Every first team debut is an emotional moment for the player involved but Tommy Doyle’s bow proved an unusually evocative milestone.
To Manchester City fans the 18-year-old midfielder was more than merely the latest teenager blooded in the League Cup as Pep Guardiola made a series of changes for Tuesday night’s home win against Southampton.
Both Doyle’s grandfathers, Glyn Pardoe and the late Mike Doyle not only played for City but earned cult status at the club and supporters were overjoyed to see young Tommy reinforce an all-too-rare connection between past and present.
The sense that history might just be poised to repeat itself with another Doyle possibly set to establish himself as part of the City fabric represents an enticing prospect, but one that comes cloaked in high expectations for the youngster himself.
Guardiola, though, has reason to believe he can rise to them after an impressive performance in a 3-1 win which still seems a little surreal to the debutant. “It’s very hard to put it into words,” said Doyle. “I’ve been here a long time, and you dream of this day but it doesn’t seem real.
The galaxy of global talent assembled by Guardiola at the Etihad does not make it easy for homegrown talent to make the leap from academy to first team so locally produced youngsters like Doyle and Phil Foden will always be particularly cherished by fans.
The former’s pedigree only enhances the resultant excitement surrounding his emergence. Tommy is the child of the late Mike Doyle’s son Scott and Pardoe’s daughter Charlotte, who met as toddlers when their fathers were City teammates.
Doyle senior, who died in 2011 aged 64, played 570 times in the Maine Road defence, leading City to 1976 League Cup glory and winning five England caps. Pardoe, meanwhile, is now 71 and made 380 City appearances as first a centre forward, then at full back, infamously breaking a leg tackling George Best in 1970.
Their grandson may have stayed largely under the radar – until now – but regular watchers of City youth games have persistently likened him to a young Steven Gerrard. Two-footed and blessed with near perfect balance and an exemplary attitude, Doyle reads the game well, sees a pass before many teammates and has captained junior sides for both City and England.
Before the Southampton game he sought counsel from Pardoe. “I spoke to my grandad Glyn,” said Doyle. “He said, ’just go out and do what you do’. I went out and did the best I can. Hopefully Mike is watching down and is proud of me, I’ve done it for him as well.”
During the game a banner in the stands in tribute to Mike caught his eye. “I’ve seen it before and it just makes me feel proud,” he said. “For me to continue the Doyle legacy in a different era is a massive thing. Since he died I’ve always wanted to make him proud so I’ll keep my head down, listen to all the information I can get and see how far I can go.
“The [senior] players were all telling me to go and enjoy it and, on the pitch, everyone talks to you and that makes life a lot simpler. As I walked out of the tunnel I looked at my family in the stands and I was ready.”
Even so he still has to pinch himself when he creates chances for Sergio Agüero, a striker he was recently cheering on from the popular seats. “I’m giving passes to Sergio and it doesn’t seem real,” he said. “He gives you a lot of information but keeps it fun, keeps it happy. He’s always laughing and joking which helps calm you dowm, make you feel better. To be playing with him is amazing.”
Foden, too, has offered invaluable help. “I had a chat with Phil a couple of days ago in training and he just told me to play my normal game,” said Doyle. “I need to keep listening to him.”
Pardoe could not resist reminding his grandson that he had made his debut at an even earlier age. “I FaceTimed him before the game, and told him I couldn’t wait,” said Doyle. “He reminded me he was only 15, just getting a little dig in! But he’s a legend at this club so I’m fortunate to get advice others might not have.”
Not to mention inspiration. “My dad has videos and stuff, so I’ve seen my granddad Mike do a few crazy things, and Glyn be pretty normal!,” he said. “I have their shirts at home, some of them in my room, and sometimes I just look at them, to remember…”