George Best gets another vote in the great debate

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In a week when Liverpool pulled off a series of impressive victories (first Napoli and then, more astoundingly, Chelsea), there was only one man who deserved the plaudits: Steven Gerrard. 

When the Italians came to town last Thursday, Gerrard leapt off the bench at the beginning of the second half to grab a hat-trick in a 3-1 win, all in front of new owner, John W.Henry. And then on Sunday, his virtuoso display against the champions saw Liverpool’s skipper pull the strings to allow Fernando Torres to grab an overdue brace in a 2-0 victory. All this led a gushing Jamie Carragher to label his teammate the greatest Liverpool player ever. 

These superlatives are frequently banded around in football; we often see youngsters labelled ‘the new Diego Maradona’ or alike. Managers try and alleviate this pressure as to keep their stars focussed, but the wonderful truth is that every club has one true great. That player that consistently lit up a match, won trophies and delighted fans week after week. 

And so, let’s shift the focus to Manchester United, a team synonymous with great players. With 18 league titles to their name, three European Cups and countless FA Cups, there is no doubt that they enjoy winning. 

Down the years, in those teams that conquered all, several names stand out. Denis Law, Bryan Robson, Steve Bruce and Nobby Stiles oozed inspiration. Foreign imports delivered unbridled success: Ruud van Nistelrooy, Peter Schmeichel, Eric Cantona and Jaap Stam all illuminated Old Trafford.

Exceptional mentions also go to Cristiano Ronaldo, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Bobby Charlton and Roy Keane, who won trophies almost single-handedly at times. 

However, after hours of deliberation, there is one stand-out player. When searching for highlights of the 1968 European cup final, a retro black-and-white version appears. A grainy video jumps out of Manchester United as they take on Benfica, the then-reigning champions of Portugal.

What ensues is a hotly fought encounter, which United eventually, painstakingly, won. But there is one player who brings colour to this documentary, treating Wembley like his stage for which to display his extensive repertoire of skills. 

The number 7 is a constant thorn in the side of the Portuguese team. With his mazy runs and perpetual trickery, the diminutive winger sets up the talismanic Bobby Charlton and then bags one as United run out 4-1 winners. He would go on to have a global-spanning career, with an unjust medal haul owed to his off-the-pitch antics. His name? George Best. 

When United’s scout Bob Bishop discovered Best, at the age of 17, he sent the legendary Matt Busby a telegram which simply read ‘I think I’ve found you a genius’.

How right he was. In the devastating aftermath of the Munich ’58 air crash, Busby took it upon himself to rebuild the fallen giants of Manchester. Best was instrumental in that, bringing a touch of class and showmanship that hadn’t previously been witnessed. 

For me, out of all United’s greats, George is best. 

Disclaimer: The views in this article are that of the writer and may not replicate those of the Professional Footballers' Association.

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