yongle pointed at the pitch.
“I’ve watched their game before so, I do,” Zhang Lintao began to chatter incessantly as soon as the topic shifted to soccer. “Zhang Jun is their top striker and he has scored 11 goals in four games so far. Yang Pan is a very fast attacking midfielder; his long shots are unbelievable for a third-year middle school student. You saw it too just now, right?”
Meanwhile, the Shu Ren cheerleaders were completely floored while Kai Ta’s own cheerleading team, who traveled all the way to another school were doing their best.
Li Yongle stared at the pitch thoughtfully.
After kicking down their last opponent, the 185-cm Li straightened his clothes and told Zhang Yang, who was beside him, “I don’t want to keep fighting like this.”
Zhang Yang did not get him. “Why?”
“I want to play soccer.”
“Soccer? You? No way!” Zhang Yang was finding the situation incredulous.
“Yes. I have a new opponent I want to defeat!” Li Yongle declared with clenched fists.
“Because of that game?”
“Yeah. When we enter high school, I’ll join the soccer team. I only hope that I won’t get in the same school as them.”
“Ah… What a teenager, such a quick change of interest!” Zhang Yang sighed.
“You’re not with me?”
“Me? Stop kidding!” Zhang Yang waved him off. “I’ve never even played!”
“I’ll teach you.”
“I trained before when I was younger but I didn’t play much once I got into middle school. Believe me, your physical conditioning fits the bill. You’re volatile, fast, strong and fearless; it’s what soccer requires.”
“And I always thought these were only needed for brawls.” Zhang Yang kicked a Coke can into the drain in one move.
“Your kicking isn’t bad either!”
“Fine! I’ll play. But I can’t guarantee that I’ll learn it from now till September!”
“One summer is all I need.”
At the pitch of the high school attached to the Zhongyuan University of Science and Technology.
“Welcome to everyone who has registered to join our Zhongyuan soccer team. I don’t think there’s much to say about our team’s history; you’re here because you know. What I want to say is, our team has over 80 members―so, if you want to get into the first team, you have to train seriously! My training is intense; there are many who can’t stand it and leave every year; and I won’t protest even if you do. But, as long as you work hard in training, it will never escape my attention,” Sun Laihong, the team’s coach said seriously. “Alright now, everyone please state your name and your preferred position.”
“Li Yongle, my preferred position is defensive midfielder!”
Sun Lai Hong looked at his firm and strong 185-cm frame. It was a good build for playing football.
“Zhang Yang, I wish to play as a left back.”
Li Yongle smiled as he considered the talent that was Zhang Yang. He noticed that his friend was left-handed and as such, decided to set him on that position. However, he did not expect him to become such a fine one in just a month. Although he had refused earlier, he proved that he was a faster learner than the rest. His ferocious tackles also proved to be a very useful armament.
“Zhang Lintao, my preferred position is goalkeeper.”
Li Yongle turned to see the boy he met on the pitch that day; with his spectacles and frail appearance, Li was not expecting him to play as well. Lintao smiled at him.
Yongle returned to the present and kept reading. The last three pages were a report on Zhongyuan’s own match, which also introduced three of their first-year recruits.
“Li Yongle: A young star with a bright future. Although he is 185 cm tall and weighs 80 kg, this defensive midfielder played with his wits instead of his physicality―a rare trait among high-schoolers. He appeared to have great control over match rhythm; it’s hard to believe that he’s just 15 with the performance he put on in his debut. He always picked out the right position as he moved about, tackling precisely and ferociously. On top of that, he handled the ball in a calm demeanor. These are all qualities that an excellent defensive midfielder has to possess. There’s no doubt that he’ll become a star footballer with time.
Zhang Yang: A player who allegedly never had any prior experience of playing football before high school. Yet, anyone who watched his debut would never consider him a newbie. On the pitch, he incessantly roared and completely dismantled opponents’ offensive attempts with his beautifully timed challenges. As a left back, he is a one-man minefield that never permits opponents to take even half a step farther.
Zhang Lintao: No previous data of this player existed. It was only known that he went to the same middle school alongside Zhang Yang and Li Yongle. No valuable data was gathered on his debut game because he had nothing to do for large periods; Zhang Yang and Luo Bin’s defensive partnership stopped their opponents’ offensive efforts 30 m out. His foundations looked solid when he received the ball on a few occasions. One way or another, he is not to be underestimated since he was able to make the first team as soon as he joined the Zhongyuan squad. There is much to look forward for his display in upcoming games.”
Li Yongle closed the magazine. He could feel as if he was catching up to Zhang Jun; he could hear his footsteps just slightly ahead.