“If you want to be a champion you’ve got to start acting like one,” Reinecker says, his eyes burning into me like laser beams.
I hold Reinecker’s eye but I really don’t know quite what to think.
“I want to be a champion,” I say, and feel a bit ashamed as my voice wavers, “but I don’t want to hurt my friends.”
Reinecker bursts out laughing, his harsh booming voice filling the changeroom.
“That’s exactly what I’m talking about! Do you think a real champion lets the people around him hold him back?”
I’m full of doubt as I peer miserably at the coach.
“No they don’t.” Reinecker asserts. “Let me tell you a story.”
He leans back against the wall of the changeroom.
“When I was younger I was told that I didn’t have the talent to play professionally.”
I watch his face twist into a grimace at the memory before he continues.
“But instead of just accepting it I fought against it. I played harder than anybody else and I developed the killer instinct.”
Reinecker leans forward suddenly and claps his hands together so hard that they echo like a gunshot in the changeroom. I almost jump out of my skin.
“I learnt how to play hard, and you know what? People – even my friends and my own family – started to tell me that I was taking the game too seriously and that my ambition was turning me into a bad person.”
He laughs harshly again. “They were trying to bring me down. If I’d listened to them I would never have achieved what I have in my soccer career.”
I nod. Sitting here listening to Reinecker explain, I understand exactly what he means. He’s trying to tell me that achieving my dream of becoming a professional soccer player isn’t going to be easy and there will be sacrifices I’ll have to make along the way. But hurting my friends? That just doesn’t seem right.
“This is a very adult decision and one day soon you’re going to have to decide whether you want this badly enough to make sacrifices. Your choice is either to develop the killer instinct or to decide that your friends are more important than your soccer career.” Reinecker stands up. “I hope you decide well.”
Later, as I trudge home along the dusty edge of Potsdam Road my heart is heavy. As I walk I keep on hearing Reinecker’s words echo in my ears, while at the same time the memory of Khaya’s angry face keeps flashing before my eyes.
My feet drag in the dirt as I wonder what to do. If making difficult decisions like this is what being an adult is all about, then being an adult isn’t going to be much fun at all.