George Best, one of the greatest and most charismatic players in the history of football, died this day ten years ago after losing his long battle with illnesses linked to alcoholism. He was 59.
Nostalgia always adds to the mystique of legendary players from years gone by but George Best’s football ability has never needed to be exaggerated. He was the real deal.
Football’s first global superstar, both on and off the field, the wee lad from Cregagh in east Belfast first burst onto the scene in 1963 as a wispy 17 year old blessed with audacious skill, the balance of a ballet dancer aligned with the heart and courage of a lion. Following his debut for the Red Devils against West Brom he would go on to enthral football fans all over England and Europe with his flair on the wing.
The Portuguese press dubbed him “El Beatle” after an inspirational performance when United thrashed a strong Benfica side in the European Cup in 1966.
Best would become a key figure in Manchester United’s rise to the top, helping the team claim two league titles and European Cup final glory in 1968.
He was the outstanding talent in the United side that won the European Cup in 1968, and was named European footballer of the year.
He also represented Northern Ireland with pride, making 37 appearances and scoring nine goals.
Best made a total of 466 appearances for United, scoring 178 goals, but some argue that his greatness as a player had waned by his mid-20s as he became increasingly distracted by his lifestyle.
Aged just 28, his contract with United was terminated for excessive drinking and persistent failure to attend training.
Best said he hoped he would be remembered not for his drinking or the women he had dated, but for his football. He often said: “Pele called me the greatest footballer in the world. That is the ultimate salute to my life.”
His death on 25 November 2005 prompted an unprecedented outpouring of grief and his legacy is still felt keenly today. He will never be forgotten and his name is still chanted at Old Trafford during most United home games.