George Best: The seven from heaven

Thursday 25 November 2021 marked 16 years since the death of Manchester United and Northern Ireland legend George Best, as reported by the Belfast Telegraph. This piece will look back on the career of Best, and why he is still regarded by so many Manchester United fans as the clubs greatest ever number 7, beating the likes of Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo. 

It was Bob Bishop, as reported by United this week, who travelled with George Best from Belfast to Manchester in the summer of 1961 after Best had been invited for a trial at the club, however, after only a couple of days they returned home, with a very young Best feeling too homesick and overwhelmed to perform. 

As reported by the club, Best had plans to take on a printer’s apprenticeship that same summer after he finished school, but thankfully for football, Sir Matt Busby was able to persuade the young player to sign amateur forms for the club in August of 1961. The story goes, that even though he did not become a printer, Best would ‘go on to keep printers all over the country busy for the rest of his life’. 

On the 22 May 1963, the young players 17th birthday, George Best signed his first professional contract at Manchester United, and from there the rest is history. Best made 470 appearances for United, his debut coming in September of 1963 and his departure being the 2 January 1974. During his time at the club, he netted 179 goals in total.  Amazing numbers for a man who very nearly became a printer. 

During his time at Manchester United, Best was widely regarded as the most talented footballer in Britain, with some regarding the attacker as the best in the world. In 1968, Best was awarded the Ballon d’Or, a prestigious award that is handed to the best footballer of the calendar year. 

Best is only one of four Manchester United players to have won the prestigious award with Dennis Law, Bobby Charlton and Cristiano Ronaldo being the other United legends to get their hands on it. As reported by 90min, Best’s victory came off the back of Manchester United’s European trophy win of 1968, the attacker was only 22 years old, which made him the youngest ever winner of the Ballon d’Or at that time. 

Of course, you cannot write about the brilliance of George Best without acknowledging the players life off the pitch, which often impacted his career. As reported by Manchester Evening News, Best effectively walked away from top level football in 1974, he was only 27. Best famously battled alcoholism, after a sending off for Northern Ireland against Scotland in 1970 for throwing mud at a referee, Best admitted publicly that he had been playing badly for a few months ‘due to late nights and drink’, as reported by Manchester Evening News

This statement from Best himself unfortunately shows that his alcohol problems were prevalent even during his time at United. It begs the question, just how good could he have been had he not been battling alcoholism while playing? 

Fortunately for United fans, they can look back on the career of George Best with nothing but good memories, as even with his issues he still became one of the greatest players of all time and according to many, the most gifted football Great Britain has ever produced. 

With the way he played and the goals he scored for United while reportedly battling much more off the pitch, it is hard to disagree with that statement. A young boy from Belfast became footballs first global superstar. 

Perhaps the most fitting way to remember George Best 16 years on from his death is through the words of the man himself: 

‘If I’d been born ugly, you’d never have heard of Pelé.’ 

Written by Jennifer McCord

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I support Manchester United, the greatest English football team to have ever existed. Bruno Fernandes is the latest in a long line of players with great ability to play for the club. I idolised Bryan Robson, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, and Eric Cantona growing up.