Would You Mind If I Play? - Chapter 39[Updated at: 2021-01-11 03:57:26]
Chapter 39: A Most Familiar Foe
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
It was the first round of the Luoyang Regional Qualifiers for the 15th edition of the National High School Soccer Championship. The match between Shu Guang and Kai Ta would be played at the latter’s soccer field.
Nothing had changed; whether it was the main gates, classrooms, laboratories, mini store, car park or the toilet facing the running track―everything stayed the same.
There was a humorous recollection that Zhang Jun had of the toilet.
In his third year at Kai Ta, he signed up for the 100-m dash in the autumn track and field event. He was confident that his sprinting was peerless save for Yang Pan in school and by luck, Yang Pan was not competing in the same category―his greatest obstacle was therefore, gone.
At the sound of the umpire’s gunshot, he dashed ahead and already lost the others by the five-meter mark. Leading far up front against the others with his explosive speed, he crossed the line ahead of them under the loud cheers of the other students―but everyone was stunned when he did not stop even after he had crossed the line with both hands raised; maintaining his speed, he made a beeline for that toilet by the tracks. Everyone stared at him blankly before breaking into thunderous laughter after five seconds.
Yang Pan poked fun at his friend afterwards, saying, “I was finding it weird that you could run so fast the other day. So, it was the pee talking! Your goal in the first place was the men’s room, not the finish line, huh?” He completely disregarded Zhang Jun’s explanation that since he was wearing nailed boots, he was not able to stop, extending the length of the run instead. In addition, he could not have ran into the ladies’ room hence, his dash into the boy’s toilet.
But Yang Pan’s version of the story still spread throughout the school and everyone learned afterwards that Zhang Jun’s gold medal was won by his full bladder. But gossip changed as it traveled and as the news floated further, it turned into “Zhang Jun’s speed on the pitch comes from the power of a full bladder”. Zhang Jun could not decide whether to laugh or cry.
The pre-match arrangements were simple but effective. Liang Ke had arranged for Wang Ning and Li Hao to mark Yuan Gang together. While he chose not to avoid Liu Peng, he told his four forwards to take turns in making runs at him. “Even if he’s made of iron, we’ll wear him down!” Liang Ke screamed with a clenched fist in an impression of Hitler―both of them were adherents of the offensive doctrine.
Just before they stepped onto the pitch, the coach stopped Zhang Jun.
“Zhang Jun. Remember, a match is a match.”
Liu Qi and his expanded troop of Shu Guang cheerleaders appeared by the stands on the Kai Ta pitch. They were looking more the part as they raised the atmosphere and shouted roars of support for their school’s team.
The number of journalists from High School Soccer who were sent to the scene had been increased to three thanks to the special attention from Chief Editor Liu. Two of them were writers and the other was a photojournalist. Chen Huafeng, being one of the writers, took the other writer―an intern they all called Xiao Zhang―up the viewing platform.
“You have to realize that watching Shu Guang matches is a form of enjoyment, especially when they attack,” Huafeng reminded his junior. “When the time comes, you’ll have to watch carefully. I’m hoping that you can write a breathtaking account of the game for me!”
“But the chief editor wanted you to―”
“Ahem! It’s a great opportunity for some practice y’know! You have to take it! There aren’t many like me who’d slip such a chance to their juniors!” Trying to look the part of a senior, Chen Huafeng patted his colleague on the back. The intern had recently graduated from Zhengzhou University under a specialized course for journalism. However, his efforts were lost on the younger man.
“Ah! You wanted to watch the match, didn’t you? Hmph! And you’re quite the newcomer yourself!”
Chen Huafeng smiled. “Hehe, but you’ve only been here for a month, right? That’s why I’m your senior!”
Zhang Jun had just stepped out of the locker room when he bumped into Yuan Gang.
“Call me Yuan Gang.”
“How are you?”
“Not bad! You on the other hand, are quite on the roll, eh? Becoming a star player, getting interviews and being photographed for magazines. You’ve forgotten all your old friends. Over a year, not one call, not one letter. Having a blissful time making friends in Shu Guang, is that it?”
“There’s no need for explanation. Nothing more needs to be said.” Zhang Jun felt like he had seen that expression on Yuan Gang’s face before. Oh, right, it was in that dream. “Forget about what you promised! We’ll meet on the pitch and Zhang Jun, don’t get cold feet!”
At those words, Yuan Gang turned and left, leaving a quiet Zhang Jun behind.
“Wasn’t that a bit too much?” Liu Peng asked when Yuan Gang approached him. “You do know that Zhang Jun neither called nor wrote because he was afraid of us getting angry at him for not saying goodbye.”
“Of course I know. But it’s all necessary for victory.” Yuan Gang slipped the captain’s armband around his triceps. “Let’s go, Liu Peng. The game is starting.”
The referee blew on his whistle and the game started.
Kai Ta was on the attack. Yuan Gang carried the ball forward while two of his team’s strikers ran ahead to divert the attention of the Shu Guang defense.
Wang Ning and Li Hao closed in on Yuan Gang, with Wang going near for a challenge as Li Hao waited for an opening beside them. Still, despite Wang’s best efforts to steal the ball, Yuan Gang looked quite relaxed as he held the ball firmly at his feet.
A winger came by to help, Yuan Gang slipped the ball to him beautifully and he crossed the ball into the box with a single stroke!
Lin Xiaofang headed the ball clear thanks to his advantage in height and the ball fell back to Yuan Gang. Even though he had just freed himself from Wang Ning and Li Hao, he dared not tarry―those two stubborn fellows were closing in on him once more―and he fired a long shot.
An Ke dived to the side and pressed the ball down to the ground.
With a long-range effort right after the opening minute, it was apparent that Kai Ta’s desire for victory was intense. The game would not be a walk in the park for Shu Guang.
But Shu Guang’s attack were also seeking release after almost a year of not letting loose.
Kaka showed beautiful control as he chested down An Ke’s long ball and turned to dodge an incoming defensive midfielder; those slick moves drew shrill screams from girls on the stands.
He then made a brilliant pass to Ren Yu De, who knocked the ball ahead with the inner soles of his feet. As he rushed forward after detecting an opportunity, Kai Ta’s No. 4, Li Ding, a defender on the flanks made his approach. He knew of Ren Yu De’s formidability; the Shu Guang player’s elaborate skills were rated among the top five―with a little space, he could fend off anyone. That was why Li Ding did not wait and he carefully made his defensive approach, keeping sure that he did not make even a tiny bit of error.
Facing such an attentive opponent, Ren Yu De―unable to find an opening―returned the ball to Kaka.
“Who will be the focus in this game? Yang Pan, Kaka or Yuan Gang?” Xiao Zhang asked excitedly as he watched the game.
“Nope. It’ll be Zhang Jun,” Chen Huafeng replied.
“Zhang Jun? That striker? Doesn’t look like an outstanding character!”
“The key to this game lies in Zhang Jun ability; he will decide whether Shu Guang wins or loses.”
“No way? Yang Pan’s long shot is an invincible weapon! And he’s the captain too―the spiritual backbone of the team!”
Huafeng sighed. “And that’s the difference between an intern and an experienced reporter. You’re right that Yang Pan’s long shots are formidable and that he’s the captain. But when it comes to leadership, I believe Zhang Jun is the man.”
“Him? That trivial main character?”
“From a technical point of view, yes, Yang Pan’s shooting is powerful, but in the preliminaries last year, Zhang Jun scored five goals and he was the top scorer of his team; furthermore, he missed out on the last game due to an injury.”
“Yang Pan scored four too!” Xiao Zhang argued, not letting up. “And the coach also told him to suppress his shots.”
“That’s right. In that game against Zhongyuan, Yang Pan scored two alone and suppressed their defenses by himself―but why did he still lose? It doesn’t matter how impenetrable a team’s defense is, how great their synergy is or how much skill they have in passing the ball around―if they have no one to send the ball into the other team’s net, how can they win? All their hard work will go down the drain. The presence of a good striker is vital to any team. You may refer to Kempes, from the Argentinian squad in the 1978 World Cup. Yang Pan and Ren Yu De were never pure strikers―only Zhang Jun, a classical striker, is a complete and excellent shooting specialist. His high rate of scoring and stability in his movement were the linchpin for Shu Guang’s meteoric rise last year.”
“Even if you’re right, why would you say that he’s the spiritual leader of the team? To my knowledge, it’s the captains who inspire their team’s morale.”
“You’re correct once more, but Shu Guang’s circumstances are special. Yang Pan is a player of professional caliber and Zhongyuan is of a formidable caliber too―they are at the pinnacle of the national standard. If I wrote an article about them now, I would be able to predict where they’d be in the future. But for Zhang Jun, I could never tell what heights he would reach or how influential he would become. His growth has been stunning and his future indefinite.
“And then there’s his aloof demeanor, which makes him appear fine against anything; but if you believe for once that it’s his true colors, you’re in for trouble. It’s as if there are different Zhang Juns, you know? Once he’s on the pitch he’d emit an aura that gains the trust of his teammates and they’d pass the ball to him. Zhang Jun is the ultimate point for soccer. It does not matter how, he will score. Stalemates are always broken because of that inconspicuous No. 11. Think about the game between Shu Guang and Nanyang and how he scored his hat-trick. You’ll understand. A player who never lets his teammates down and brings hope as well as triumph, is such a person not the spiritual leader of his team?”
Still, Xiao Zhang was not convinced. It was true that finding Zhang Jun’s good points was not easy; Chen Huafeng himself only got to that conclusion after one whole year of following Shu Guang closely. Then, he suddenly remembered that bet he made last year with Sun Liang Liang―whenever he chose who to wager on someone, he never lost. At that thought, Huafeng smiled. “What about this, let’s make a bet. I think that Zhang Jun will be the key to this game, you think not. We’ll do a wager that whoever loses will treat the winner to dinner. How about that?”
Being an exuberant young man, Xiao Zhang did not even think it through before he agreed to the bet. “Fine! No pulling out!”
“Absolutely! Absolutely!” Chen Huafeng smiled and nodded.
The stands exploded in cheers as the ball went to Yang Pan’s feet.
“Long shot! Long shot! Long shot!” Shu Guang’s cheerleading team chanted in one voice.
Yang Pan looked up to see a clear route towards the goal. He went forward two paces, preparing to shoot, but someone slid in and knocked the ball away.
“Liu Peng!” Yang Pan called out, startled.
The other player smiled at him. “Long time no see, let’s have a greeting!”
“You’re marking me? What about Zhang Jun? Don’t you know how good he is?” A surprising turn of events; Yang Pan was shocked, not at the sight of his old friend but because Liu Peng was not marking Zhang Jun. After all, Liu Peng should know better than anyone of Zhang Jun’s influence as former teammates.
“I know and I do so better than anyone. That would forever be…” Liu Peng’s face darkened, but soon he lifted his voice and shot back at Yang Pan, “Instead of worrying about others, why don’t you think about how you’re going to get past me first!”
“You’re that confident about stopping me?” Yang Pan smiled.
“Come on!” Liu Peng point at his own chest.
Yang Pan was on the ball again but this time, Liu Peng did not get near him―he stayed around four meters away instead. At such a distance, whether Yang Pan wanted to shoot or dash through, he would not be shaking off Liu Peng’s zonal defense.
Facing his former teammate who offered no openings, Yang Pan sighed and passed the ball. He knew very well just how dominating the 188-cm youth in front of him could be. A strong body, agile pacing, stunning explosiveness and an excellent foresight earned him the nickname of “Iron Curtain” in middle school. He had even experienced the bitter taste of his boot and it was best if he did not make for a hard break if he did not have absolute certainty.
“What? Afraid of me?” Liu Peng smiled.
“Hmph!” Yang Pan pouted. “There’s still 75 minutes, aren’t you afraid of turning into a clown?”
It was six minutes after the game started when Zhang Jun first got to the ball. There was little wonder since he was being moody and running a lot less than usual. Kaka was also failing to find the right timing to pass the ball to him.
But then opportunity came. Kaka dodged Kai Ta’s defensive midfielder, Yu Wenjun’s attempt to steal the ball and sent a precise pass to Zhang Jun’s feet.
Getting the ball, the striker suddenly found that the one marking him was not a center back but…
“Yuan Gang!” Yang Pan exclaimed. The Kai Ta captain was an attacking midfielder, so why was he appearing in his own half and keeping Zhang Jun in check?
Zhang Jun was in shock too.
“Remember what I said? Don’t get cold feet!” Yuan Gang stared at him as he huffed out every word.