Chapter 46: Goal
Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
“In soccer, everything within the bounds of the rules is permitted in the name of victory.”
That was the first thing the newly appointed coach told the team. His heart leaped when he first heard it; it was as if those words were intended for him.
Winners will be kings; losers will be beggars. To survive in this society and flourish above others, you have to chase success incessantly and ruthlessly, or remain at the feet of others.
It was the truth he learned after years of hardship.
Tu Yong waited for the perfect moment before knocking Zhang Jun on the thigh with his knees. When his opponent tumbled to the floor, he raised both hands immediately, claiming innocence. Luckily, the referee’s attention was once again “coincidentally” diverted at the key moment, and the game continued.
Zhang Jun quickly picked himself off the ground one more time. But to top it off, it was at a speed that surprised Tu Yong. That was the sixth time he fell―did it not hurt? Why did he not lie on the ground a bit more? It would have reduced the hurt on his body, so why?
Yang Pan wanted to “hold a discussion” with the referee again―but was stopped short when he saw Zhang Jun gesturing a “don’t do it” signal at him.
The first half ended with Yang Guang’s impotent offensives and the Shu Guang players dropping on the floor throughout the game.
Ah Yuan yawned and stretched. “It’ such a boring match! That No. 11 is going to be destroyed by the other team’s No. 10 eventually. The ‘Butcher’¹ lives up to his name!”
The visitors’ locker room.
Yang Pan kicked a paper box off the ground as soon as he entered. “F*ck! That bastard did that intentionally! How shameless! F*ck! And the referee can’t do anything!”
Everybody else looked at him in silence.
“It’s no use,” Zhang Jun said after some time. “They’re definitely smart. They can even utilize the referee and the rules to their advantage… Ouch!”
Su Fei was disinfecting a wound on his leg, which he got courtesy of Tu Yong.
“Zhang Jun’s right,” Kaka added. “The referee’s line of sight tends to be blocked during key moments. And some of those fouls exploit loopholes in the rules. I believe that their coach is not a simple man, but it wouldn’t matter even if you raise hell.”
“But, do you see the bruises on everybody else?!” Yang Pan shot back loudly. “Zhang Jun, Ren Yu De and you―which one of us isn’t scarred all over? If they keep up their dirty tricks when they attack in the second half, it’ll only be a matter of time till they score against us!”
The home team’s locker room was an entirely different picture as the argument continued in the visitor’s room.
The coach―whose face had always been somber―was smiling.
“Guys, not bad!”
Everyone in the room knew exactly how hard it was to get a “not bad” from the tyrannical coach!
“You must keep in mind who you are. In this school, you can do everything to let loose and there won’t be punishment. This alone makes you the envy of those outsiders. I don’t care how many opponents you send to the hospital or what sort of reputation you get as long as you win; on top of that, certain things can’t be made too obvious. This match will be difficult―but you have to win it if you want to keep your special rights. Tu Yong.”
Tu Yong glanced up.
“You’ll continue marking that No. 11 in the second half. He’s a dangerous character and must be stopped.”
With his face devoid of any expression, Tu Yong nodded.
Yang Pan’s face was all doom and gloom when he left the locker room. He was holding back his anger, and had no way to rent.
Just the sight of those thugs on the other team got him riled up for no reason.
Su Fei frowned tightly as she sat down beside Liang Ke.
“You’re worried about Zhang Jun?”
The coach’s sudden question startled her.
Liang Ke stared at the blushing manager and smiled enigmatically. “There’s nothing to worry about. You just have to believe in Zhang Jun, trust him in every moment.”
Yang Guang restarted the game.
During the break, Liang Ke had tried talking to the match officials about their actions, but the second half showed that his attempts were futile. As Yang Pan predicted, the other team laced their offensive with so much dirty moves, which increased exponentially in number with every passing minute.
Shu Guang’s defense panicked―only Chen Bo alone held the line as if he was in an epic last stand, while An Ke became the focus of the pitch as he diligently made save after save to keep their clean sheet intact.
Still, it was obvious that if this continued, Shu Guang would concede; just as their defenders were taking physical damage, the pressure within the other players was also gradually growing.
Liang Ke stood up.
With the match officials being useless, he had to do something. Entering the technical area, he shouted audibly into the pitch, “Yang Pan! Don’t retreat too far back to defend! You can’t attack them from there! Kaka! Run back for the ball, don’t cut yourself off the midfield!
“Ren Yu De! Don’t look down when you dribble! Look for your teammates and pass the ball! Zhang Jun! Stay up front! Tracing back is not allowed!”
It was a rare sight for Liang Ke, who was often considered an educator who taught straight from the books. Perhaps he never had to do much all along since his players themselves held deft technique and knowledge of the game.
During each occasion of daily training and talent scouting, he just needed to pour a little effort and the work would be done; but now, Shu Guang’s attack formed up at his roar. The quartet up front did what they did best and dazzled with their immaculate partnership through both individual as well as collective technique.
Nevertheless, the ball had to be delivered to Zhang Jun, their best shooter. Knowing this, Tu Yong stuck to him and closed in whenever he got to the ball. With one underhanded move, the attack would then be cut short.
Kaka tore himself away from his marker and passed!
Zhang Jun got to the ball and quickly sent a drive as Tu Yong closed in. Although Tu Yong managed to get a touch and send if off course, the Yang Guang keeper broke out in cold sweat as the shot shaved past the posts before it went out. He knew that it would have been goal it had not been for Tu Yong; the angle and power were perfect―as expected of Luoyang’s best striker.
The keeper barely had time to gather himself when Zhang Jun received the ball from Ren Yu De. In one move, he burstsforward into the area―and like a shadow, Tu Yong latched onto him, knocking him down as he approached the box.
The referee finally blew his whistle. He also flashed a yellow card at Tu Yong after awarding Shu Guang a free kick.
“Yellow card? Why is it a yellow card?” Su Fei cried angrily. “It was clearly a move to injure, a red is reasonable!”
“No, Su Fei.” Liang Ke shook his head. “He wasn’t tackling from behind, but from the side. There’s little difference, but it is treated very differently by the rules. And the referee saw it clearly, so his judgment was sound. It’s plain to see that they’re very experienced in exploiting loopholes.”
Once more, Zhang Jun recovered from the fall in no time at all, raising Tu Yong’s eyebrow―a rare look from the defender.
Kaka was on the free kick. He ran up and struck firmly with the outside of his left leg, curving the ball past the wall towards to the left post.
The goalkeeper could not react to the fast, curving yet perfectly angled free kick. While others would have used swerve shots in such close distances, Kaka opted for a powerful effort. Nothing less was expected from the Brazilian; the ball was perfect in direction, speed and power.
The ball looked set to go in, but it bounced off the posts and off the line. Too bad!
The scene was reminiscent of the 1982 World Cup match between Brazil and Argentina. That banana kick from Brazil’s No. 11, Eder was also from a free kick. It was exactly the same, down to the part of the left foot used and bypassing of the wall. The ball had hit the woodwork too and Zico scored on the rebound. That curved shot became an iconic moment in World Cup history. Maybe Kaka learned from his example.
Zhang Jun fell to the ground and rolled five times. It looked exaggerated but it was a valid move for self-protection.
This time, he was kicked in the heel from behind by Tu Yong and tumbled after losing balance in his run.
Yang Pan could not stand it anymore at this point. He ran up and snarled as he grabbed Tu Yong’s shirt.
“You f*cker, you did that on purpose! This is not soccer!”
The pitch immediately boiled up at his move and the Yang Guang players swarmed angrily at him, looking ready for a fight. On the stands, the spectators were shouting angrily in support of Yang Guang; even Ah Yuan and his followers stood up.
In that moment, Zhang Jun stood and held Yang Pan from behind. “Don’t go crazy! I’m fine.”
The referee dashed in and sternly separated the two, before booking Yang Pan without a word.
Yang Pan looked at the card incredulously and argued furiously with the official. But Zhang Jun held him back, his embrace immobilizing him―it was the first time he felt how strong his dear friend truly was.
“Yang Pan! Calm down! Do you want to get sent off?” Zhang Jun shouted for everyone else to hear. “You’re the captain, you can’t commit such irresponsible actions!”
“If the opponent fouls you, the best payback is to score against them. Don’t you get it?”
Zhang Jun could then feel his friend’s body relaxing a bit; he released his grip and patted his captain on the shoulder. “Score. Scoring is the best solution. I’ll score one for you.”
Tu Yong stared at the seemingly unharmed Zhang Jun in shock.
Why? How can he keep rising up? He’s bruised all over yet, he still wants to score?
Zhang Jun walked towards him and smiled. “Elbowing, kneeing, tackling, kicking, pushing, I’ve tasted it all. No more tricks? Then it’s my turn!”
He turned to Kaka. “Pass the ball to me. I’ll have the flies outside shut up!”
Kaka was surprised by Zhang Jun. It was the first time he saw that fearsome look on his teammate.
Yang Guang made the throw-in.
Tu Yong took possession but looked distracted. Nobody was closing in on him.
Yang Pan slid in viciously and caught the ball―Tu Yong remained standing out of habit, so the referee did not blow his whistle and signaled for them to play on.
Standing up, Yang Pan passed to Zhang Jun.
The striker got the ball and turned. He dodged an outstretched foot from a defender and charged into the box. Then, another stop as he evaded an incoming elbow. Immediately after, he took a shot!
It was a lob rather than a strong effort―however, it slipped past the keeper’s fingertips and flew into the far corner.
It went in!
After being fouled throughout the game, many would have sent overpowered drives to blow off their anger and frustration if they got a chance. But, what a calm forward Zhang Jun was to score such a technical goal!
Zhang Jun had not even started celebrating before he got mobbed by his wildly cheering teammates.
Tu Yong stared blankly at the ball inside the net.
“Ah Yong! This is a soccer ball, it’s really fun! Want to play?
It was such a long time ago. The sky was blurry, the scenery was blurry, even the person’s face. Only the voice was so clear.
“Da… ddy…” Little Tu Yong stumbled towards the man. He kicked the ball over, knocking the toddler down and little Tu Yong started crying from the pain.
“Look at you, your son is still so small. What are you doing teaching him soccer? What if he hurts himself?” A woman’s voice complained.
“Hehe!” The man laughed, embarrassed. “Soccer must be learned at a meager age!”
As the couple argued, little Tu Yong stopped crying and picked the ball up to play with it.
The man was rejoicing. “My dear wife! Our kid’s got it! He’s going to be a star!”
“Dream on!” The woman moaned, but there was a smile on her face.
“Ah Yong! Soccer!”
Little Tu Yong swayed towards the ball; despite a kick at full strength, the ball only rolled two meters away.
“Ah Yong, let’s play soccer?”
“No! I want to eat!” Little Tu Yong pouted, shaking his head.
“Daddy will dribble, you’ll steal it. If you can get the ball, I’ll treat you to black bean noodles!”
Little Tu Yong’s eyes sparkled. “Really?”
“I win!” Little Tu Yong jumped excitedly. It took some time but, he finally got the ball away from his daddy’s feet.
“Ah! It’s late, the stall will close soon. We won’t make it, let’s go home for mommy’s dried noodles instead!”
Little Tu Yong’s eyes brimmed with tears. “Daddy lied!”
“Hehe! No, daddy didn’t! If you want to eat black bean noodles, you have to act fast and take the ball before the stall closes!”
Everything else was a blur, but that voice was so distinct.
He had been playing soccer wholeheartedly with his dad just for a bowl of black bean noodles. And he did so with much happiness too. How naive he had been…
Daddy! Why did you leave without a word? And so irresponsibly? Why did you leave mommy and me?
¹”Butcher” (Tu Fu) is a pun nickname based on Tu Yong’s name.