George Best was undoubtedly the most naturally gifted player to ever wear the famous Manchester United Shirt. Even though Best self-destructed and destroyed his own career in the saddest of manners, he is considered by many to be the greatest footballer of all time. If he had not taken the path of drinking and generally abusing his body, one can only speculate the legacy he would have created. Like Paul Gascoigne years later, Best’s potential was never fully realised.
George Best was born on 22nd May 1946 in the Cregagh area of Belfast. He led an unremarkable early childhood and although he was never without his ball, he was considered to small to ever consider a career in the game, despite his obvious ability. However he was eventually spotted by Bob Bishop, the Manchester United scout. Bishop was so captivated by Best’s talent that he sent a telegram to Matt Busby claiming to have found a genius. Following a trial, he was signed by Manchester United and turned professional shortly thereafter.
George Best played at Manchester United for six seasons and scored 115 goals. His debut was against West Bromwich Albion aged just 17. Best was part of a deadly trio made up of himself, Dennis Law and Bobby Charlton. Too much for their opponents, Manchester United swept to 2 league titles and a European Cup, beating Benfica 4-1 in the final. It was 1967 and Best was voted European Player Of The Year.
Best’s prodigious footballing talent coupled with his good looks made him the darling of the media in the same way that David Beckham has done in recent years. Off-field distractions soon started mounting up such as personal appearances, modeling contracts and nightclub ownerships. Best started to enjoy a hedonistic lifestyle and began drinking heavily. This started the the inexorable decline of his professional career. One of Best’s most famous quotes is his response when asked what he had done with all his money?”, which was: “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”
George Best walked out on Manchester United for the last time in 1974 aged just 27. His last game was against QPR on the 1st of January. He made 470 appearances scoring 179 goals in all competitions. He was Manchester United’s leading goalscorer for six consecutive seasons.
On the 25th November 2005, George Best died aged 59. He suffered organ failure at the Cromwell Hospital in London after failing to stop drinking following his 2002 transplant. He was given immuno-supressant drugs to stop his body rejecting the transplanted liver. This obviously laid him open to new infections.
George Best will be remembered as a genius of the beautiful game who wasted his natural talent to drink. His dazzling appearances in a Manchester United shirt are what he will be most remembered for. His loyal Irish fans perhaps summed him up best when they said : “Maradona good; Pelé better; George Best.”