Chapter 40: Oh, My Friend…
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
“Remember what I said? Don’t get cold feet!” Yuan Gang stated expressionlessly at Zhang Jun as he huffed out every word.
At the sight of the familiar face, Zhang Jun felt as if the noises around the grounds were fading and that he was returning to his middle school years.
“The school soccer team?” Zhang Jun said, staring at the recruitment notice on the board. The word “soccer” was enough to grab his attention. “Should we go, Yang Pan?”
Yang Pan yawned. “Whatever. If you go, I’ll go.”
“Wonderful! We’ll make a lot of great friends, right? Just like the two of us.”
“I’m a new member, Zhang Jun from Year 1, Class 1. I’m a striker. I hope to get along with everyone in the team and become great friends!”
“I’m Yang Pan. I’m in the same class as Zhang Jun and my position is either a right midfielder or winger.”
Two more members joined two days later. Attacking midfielder, Yuan Gang and center back, Liu Peng.
When Zhang Jun first saw Yuan Gang’s face, he thought he was looking at a monkey that has escaped from the zoo. When he finally came to this realization, he rolled with laughter, clutching at his stomach. Yuan Gang stood alone and stared blankly at him, not understanding what was so funny.
“Hey! What are you laughing at?”
It took some effort for Zhang Jun to stop laughing and he apologized as he wiped the tears off his face. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry. I didn’t do it on purpose, Monkey…”
Taken by surprise, every other team member roared in laughter. Zhang Jun’s accidental utterance of “monkey” was a perfectly apt description of Yuan Gang’s facial features―his lips jutted out and his high cheekbones as well as his long, untidy hair did make him look like an ape.
As he watched the others burst out in laughter, Zhang Jun began to laugh again.
The jeers woke Zhang Jun up and he found that he had lost the ball. He stood rooted in front of the opposing team’s area while Kai Ta somehow advanced into Shu Guang half.
“This is the key character?” Xiao Zhang laughed, glaring at Chen Huafeng. “He did nothing when he got the ball and it was stolen from him almost immediately. He didn’t even react.”
Chen Huafeng smiled in return. “It’s normal.” He knew what was happening from his first glance at the striker. There was no mistaking that Zhang Jun was a pillar for Shu Guang and the team would be in danger if anything happened to him.
Now all Huafeng could do was pray that Zhang Jun could wake up as soon as possible. After all, a friend was a friend, and a match was a match.
An Ke did all he could to block Yuan Gang’s drive while Lin Xiaofang cleared the danger with a long ball.
Kaka stole the ball in front of Yu Wenjun and went on a counter. Liu Peng stopped it with a sliding tackle and Kai Ta’s left midfielder, Zhong Zhiqiang got to the ball before delivering it to Yuan Gang. The captain eluded Wang Ning with much agility. He executed an ankle break on Li Hao and passed!
Kai Ta’s striker, Zhang Yi carried the ball forward and took a shot!
An Ke hugged the ball tightly.
Yuan Gang shook his head, disappointed that the ball did not go in. Even if Zhang Jun was nullified, against an offensive formation consisting of a monster like Yang Pan, that skilled Brazilian hunk and Ren Yu De’s fancy dribbles, it would have been better to start of strong and score a goal as insurance.
Zhang Jun finally got to the ball. Although he behaved abnormally earlier, Kaka still trusted him enough to pass the ball to him.
Once again, Yuan Gang was there.
Yuan Gang was showing off his dribbling skills against Zhang Jun, and not one to be outdone, the striker showed off his own footwork in return.
Looking at the pair of them, Yang Pan joined in too. “Make way! Make way! Look at my dribbling! Feast your eyes upon this world class act” He brought in a new first-year recruit to be his target. “You have to be serious, no letting up!”
The other boy nodded with utmost earnesty.
However, Zhang Jun had a sudden bad feeling as he looked at Yang Pan, who was stretching his legs and twisting his waist.
Yang Pan carried the ball slowly. But as he made his approach, he suddenly prodded the ball to the left and accelerated towards the other direction before running back to the ball. The poor “live target” was left rooted where he stood.
“Yeah!” Yang Pan shouted.
“Go to hell!” Yuan Gang and Liu Peng took shots at Yang Pan as one.
Zhang Jun looked at the trio of buddies over at the corner, laughing.
Yuan Gang then proceeded to take the ball off Zhang Jun quietly. He was probably soaking in his memories of the past again. Memories were such a wonderful thing…
The boos were louder this time. Everyone simply could not understand what was going on. Zhang Jun did have some degree of popularity in Kai Ta—he was an alumnus after all. Many had come to watch, expecting an exciting performance; no one expected such an unappetizing performance just 10 minutes into the game.
The National Middle School Soccer Championship.
“Qingdao! Qingdao!” Yang Pan whooped cheerfully. “The sun! The beach! The sea! The bikinis! The babes! I’m coming!”
“The last two are his main objectives,” Yuan Gang pointed out to his two friends as Yang Pan spread his arms like he was soaring.
The opening game in the Nationals was between Kai Ta and Yucai Middle School of Jinan, Shandong. They were visiting another team in the first round and anyone could guess the amount of pressure that was piling upon the debuting team.
It was pitch black in the hostel room, where the four of them were staying in, but a pair of eyes glittered amid the darkness. “Anyone not asleep yet?” Liu Peng asked softly. “Talk to me.”
Two hands were raised immediately.
“You guys are nervous too?” Liu Peng kept his voice down.
“A little.” It was Yuan Gang.
“I wasn’t at first. Now I am, thanks to you. Damn it, Liu Peng. Going to the toilet every other minute, I’m having a nervous bladder too!” Zhang Jun got up from bed and felt his way to the toilet.
“Hehe, don’t wet your bed!” Liu Peng chortled quietly.
“Go to hell!” Zhang Jun shot back from inside the toilet.
“I really envy this Yang Pan brat.” Yuan Gang looked at the bunk beneath them, where the person in question was in sweet slumber. “He can really sleep.”
Zhang Jun heard Yuan Gang as he left the toilet and went to Yang Pan’s bed for a look. “He’s always been like that even as a kid. I’ve never seen him nervous before.” Reaching out, he switched off his friend’s Walkman before returning to his own bed.
“Can we win tomorrow?” Liu Peng pondered. “They’re the home team!”
Zhang Jun merely smiled. “Won’t that be even better? Destroying them in front of all their supporters! It’ll be interesting!”
As he predicted, the debuting Kai Ta team demolished their opponents in the match the next day, right in front of hundreds of home supporters who came to cheer for their team. The score was 5: 0. Zhang Jun was a hat-trick hero while Yang Pan and Yuan Gang each scored a piece.
With a beautiful start, Kai Ta gained the wind in their strides and broke their way into the grand finals!
The linesman raised his flag while the referee blew his whistle.
Kaka had just made an exquisite through pass; but because Zhang Jun remained rooted where he was, it became an offside. The linesman made the right call.
This time, the jeers came even from the Shu Guang cheerleaders. “What on earth?! That guy’s been standing there like a fool from the very start! Is he dreaming?”
Liu Qi glared viciously at the ones who were jeering; they were first-year freshmen and had never seen Zhang Jun play. Though, they heard much about Yang Pan’s exploits. Still, the cheerleading captain glanced worriedly at Zhang Jun on the field; even he failed to understand.
Zhang Jun, what’s happening to you?
Pointing at Zhang Jun, Xiao Zhang told his senior, “The game has gone on for 15 minutes and the main character is still sleepwalking.”
Chen Huafeng had gotten tired of dealing with him and chose to watch the game quietly instead.
“One could shrug it off to coincidence if it was once or twice, but three times must be…” Liang Ke mumbled. “Ah, Zhang Jun…”
Su Fei did not understand what her coach was saying. “Coach, what are you—”
“Su Fei, can’t you see it?”
“I know that Zhang Jun is behaving abnormally. I just don’t know the reason, he wasn’t injured lately.”
“Don’t you know? Kai Ta is Zhang Jun and Yang Pan’s alma mater. They made many great friends there through the years.”
“That’s why Zhang Jun’s misfiring?”
Liang Ke sighed. “Zhang Jun values friendship more than anyone else. If he holds his friendship with Yang Pan so dearly, it’s natural that he would cherish his other friends at Kai Ta. Argh! Is he being kind, or an idiot…”
“Why isn’t Shu Guang’s coach subbing him off?” Xiao Zhang was still chattering away. “It’s a complete waste of human resource!”
“Idiot!” Finally unable to stand the huge fly beside him, Chen Huafeng yelled. “You’re a colossal idiot! Kai Ta is Zhang Jun’s alma mater; his best friends are still there; he is troubled because he’s been thinking about their old days together!”
“Then why not sub him off since he’s troubled?” Thinking that he had a point, the intern persisted.
“What quality do you think makes an outstanding youth soccer coach?” Huafeng did not give an answer, instead he shot back with another question.
“Quality? Strategic arrangements, good training regimes and ambition. Oh, right! And results!”
“That’s why you’re a huge idiot! Those are qualities for a professional coach. For an oustanding youth soccer coach, the most important quality is love.”
“Love? Ha! It’s not like they’re nurses…”
“What would you understand, recently graduated nerd? Youth soccer is a part of youth development and naturally, a part of education. Coaches who do not care about the little players’ physical as well as spiritual growth, and only value results do not have the right to take the coach’s seat! Those who don’t care about the children’s bodies and futures, only their own victories or results, their own profit as well as ambition; those who, for their own good, fix games, bribe referees and fake players’ ages, what do you think their actions will do to the kids’ minds? Those people are scum! Thrash!”
Xiao Zhang froze. It was the first time he had seen Chen Huafeng acting so emotional.
“If Zhang Jun was subbed off just because he wasn’t performing, what would it do to his mind? Have you though about it? It would probably be alright if the team ends up wining. But if they lose, he’ll be labelled ‘guilty’ and he won’t be able to raise his head again as he wallows in regret and self-pity. Would he keep playing? Would he have the courage? A player with an infinitely bright future would then be lost! It’s cruel for him to play against his old friends, but he has to face it! And, he must overcome it so that he can make huge strides forward, or else..”
Huafeng sighed and did not continue.
Whether he was scared or convinced, Xiao Zhang was quiet. Either way, the world was cleaner without a fly.
Chen Huafeng leaned on a bar in the stands, not far beneath him was the coach’s seat. He saw Liang Ke’s side profile clearly—the face that was expressionless whenever there was a match.
He really was an excellent youth soccer coach! It mattered not that Shu Guang’s results were horrible during the last few years, the players were always playing soccer happily. Was it not good enough to have some happy memories playing soccer in high school? The kids were truly fortunate to be able to play under his tutelage.
While it was inconceivable that Zhang Jun had made three errors, every single teammate—as if in quiet agreement—kept sending their passes to the striker.
Yuan Gang closed in on him yet again.
This time, the jeers came even before Zhang Jun made any errors. As if on cue with the heckling, Yuan Gang snatched the ball easily.
That was when Yang Pan finally understood why Yuan Gang was marking the striker—their former teammate had Zhang Jun wallowing in sentiment as he relived his memories of the past. People like Zhang Jun were easily tricked and when he was distracted, the ball was easy picking. “This guy!”
Yang Pan took his chance to confront the other team’s captain, who was coming his way as the ball went out. “Don’t you feel ashamed? Using Zhang Jun’s feelings against him!”
Yuan Gang smiled. “Only the weak gets used by other. And I didn’t even use him or anything. He’s just being a moron. I haven’t violated any rules, or have you forgotten too? Soccer is a sport where winners are kings!”
Yang Pan was forced to admit that Yuan Gang was right, but he was not about to simply let it slide. “I won’t let you do as you wish!”
“You should save that for Liu Peng.” Passing him by, Yuan Gang waved him off without looking back.
That much was true; 20 minutes had passed and Yang Pan was still being marked to death by the giant, making only one shot. Even that was a forced shot, which went nowhere near the opposing team’s goal. This meant that his most urgent task at hand was to find a way to shake off Liu Peng’s almost affectionate marking. But, facing a guy who could always predict his moves, did Yang Pan have the confidence to lose him?