Chapter 2: The Theatre of Dreams
As the thudding sound became clearer, Kakeru's hearing finally distinguished the sound as one of a ball getting kicked as he finally opened up his eyes. The first thing he noticed out of the blurry shapes was that he was no longer in his bedroom. Little by little, Kakeru's blurry vision became clearer and he then noticed the shape of 2 giant words written in English, both in white and on top of what looked to be a red background.
'Stretford End? Where in the world am I?' Kakeru asked to himself.
Quickly, Kakeru looked first at the ground and noticed that he was standing on grass. Sweeping further, he then understood that the surface was a full-sized football pitch. As he raised his gaze up and looked at his surroundings, he saw that the red background was in fact a stadium's red empty seats and that there were several thousands of them. Kakeru also noticed that the pitch was illuminated by floodlights as it was still dark in the sky. Looking at the seats beyond one of the touchlines, Kakeru saw a mosaic of white seats in the lower of 3 tiers displaying a set of words as well as another set of words on one of the boards sitting just below the second tier. Both sets of words finally told Kakeru where he was.
'Manchester United? The Theatre of Dreams? Then it means I am inside of... Old Trafford stadium in Manchester, in England? But how is it possible? I was still at home in Kamakura earlier.' Kakeru still could not believe what he just saw.
Meanwhile, the kicking sound was still being heard and Kakeru turned towards the source of the sound. To make things even more confusing at first sight, he saw Nana kicking balls from 20-25 yards into the net with all kinds of shots: chip shots, left-curled shots, right-curled shots, and power shots, both high and low. As Nana finished the shooting practice, she then turned her gaze towards Kakeru.
"Hey, Kakeru! Can you pass me the ball?"
At the same time, Kakeru noticed that Nana was wearing Manchester United's black training shorts and black Nike training jacket with number 32 embroidered on it. Within a few seconds, he also noticed that he was wearing the same training outfit as Nana's with only number 9 on the jacket as the difference between both outfits.
"What's going on, sleepyhead? Just pass one ball at the time from your position to the front of the box and I take shots in movement."
Kakeru then looked on the pitch and saw a few balls sitting in a diagonal line pattern and ready for passing. "OK, Seven. Here it goes."
And then the training session continued as Kakeru made one pass at the time just in front of the box (between 20 and 25 yards from goal) into Nana's run. On each attempt, Nana quickly closed the gap between her and the ball, then leaned her own body towards her left, and her right leg left the ground, packing all the power her body can muster while making contact with the ball. Sometimes, the ball went into the middle of the goal; at other times, the shot took a strong curl to the right before hitting the top corner of the net. Nonetheless, the pace on those shots was astonishingly fast.
'I saw Seven shooting from distance for goal before. Still, her technique looks different. Why do I have the feeling that Seven's shooting technique is more similar to someone else's?' Kakeru asked to himself while he passed each single ball. 'I only know very few players in the world shooting like that.'
"That was great passing, Kakeru. It's your turn to shoot." Nana said.
Kakeru took a few seconds to get a grip of everything he just faced and then replied with a smile. "Of course!"
While Kakeru switched places with Nana before making his own runs to take shots in movement on Nana's passes, he felt an overwhelming feeling of happiness taking him over. It was only him and Nana having fun while doing their regular night practice sessions. Only this time, it was on the pitch of one of the biggest mythical football stadiums in the world, home of a football team he admires so much. Kakeru said to himself that if this was a dream, he wouldn't want to wake up from it at all.
Meanwhile, a lone figure standing in the shadows was watching closely both teenagers training on the pitch. Then the man walked towards the touchline on the pitch and called for them. "Kakeru, Nana."
After turning towards the source of the voice, Kakeru's eyes widened when he recognized the man calling him and Nana over. It was a Scottish old man wearing glasses and a long black coat over a black tracksuit, but the Scot's eyes still reflected the fire showing his undying passion for the game despite being over 70 years old. Kakeru only saw the man on television many times before, but it was the first time the living legend of the game was standing in front of him.
'Sir Alex Ferguson? The real Sir Alex Ferguson?!' Kakeru asked to himself.
Nana then walked towards the touchline to talk with Sir Alex before she noticed Kakeru still frozen at the sight of the Scot. "Kakeru? What's going on? Come over." Nana asked Kakeru, who then shook off the disconcerting feeling at the sound of her voice and finally walked his way to meet the Boss.
"Still training this late?" Sir Alex spoke with a strong Scottish accent.
"Yes... Yes, of course. It's an old routine that we kept from our high school days in Japan, Sir Ferguson." Kakeru replied in English.
"I thought I told you to call me 'Boss' or 'Gaffer', didn't I? You don't have to be more formal than you need to be."
"Yes, of course. What was I thinking?" Kakeru replied a little embarrassed, which made Sir Alex smile.
"I know both of you always keep working harder than anyone else in order to get better. However, how will you manage that much training and school in a day of work when you'll attend a few complementary lectures at the University of Manchester in September?"
"Managing between training and school is something we did for a very long time. Since most of our learning material comes from distance education by the Tokyo Medical University, we'll do just fine." Nana replied in English with an American accent coming from the years she spent in the United States.
"You know, I've known so many young players over the years, but I've also come to notice how youngsters keep getting more intelligent than those before them who used to be the same age. Sócrates was one of a kind. So you can guess I was surprised when I heard the two of you are following his footsteps at the same time. Sometimes when I look back at my whole time in the world of football, I wished I was as blessed as the two of you are by being able to play as a professional and study beyond secondary school level at the same time." Sir Alex said.
"Well... If you haven't experienced life and career the way you did, perhaps you would have not become the legend you are, Gaffer. After all, you are the most intelligent mind I know in all of this discipline, both as a coach and a businessman. I really mean it." Kakeru said.
"I'm really glad to hear that." Sir Alex replied to Kakeru before he turned to Nana. "Not too shaken up from playing against men, Nana?"
"Over 4 years of training alongside male teenagers allowed my body to resist the full power of a male footballer playing physical. I'm used to it, Boss."
"I knew you were already exceptional, but it took the word from all of my scouts to convince me before giving you this tryout. I'm glad that I listened to them and you already are a role model for all football-loving girls out there by getting this far. I never thought about it at first, but that's also something I'd like to leave behind as a part of my legacy when I'll retire."
"Thank you." Nana replied.
Then Sir Alex remained silent for a few seconds before he went on. "You shouldn't be here, however. The groundsman is having a fit. His turf is sacred."
"I just... We just wanted to know what it felt like. You know... To be on this pitch." Kakeru replied.
"You'll find out on Sunday; both of you, that is."
Kakeru and Nana then suddenly got speechless for a few seconds as they realized what those words meant: being part of the 18-man squad for the next game. "You really mean it, Boss?" Nana asked.
"Both of you showed that you are fit for the English game in just a month and a half while also dominating your matches with the Reserves. You'll be doing all right as part of the squad for Sunday. Now get off the grass. Onegai (please)." Sir Alex finished as he left the pitch and into the exit tunnel.
Kakeru still couldn't believe the sudden news while Nana tried to contain her happiness before she let it out with a shout. Nana then embraced Kakeru, tears of joy in her eyes. "Can you believe it, Kakeru? We'll be training together with the first team and be in the squad for the Manchester City game!"
"Us... training alongside Ryan Giggs, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie? Oh... my... God." Kakeru looked up at the sky and then fainted at the peak of his shock.
"Kakeru? Kakeru? Are you OK? Talk to me!"
Wednesday May 15, 201X
7:45 AM BST
On the following morning, Kakeru was still deep in his sleep as usual and it was not like he was going to wake up that easily... at least until this day.
"Kakeru. Kakeru, wake up." Nana said.
"Hmmm... not today, Seven. I'm having such a nice dream." Kakeru mumbled in his sleep.
"Seriously, Kakeru. That's something you need to change of a habit as a professional: waking up at 7:00 AM instead of a time this late." Seven reprimanded.
"And if the rumors about the hairdryer treatment are true, you wouldn't want to get on the wrong end of Sir Alex's wrath so quickly because of such a bad habit." a different female voice said in Japanese this time.
Suddenly, Kakeru realized that there was something unfamiliar and then he woke up quickly. With a quick visual sweep around, he realized that he was sleeping in a bedroom that wasn't his own. Sweeping further, he noticed an unfamiliar figure: it was a young woman, who was around the same age as Kakeru and Nana. She has a slender body, long dark brown hair tied as a ponytail, blue eyes, and glasses.
"Aaaaaahhhh! Who are you? Where am I?!" Kakeru shouted in panic.
"Kyaaaaa! Why are you shouting at me like that?" the young woman asked in return.
"Calm down, Kakeru. You can't have forgotten about our roommate, Noriko-chan, can you? Where were you in your dream?" Nana asked.
"I thought I was sleeping at home in Kamakura and then... I don't know. What happened to me?"
"You fainted yesterday night shortly after the Boss told us that we would be in the squad for next Sunday's game. I had to call Noriko-chan to pick us up and we dragged you back to our apartment in West Didsbury. I think you need to take a shower and change clothes." Nana said.
Kakeru then noticed that he was still wearing his training shorts and his training shirt from the previous night. "Oh... will do."
"Make it quick and have breakfast. We have to report for training at 9:30 AM, and thus we leave a little before 9:00 AM." Nana added.
Suddenly Kakeru remembered something he wanted to do if he ever got the call for a possible professional debut. "Hold on a second, Seven! We have to call home. There might be some people who would like to see us play at Old Trafford in that game."
"Don't worry, Kakeru. I already sent text messages yesterday in the late evening to my parents, your parents and Mai-chan as well; I know she would be able to get herself free. They should give us their answer when we'll call home later in the afternoon."
"Thanks a lot, Seven." Kakeru sighed in relief. "I'm really glad you did all of that when I couldn't. Sorry for all the trouble I caused."
"It's OK, Kakeru. You're not that much of a troublesome guy." Nana kissed Kakeru on the cheek in return.
Around 30 minutes later, Kakeru finished taking his shower and changing clothes. Although so many things still remained confusing in his mind, Kakeru decided it was best for him to keep the act with a cool head for a while before he'd get more answers about his current situation. First of things, Kakeru took a first look at the well-decorated apartment where he was living in. Then he grabbed a bowl of cereals and a couple of fruits for breakfast before having a look at the heading of the local newspaper.
'Manchester Evening News, Wednesday May 15. So it really is the last week of the season.' Kakeru thought before he flipped pages further in the newspaper looking for the Premier League table. After finding the standings table, he noticed that Manchester City were sitting on top of the table with 89 points and a goal difference of +57 while Manchester United were in second place with 86 points, a goal difference of +55 and a few goals lesser than City's total. After reading articles in the sports section quickly, Kakeru noticed that columnists and reporters were labeling the Manchester United vs. Manchester City match on the upcoming Sunday, the last day of the season, as the match of the decade.
"So the only way United can win the Premier League is by winning with a goal margin of 2 or more goals against City. Is that it?" Kakeru asked.
"Yep! If that's the case, both teams would be level on points, but United would also have the edge with at least +57 of a goal difference against +55 for City instead. I know this will be quite a big test for you, should Sir Alex give you the nod at some point in the game. However, I know you can do it." Noriko said. "And besides, my dad says you and Nana-chan are among the best players he has seen with the Reserves for a long time."
"Thanks a lot, Noriko-chan. We'll need everyone's support on this, especially since I might become the first woman to play that high at pro level in a men's game." Nana replied and Kakeru added with a nod.
"Anytime, Nana-chan. You already know that we, the Lewis family, are United supporters all the way."
After finishing breakfast and packing up his training bag a little later, Kakeru walked around to silently explore that unknown environment of an English apartment further while Nana was still packing up her equipment in her own training bag. He noticed a whole bunch of medical books on a bookshelf as expected from his and Nana's medical studies. Then, as he ran through letters that were kept together as a pile in a drawer, he noticed one particular letter giving a few answers about that roommate he just met.
'Noriko Catherine Lewis, a newly accepted student in medical school at the University of Manchester... academic year set to begin in next September. I guess that having common interests is a good hint to begin with. But how did we meet exactly?' Kakeru said to himself.
After putting the letter back where he found it, Kakeru looked at some letters that were addressed to him and to Nana. Then he read through a couple of letters from the Tokyo Medical University mentioning distance education, and 2 other letters mentioning registration as audit students for a few medical courses at the University of Manchester. In a matter of seconds, Kakeru understood what those were about.
'So it means the Tokyo Medical University put both of us on the distance education program while we also got the right to attend lectures at the University of Manchester as audit students at the same time. Whoever came up with this idea also had people doing wonders with the paperwork.' Kakeru thought while putting the letters back in place and closing the drawer.
"Hey, Kakeru. You ready?" Nana asked.
"All set! Let's go!" Kakeru replied as he grabbed his training bag.
"Hey, wait for me!" Noriko added.
"Where are you going, Noriko-chan?"
"Until further notice, Kakeru, neither you nor Nana-chan have earned a driver's license in the UK yet. So I'm driving both of you to the training center in Carrington before I go to the University for a day worth reading plenty of books on medicine."
"I thought the academic year in Britain is not beginning until September." Kakeru said.
"I know, but I'm not planning on lagging too far behind you, especially when you two are currently receiving distance education material from the Tokyo Medical University. Besides, I also keep some old habits from my time in Japan." Noriko said as she led Kakeru and Nana towards her vehicle, a Ford Focus hatchback car.
"They said in the local news there's a little traffic delay on the M60 motorway, but it shouldn't be that much of a problem. I'll take you to Carrington in 25 minutes. So let's play some music to get pumped up on your first day with the first team." Noriko added as she connected her iPod onto the vehicle's radio, playing a mix of upbeat Japanese and British songs on her playlist.
"You ready for this, Kakeru?" Nana asked.
"Let's do this, Seven."
Kakeru still had a number of unanswered questions at the time, but he kept them on hold as he and Nana started thinking only about the upcoming training with Manchester United's first team as they got in the car.