Cleat Geeks

Manchester United History: Was Best, The Best of the Best?

AnthonyMartial1The explosion of the Frenchman Anthony Martial on Manchester United’s history in August 2015 has had many Manchester United supporters reflecting on who in the recent past has made such an impact so soon into their Manchester United career.

The United supporters who witnessed the advent of the Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo when he arrived as a substitute against Bolton on the 16th August 2003 would most probably flag him up as the most obvious example of instant United stardom.

cristiano-ronaldo-438-manchester-united12However supporters with longer memories predating Sir AlexFerguson’s time as manager and who remember the days of Sir Matt Busby might argue that the best of the best was the Irishman George or Georgie Best.

Best was born on the 22nd May 1946 and from 14th September 1963 to 1st January 1974 he made 470 appearances scoring 179 goals in all competitions. The standout highlight amongst many was arguably scoring Manchester United’s second goal in extra time in the European Cup Final against Benfica, Wembley 29th May 1968. cf.

A match Manchester United eventually won 4-1 with with two goals from Bobby Charlton and one from birthday boy Brian Kidd.

Ten years after the Munich Air Crash which took the lives of eight first team players amongst others on that day Manchester United were kings of Europe. Best’s waif like figure with arm raised high was beamed into the homes of BBC television viewers and around the world as he collected the ball, rounded Henrique and tucked the ball into the empty net.GeorgeBest1

In truth George Best, who died in 2005, was far from a role model footballer and if he was playing today his lifestyle off the pitch would probably fill as much front page columns as back page columns. Yet very few of today’s players would come anywhere near Best’s God given talent and skill.

It was Best’s superb balance on the ball and his ability to swivel past defenders leaving them helpless on the ground which marked out his charisma. A winger of incredible poise and dribbling ability Best combined goal-scoring, feints, two-footedness, pace and bravery in his armory of skills.

george-bestHe burst on the soccer scene in an era when television was in black and white and the Beatles were top of the pops. On first arriving at Manchester United as a 15 year old he was homesick and returned to his Northern Irish roots. Manchester United as was the case in those days had placed Best and another United hopeful Eric McMordie under the roof of a landlady, a kind of mother figure to help the boys settle in but the initial experiment failed.

Best was persuaded to return to United by Matt Busby while McMordie opted to stay in Belfast. Surviving the desire to return home again Best signed professional forms on his 17th birthday in May 1963. Bob Bishop the football scout who first saw Best as a 15 years old had telegraphed Matt Busby saying “I think I’ve found you a genius” and without doubt he had.

Best’s notable arrival on world football came after he scored two of United’s five goals in the away leg of a European Cup match against Benfica in the 1965/1966 season. Arriving back in Manchester he donned a sombrero hat earning the tag ‘El Beatle’ from the waiting press.

Unfortunately Best’s inner demons along with changes in management resulted in him leaving Manchester United at the age of 27 and although his career continued with other clubs it is with United he will always be remembered.

One of the other clubs Best played briefly for after leaving Manchester United was San Jose Earthquakes for whom he scored a typical George Best goal. cf.

Some of Georgie’s more memorable quotes are:

“I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars.The rest I just squandered”.
“In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol – it was the worst 20 minutes of my life”.
“I used to go missing a lot… Miss Canada, Miss United Kingdom, Miss World”

These quotes which come from an era of less political correctness and after Best’s football career had ended hint at the pressures he felt at being one of the first footballers born into the world of media stardom. However those who witnessed his sheer genius on the soccer field will remember him fondly and with deep affection.

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