SUNDERLAND will be in safe hands at Wembley.
They will be the hands of a striker who plied his trade for both Manchester City and Sunderland, yet remains red and white to the core.
Ex-Black Cats frontman and current club masseur Craig Russell will be doing his best to make sure Gus Poyet’s troops are ship-shape for their Capital One Cup Final at Wembley this weekend.
And he knows that means he is in for a busy weekend after Sunderland jet down to London on Saturday night before the last-minute preparations for the final begin.
“I’m sure they’ll all be looking for some TLC before the final!” said Russell.
“But it is important that we keep it as normal as possible.
“The way we are travelling is the same, going to the hotel etc etc – the only thing different is that we are getting a new suit
“We will be in the day before the game and the lads will have a lighter training session and then a few treatments.
“We will fly down to London and have our evening meal at the hotel, and after that, the treatment room will be open for the next couple of hours and there will be four or five of us working on the players.
“On the day of the game, there are certain players who religiously want treatment before they go out, so we will be working hard to make sure they get what they need.
“After that, we’ll help with the warm-ups on the hydration side of things and stuff like that.”
There will be no question of divided loyalties for Russell, though.
The product of Sunderland’s youth system made 149 appearances, scoring 31 times for the Black Cats, while he played 31 times for Man City after a £1m move in 1997, netting twice.
Even if he wasn’t a part of the Sunderland backroom team, Russell is emphatic about where his heart would be at kick-off.
But the biggest challenge for the 40-year-old will be keeping his emotions under control.
“I’ll probably be sat there watching through my fingers,” said Russell (left).
“Of course, you have to be professional and not let the emotions get the better of you.
“But having said that it’s really difficult.
“All of your work that week has built up to this 90 minutes of football, and now it is in someone else’s hands, and there’s nothing more you can do to influence things.
“But that doesn’t stop you from kicking every ball in your head, trying to make every tackle, and trying to win every header.
He added: “It was a great experience to go down and play for a club as big as Manchester City, but even if I wasn’t working for Sunderland now it would be them who I was cheering on.
“I’ve supported Sunderland since I was a little lad, while I was playing for them, while I was playing at other clubs and now that I’m working for them, and that will never change.”