When true blue blood skipper Mike Doyle triumphantly held the League Cup aloft at Wembley on February 28th, 1976, who in their worst Manchester City nightmares could have envisaged what was to follow for three-and-a-half decades?
Tony Book’s City side were brimming with brilliance and high expectations, acknowledged internationals in every position and a harmonious blend of young talent and established top level experience.
Only the tragic loss of Colin ‘The King’ Bell deprived City of the 1976-77 First Division title, edged out by a single, solitary painful point by Bob Paisley’s all conquering and much lauded Liverpool.
The 2-1 League Cup Final victory over Newcastle United was perceived to be a pre-cursor to bigger and better City fortunes, for richer not poorer...and so it was, it’s just that it took 35-years long than expected.
In the 21st century the Football League Cup is the runt of the litter in terms of England’s top domestic honours.
Rather like a problem child cast into care, the competition has been fostered – never wholly or properly adopted – by a string of ‘parents’ with good intentions, all of whom have ultimately tossed the Cup aside for one reason or another.
The Milk Cup, Littlewoods Cup, Rumbelows Cup, Coca Cola Cup, Worthington Cup, Carling Cup and nowadays, the Capital One Cup, call it what you will, the League Cup retains a special place in the hearts of City fans of a certain generation.
So too does the man who lifted the Cup 38 years ago, the Captain and heartbeat of Manchester City, the man most likely to have blue blood coursing through his veins, if such a thing was biologically possible.
Mike Doyle remains the most decorated and successful player ever to don the sky blue of Manchester City. Not only that, he was the most dedicated, almost visceral, Manure-hater of all time, revelling in winding up the Trafford Troglodytes at every opportunity.
Tragically ‘Doyley’ succumbed to years of alcohol abuse in the summer of 2011, passing away aged just 64 years. He was a pivotal figure in the Mercer-Allison glory days and lived just long enough to see the onset of the City renaissance under Sheikh Mansour’s stewardship.
Mike Doyle was a winner – as Manuel Pellegrini will be on Sunday – but the plaudits will ring out earlier for the City legend of a bygone era, as opposed to the man destined to be the club’s most successful ever manager.
At 14.04hrs GMT well over 31,000 City fans on the West side of Wembley will break into 60 seconds of rapturous applause, to honour the memory of the hard man who wore the Number 4 shirt with such distinction.
Approximately 86 minutes of game time later (added time or God forbid, extra time and penalties later) the new home of English football wants to be reverberating to the sound of ‘Sheik Mansour went to Spain in a Lamborghini...’ as the massed ranks of sky blue honour their new manager as he embarks on his English silverware collection.
It’ll be a different tune to the one sung during City’s last Wembley visit when, with Roberto Mancini’s future hanging in the balance - (in truth he was already on his way out of the Etihad) - City supporters sang out in favour of their Italian leader, to the detriment of the mild mannered man from Chile.
Now, 9½ months on, the trust levels and respect for Pellegrini and his expansive and attacking style of play are obvious. Mancini will forever be held in high esteem for his achievements, but Pellegrini has the potential to secure an even loftier place in the affections of City fans, in the fullness of time.
City start as favourites, but with the woes of Wigan and that FA Cup Final reversal still fresh and equally raw, Vincent Kompany & Co will surely be taking nothing for granted.
Sunderland have been transformed since Gus Poyet succeeded Paulo Di Canio. They inflicted the almost obligatory 1-0 defeat on City at the Stadium of Light this season – the fourth in a row – and the Black Cats believe they have the tactics to frustrate City and hit them hard on the counter attack.
Having unexpectedly beaten Chelsea in the quarter finals and then dispatched Manchester United in an unforgettable comedy sketch masquerading as a penalty shoot-out, the Wearsiders are capable of springing a shock.
Ex-Blues winger, Adam Johnson has been outstanding since the New Year, helping feed a genuine belief in the North East that they can, and will, claim their first major honour since beating Leeds United in the 1973 FA Cup Final.
For Pellegrini’s team it marks the first stage of a highly unlikely much hyped quadruple. Any City fan with half a brain cell knows that the press have only put City on the pedestal of playing for four major trophies, so they can knock them off, if, as and when they fall out of contention, one-by-one.
The biggest boost to the hunt for honours is to have a fully fit and suitably robust Sergio Aguero back to reignite a stuttering attack.
Negredo, Dzeko and Jovetic have contributed 44 goals between them – a decent enough haul at this stage of the season – but it's Sergio who is the catalyst to City's attack, with 26 goals in 25 appearances.
Keeping him fit, along with Vincent Kompany, is critically important if City are to succeed on multiple fronts.
Speculation abounds as to whether Pellegrini will stay ‘loyal’ to Costel Pantilimon, who has now reverted to his default position as Joe Hart’s understudy – effectively, City’s keeper in domestic cup competitions.
After the mentally and physically draining encounter with Barcelona, City looked flat and jaded in a scrappy 1-0 win against a negative, but well drilled Stoke City.
With no mid-week fixture, the anticipation of playing at Wembley and the prospect of banking a trophy with 2½ months of the season still outstanding, City should be refreshed and fully focused.
They can exorcise the demons of that wretched FA Cup loss last May when, in front of more than 50,000 sky blue supporters, they produced a staggeringly insipid display, one that remains truly baffling to this day.
Pellegrini must start to deliver on the task set by City CEO, Ferran Soriano, of winning five trophies in five years.
Sheikh Mansour and City Chairman Khaldoon Al Mubarak’s true aspirations lie with the Champions League and Premier League titles – the League Cup is merely an hors d’ oeuvre.
But Pellegrini may as well get a taste for sterling silver at this stage. It certainly served his nemesis, Jose Mourinho, well during his debut season in England, winning the trophy in 2005 with a 3-2 win over Liverpool.
It may not be significant when compared with attempting to beat Barcelona by three goals in the Nou Camp, or winning games in hand to hunt down Chelsea in the PL title chase.
It is however, significant in sending out a message that Manuel Pellegrini is a winner, a man who’s started as he means to go on. It lays down a marker that City are back in the business of taking care of business.
It’s a philosophy that a certain Michael Doyle signed up to all those years ago and one that will stand City in good stead for the foreseeable future.
By David Walker www.readbutneverred.com@djwskyblu