Leicester City fans, how do you fancy a unique opportunity to have an up close and personal dinner experience with Enzo Maresca?

Award-winning football journalist and presenter, Guillem Balague, is bringing his friend Enzo Maresca out for dinner at Chutney Ivy on Thursday 4 April. The event will raise funds for Guillem’s football team, Biggleswade United, and tickets are on sale now.

Tickets to the VIP event include a 3 course meal at Leicester Curry Awards Fine Dining Restaurant of the Year, Chutney Ivy, inclusive drinks, LCFC auction, Q & A, entertainment, and more. We caught up with Guillem to find out more about his friendship with Enzo, the event, and more.

How did you first come to know Enzo Maresca?

I first knew Enzo because I was told about him when he was first at Manchester City. At the same time I was pushing my podcast, Pure Football, and we connected for that. It was supposed to be a half an hour conversation and it ended up being over an hour. Then, when he went to Parma, he actually went with a couple of friends of mine that were helping him as assistants. I meant to go and see him there, but his stay there was quite short. The results weren’t bad at all, but there was no synergy with the owners. I think in Italy they don’t fully understand the brand of football that Enzo proposes.

Of course he then went back to Manchester City, and I wanted to reconnect with him to find out his plans and what he wanted to do in his own career. When he chose Leicester City I was so happy because my UK base is actually here in Leicester. I was very excited to see more closely what he’s developing, and I’ve now developed friendships with the people who work with him and Leicester has been the team I’ve watched most live since his move here.

It’s been fascinating in a way to see the clash of cultures, especially at first, between a percentage of the Leicester fans who perhaps didn’t fully understand what he’s trying to do. Then, since, to watch that shift in perception. Especially now, when in recent times results have been more difficult. People now realise they shouldn’t take anything for granted. A good performance of Enzo’s style can not only help the team to win games in the Championship, but also to settle themselves in the Premier League. That’s where football is now – control and understanding the game with or without the ball. Enzo has managed to put this into the players’ heads in just a short time period at Leicester. Sometimes the hardest thing in football can be to get everyone thinking the same way – manager, players, assistants, but that is what Enzo has brought. That is an amazing achievement in such a small period of time.

Are you surprised at the way Leicester have adapted and performed under him this season?

They have belief and faith in what Enzo Maresca brings. To do that you have to come out of your comfort zone as a player. He is asking players to do different things, especially as a defender, or for midfielders having to keep the ball a little longer, find yourself in space when there is hardly any around you, players holding small amounts of space and activating themselves as soon as the ball is lost. A bunch of things that were new to many players. However I spoke to Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall and Harry Winks recently at the training ground and they’re so happy with everything. Like their mind has been reset and they are fresh. I know it has been hard with some recent results, but they love what is happening there this season.

You’re bringing him to Chutney Ivy for a dinner event, what are you most looking forward to about the evening?

I would really love for Enzo to become known more personally by the fans who are there. At the moment we’ve sold around 1/3 of the tickets and I’m sure the rest will be snapped up. This is an opportunity to see him close up. He will be sat with the fans, moving to different tables between courses. Then of course I’ll be chatting with him and we’ll have a Q&A from the fans who are in the room. It’s a VIP event so there won’t be many of us, it will be a total of 50 or so. I want it to be as private, special and enjoyable as possible for those who are there. I asked him for 2 favours and he said “for now you can have 1”, so I asked him to join me on the 4th April to meet fans and raise funds for Biggleswade United. He didn’t even think twice before agreeing.

For Leicester City fans this is a great opportunity to understand how a manager thinks and works. Especially a manager who has gone a little against the tide to impose a style of football that has made both fans and players think and challenge them.

In your career as a football journalist and pundit, who is the most memorable sportsman that you’ve met?

It has to be Leo Messi. I’ve presented 8 commercial events with him, done a book with him, followed his career from the beginning, and at that time not knowing that he was going to be the greatest ever. But certainly the highlight is being able to chronicle all that in updates of the book and different blogs, articles, and my time at Sky. It’s special to know that whenever we meet, he will give me time and he will always be loving and caring. That has to be the most memorable part of my career.

Having worked extensively in La Liga, how does it compare to the Premier League?

There was a time when money wise the 2 leagues were quite equal. Now there is a European super league, which is the Premier League, with the best managers and some of the very best players. But it’s interesting that La Liga still survives, especially when you compare the results in Europe in the last 10 years, but still survives through coaching, tactics, and maximising the potential of players before many then go to the Premier League. That’s where we are at the moment. There are other differences, obviously the referees are different. They allow much more in the Premier League than in Spain, which makes a better spectacle. I get really nervous when I watch Premier League teams play constantly at a stupidly high tempo, because I do like control. I have been brought up in a culture of more controlled football, different paces in different parts of the pitch. But it’s also exciting, because it’s the game of errors in the Premier League. Nobody can do things perfectly all the time. I love watching both so I really can’t choose between them.

You now live locally, what brought you to Leicestershire?

To be honest, a friendship. A friend, Neil, who I have known for almost 2 decades, whilst we didn’t speak for some time we reconnected and I found a place to settle where I can enjoy many things outside of football also, a love of food for example. But also around the area we have Aston Villa, West Brom, Wolverhampton, who have had a Spanish influx so it has become a little Midlands hub of friends involved in professional football.

The Dinner with Enzo Maresca event will be raising funds for grassroots football, and in particular, your own team, Biggleswade United. Tell us more about your journey with Biggleswade…

I was invited to join the club in 2014 and I went in as Director of Football. I came in with an idea of having an academy and a women’s team, neither of which existed at the time. We now have 5 senior sides, 2 mens, 2 women’s and the veterans, and we also have 7 teams in youth development. In total there are 250 people involved in the club, so it has grown a lot. It’s the best thing I do. I love having an idea of where we want to go, a style that we want to play, but at the same time it’s also about winning. It’s often about working with people and convincing them to join me on this trip. Helping them with their energy and ideas. It’s amazing to have a project together. I describe it as a very tiny little world in which the right priorities are in place – friendship, helping each other, behaving well, and helping each other to grow. So it isn’t just about football, it’s about building something where people can be happy.

Now to put you on the spot – what are your predictions for the rest of the 2023/24 season across the major leagues?

I think Real Madrid will win La Liga, I think Manchester City will win both the Champions League and the Premier League. Inter will win Serie A and Bayern Leverkeusen the Bundesliga. I think Aston Villa will win the Europa Conference League, and Liverpool will win the Europa League.

How can people buy tickets for the Dinner with Enzo Maresca event?

Simply head over to the ticket page HERE. Tickets are very limited and are priced at £250 per person. Tickets all include a 3 course meal, inclusive drinks all evening (beer, wine and soft drinks), an up close and personal experience with Enzo Maresca, LCFC auction, entertainment, and more. Tickets can be purchased as a whole table for businesses or as individual tickets.