Meditation's what you need
Manchester City 4-2 Leicester City (18:01:11)
I'm delighted to welcome David Bevan from The Seventy Two back to European Football Weekends. As a fan of the Foxes, he's still coming to terms with the Thai-kover at Leicester City as well as pondering a conversion to Buddhism. What would "the awakened one" make of this Cup Thai at Eastlands between City and, erm, City:
For most football writers, the meeting of Manchester City and Leicester City in the FA Cup third round provided an opportunity to tell the tale of an age-old friendship between Roberto Mancini and Sven-Goran Eriksson. Fair enough. Their time together at both Sampdoria and Lazio certainly provided an interesting background to proceedings. But there was a distinctly Eastern flavour to the events over the past four years that reunited Mancini and Eriksson.
In early 2007, Mancini was in the midst of a successful spell as coach of Internazionale and Eriksson was still plotting his next move following his departure from the post of England manager after the 2006 World Cup. To cut a long story short, the former Prime Minister of Thailand, Thaksin Shinawatra, led a takeover at Manchester City and brought Eriksson to the club, setting in motion the timeline of heavy investment that would eventually make possible the appointment of Mancini by City's current owners in December 2009.
The Thai influence at Leicester City is more current. Less than twelve months ago, there had never been any connection between Thailand and Leicester City. Fast forward to the present day and Leicester's takeover by the King Power Group has already resulted in a trip to the country to face the Thai national team in a mid-season friendly, while holidays to Thailand are currently being dished out during half time at every Leicester home game.
And so, in an FA Cup draw that made this particular correspondent yearn for the days of Bert Millichip's velvet bags, both Noel Gallagher and Serge from Kasabian plucked balls representing the teams they support from a slow-motion food processor and Mancini and Eriksson were back together for one evening only.
Well, two in fact. Because Mancini willingly fielded Jo and Shaun Wright-Phillips in the 2-2 draw at the Walkers Stadium, before ditching both for the replay in favour of players with a sensible quantity of letters on the back of their shirts - the ultimate compliment to a Leicester side that more than matched their wealthy visitors for the entirety of the match. Andy King's opportunistic equaliser demanded an afternoon of annual leave be taken for the midweek trip up the M6 to Manchester.
I've also been influenced by the East in recent times, to such a degree that a seemingly straightforward cup tie against a Premier League team could not be given such little thought. For the last eighteen months or so, I've been toying with the exploration of Buddhism. It's currently a mere flirtation with qualities that I have begun to admire in my brother, who has turned his life from something which was heading inexorably for drug-fuelled disaster into a rather enviable existence managing a small cafe with few cares in the world. While I can't imagine ever admitting that football doesn't matter, it has certainly made me look at the game in a different way. Or try to, at least.
The good, then.
Attempting to remain objective, which is a hell of a lot easier after sleeping on it, paying fifteen quid to watch world-class players like David Silva and Carlos Tevez was a privilege. The recent saga over Tevez's possible departure left a nasty taste in the mouth but the challenge he offered to Jack Hobbs and Souleymane Bamba was a useful exercise for Leicester's new partnership at the back. Because, after all, the league is the priority and always will be. If Leicester can learn from their two outings against some of the world's best, it will benefit the intended assault on the play-off places over the second half of the season.
I also enjoyed visiting Eastlands. You can call it our big day out, our cup final, our highlight of the season - whatever you call it, it is essentially enjoyable purely because it is a break from the norm. When you've spent the best part of eight years having to make an annual trip to places like the Ricoh Arena, rocking up somewhere like the City of Manchester Stadium makes for a nice change as much as anything else. Personally, I'd have preferred going somewhere like Hereford or Peterborough but Manchester City away was an acceptable alternative.
And then there were our two goals, of course. The first was a dubious penalty won by one of Lloyd Dyer's numerous scampering darts into the area. Paul Gallagher's now customary spot kick style even merited a Twitter comment from Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas, who came off the bench the following night at Elland Road and enjoyed a similar effect to his compatriot Silva. Fabregas also commented on Leicester's "impressive" start to the game and that we were taking the game to our lofty opponents. Cheers, Cesc. Always liked your work. Gally smashed the ball past Joe Hart to level the scores, Tevez having fired an excellent opener in past Chris Weale at our end. Decent celebrations from the 6,000 Leicester fans and, thankfully, a goal to savour from our lengthy trip.
The hosts then scored twice in the space of two minutes to head into half time with a comfortable lead, a Patrick Vieira tap-in and Adam Johnson's cool finish making life extremely difficult for us. We kept the lead down to two until deep into the second half when Tevez's clever off-the-ball running won a penalty and the tie looked all over when he stepped up to take it. Improbably, Weale made a save with his legs and Dyer then cut the deficit when he ran onto a superb pass from Yuki Abe and slotted past Hart. Aleksander Kolarov eventually wrapped things up for the home side with a long-range shot in injury time.
It had taken over three hours of football to definitively separate the sides and most right-minded Leicester fans stayed to applaud our players off the pitch. A few buggered off, as was their prerogative. I tried to selectively clap most of our lot, with the now traditional pause for Matt Oakley. Should have taken out Tevez in the buildup for their fourth, but chose to trot obediently alongside him instead and, five seconds later, we lost out on the chance of a grandstand finish.
I kicked the seat in front of me in frustration. Ah yes, Buddhism.
Every game these days, I'm trying really hard to look at the bigger picture. Someone's got to go home disappointed, so it's only right that it's not the opposition every time. We're forking out a big wedge for players as a result of our Thai-keover (oh yes!) in the same way that Manchester City are supposedly attempting to buy a title. Why should I get annoyed with Yaya Toure's £200,000-per-week salary accounting for my team's FA Cup dream? We're effectively doing the same at a lower level by chucking tens of thousands of pounds at Yakubu to try to beat Doncaster and Scunthorpe. And that's the unease that's eating away at me as I try to support my club's promotion push. I enjoyed travelling to Yeovil and Carlisle a couple of years ago. The supposed lure of the Emirates and Stamford Bridge cannot match my desire to return to Leyton Orient. It helped that we won at most of these places, admittedly.
Regardless of how I feel about what is currently happening to my club, I defy anyone raised on "the wonder and terror of soccer", as Run of Play so beautifully puts it, to distance themselves from all partisan leanings. It's bastard impossible. Two days later, I will quite happily admit that Manchester City deserved their victory, that Silva and Tevez were a class apart, that Dyer dived, Mark Halsey was a key component of our second goal and some of our fans were complete idiots for singing Manchester United songs just because we were playing against their rivals (I know, I know...) But in that moment when Richie Wellens is squaring up to Tevez, I want Wellens to knock him out. And if he does, I'll berate the referee for sending him off. Or blame Tevez for provoking him. I've got an awful long way to go, haven't I?
I'm beginning to take an alternative tack with the whole Buddhism thing. I feel confident that I understand football is not important in the grand scheme of things. We can all take enjoyment from it to differing degrees but, as long as we retain that perspective, it should be fine to let out the odd cry of anguish when some bloke who will kiss four different badges in his career thumps a free kick straight out of play. It's a form of meditation. When things are going wrong off the pitch, you can lose yourself in what is happening on it for ninety minutes every once in a while. If you've got this far, you've lost yourself in my writing for a good five minutes or so. Another ninety won't hurt this weekend. Try to just sit back and enjoy it if you can...
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