Although City have dominated the Premier League in the years since Pep Guardiola was appointed, the three players were leading names in a bygone era of success in the blue half of Manchester.
Each had major roles as City won a string of trophies - both domestic and European - in the late 1960s and early 1970s under the managerial guidance of Joe Mercer and Malcolm Allison. During that period, the club won the First Division title in 1968 ahead of rivals and reigning champions Manchester United, as well the FA Cup in 1969, and both the League Cup and UEFA Cup Winners' Cup in 1970. The success started when Mercer, assisted by Allison, steered City to the Second Division title and promotion to the top flight in their first season in charge in 1965/66.
"This statue honours three players who are unquestionably City legends and have deservedly earned a special place in the History of the club and hearts of the whole City family," chairman Khaldoon Al-Mubarak said of the unveiling.
"The artist's decision to feature the three men in motion on a single plinth, as well as include the 29 names of their teammates, gives us the opportunity to acknowledge a trophy-winning era of City football history that has, and will, resonate for generations to come."
County Durham-born Colin Bell was barely out of his teens when he joined City in 1966 in the closing stages of their promotion-winning season. Legend has it that Malcolm Allison deliberately misled potential rivals bidders over the player's ability, prior to a £45,000 transfer with Bury being agreed.
As a goalscoring midfielder, Bell was immediately a regular in the top flight and reached double figures the league in six consecutive seasons from 1966 until 1972. In City's title-winning campaign, he was named the club's player of the year. During that time he also became an England international, playing at both the European Championship in 1968 and the 1970 World Cup.
A two-year absence due to a serious knee injury suffered when he was 29 curtailed Bell's City career and he left the club in 1979, followed by a brief spell at San Jose Earthquakes before retiring. But he returned as youth coach and ambassador and remains a legend in Manchester, with his 'King of the Kippax' nickname derived from the Kippax stand at City's old Maine Road ground.
Bell sadly died in 2021 at the age of 74.
Francis Lee was the last piece of the puzzle in Joe Mercer's title-winning jigsaw, signed from Bolton Wanderers for a club record £60,000 fee in 1967. Straight off the bat, he scored 16 league goals as City beat rivals Manchester United, who would then go on to win the European Cup that same season, to the title by just two points. Their first top flight triumph in 31 years.
Lee was City's top scorer for four seasons in a row from 1969 until 1973, including 35 during the 1971/72 campaign alone - that tally did include a record number of 15 penalties. But it was from the spot that he had netted the winner when City beat Gornik Zabrze of Poland to claim the club's first ever European trophy - and their last until Guardiola's class of '23.
Like Bell, Lee was a member of Sir Alf Ramsey's England World Cup in 1970, although he went on to leave City relatively early, joining Derby County in 1974 and winning another title there. In retirement, long before professional footballers were richer than rich, Lee made his fortune in manufacturing toilet paper and returned to Maine Road as chairman in 1994 for a disastrous spell in charge that saw him step down, but retain his shares, with City on the brink of relegation to the third tier.
Lee passed away aged 79 in 2023.
Mike Summerbee was the first of the legend trio to join City, recruited from a Swindon Town side recently relegated to the Third Division when Mercer and Allison first arrived in Manchester. He had been a Swindon regular since the age of 17 and 13 second tier goals in 1964/65 persuaded City to part with £35,000 to bring the 22-year-old winger to Maine Road.
Summerbee was a regular for ten seasons, enjoying the best year of his career as City won the First Division and playing both the FA Cup final and League Cup final triumphs in the next two years. Cruelly, an injury stopped him from also playing in the Cup Winners' Cup final.
England caps came for Summerbee in 1971, 1972 and 1973, recognition for City form that made him the club's player of the year in successive seasons in 1971/72 and 1972/73. Upon leaving Maine Road in 1974, he carried on his career for another five years with Burnley, Blackpool and Stockport County. His son, Nicky, would play for both Swindon and City in the 1990s.
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