He famously said that "if cups were awarded for cock-ups, you would not be able to move in Manchester City's boardroom". So for all the new belief that Francis Lee has in the club he served for seven successful years as an explosive striker and four wearisome ones as an occasionally exploding chairman, he knows much better than to risk premature celebration of a first League title since his own one in May 1968.
That said, Lee finds much to admire in the current squad and their manager and is generous in his comparisons with the boys of '68, for whom he drilled in 16 goals in 31 games after Malcolm Allison, who loved his "swagger and aggression, so much more than mere cockiness", persuaded him to move from Bolton Wanderers in the autumn of that season. Some may have felt the respective performances of the two teams in their critical games away to Newcastle 44 years apart – a late 2-0 victory as opposed to a 4-3 fun-fest – summed up a difference in approach, but Lee was suitably impressed by the modern version. "They controlled the game very well, kept the two dangerous Newcastle strikers quiet and in the end the pressure told," he said at his Cheshire home last week. "They're an excellent football team with some amazing talent. I don't think you'll find a more attacking side. The times it's gone against them have been when sides have got defensive."
As for the manager: "I think he's done very well. Although the Champions' League was a bit iffy, they've recovered well. Some players who've left have made comments about the training, but look at the injury list – it's right at the end of the season and there's nobody injured at all."
The comparisons he is more reluctant to make are with his period in charge of the club from 1994-98. From the patrician rule of the Alexander family in the days when chairmen were rarely seen and never heard, City had come under the wing of local television rental entrepreneur Peter Swales, who stayed for 20 years while climbing the Football Association ladder, increasingly unpopular as Manchester United started winning the League and leaving City farbehind. Lee took over, hailed by the supporters' "Forward With Franny" movement, as a white knight charging into Maine Road like the striker of old approaching the penalty area. Crucially, however, he had only a minority shareholding.
"We started from a terrible base," he recalled. "We were virtually bankrupt. We spent £16 million, which was a huge amount in those days, four times the annual turnover, rebuilding the Kippax [Stand]. And as soon as it was built we were opening negotiations for the new stadium, because they needed an anchor tenant for it."
Having a former player as chairman was a new concept at that level and Lee was accused (by Niall Quinn among others) of interference, to the extent of once giving the team-talk. Managers came and went (Brian Horton, Alan Ball, Steve Coppell for a few days, Frank Clark). Clark blamed the "never-ending disunityat boardroom level" and Lee got out just before the club sank into the third tier of English football for the first time.
"Given where we've come from, it's a marvellous scenario for City now, whichever way it goes this weekend," he said. "And of course it can still go both ways. It's a funny old game and United have got a difficult match too. But if we were going to Newcastle for this last game, everyone would be saying they didn't fancy us. In '68 we had to win not just at Newcastle but the last few games, four in a row, and we did. It's the same now, and after five in a row they must be very confident. So it's wonderful for the fans, though I know most of them are still worried. They can't quite believe it's happening, like Father Christmas coming again on New Year's Eve."
He is delighted too for the city as well as the City: "It's great for the whole place, just like it was in the late Sixties with our team and Best, Law and Charlton at United. Having Champions' League football again next season for both teams with all those supporters coming here makes it very lucrative for the economy of the place."
In a season that has apparently been voted the most exciting since the Premier League began, Lee accepts that most teams have lacked consistency. "United had that eight-point lead and since then it's not run for them. I thought Spurs looked the most dangerous at one time.
"But Chelsea and Liverpool have not had a good season in the League and so you could say it's not really a vintage Premier League."
Should City win it this afternoon, that will hardly concern them. And those awarding the Cock-up Cup can look elsewhere.
Decision day: The title
Manchester City will be champions unless Manchester United take more points at Sunderland today than City do at home to QPR. Both go into the Champions' League group stage whatever happens
- More about: