George Best 1946-2005

"I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered," -- George Best George Best, the Northern Ireland international and Manchester United star who also spent time with the San Jose Earthquakes, LA Aztecs, and Ft. Lauderdale Strikers of the NASL, died today in a London hospital.

Genius, magician, legend, George Best is perhaps the most talented footballer ever to walk on the face of the planet. Best was the complete player. Pele, Cruyff, Maradona - all were superb but Best had a bit of each in his game and more. He is to this date the only man to score 6 goals in a single game for Manchester United (during the 1970 FA Cup). Born in Northern Ireland, Best is probably the most talented footballer never to have had a chance to play in a World Cup Finals. He could beat opponents with skill and dazzling tricks, swerving through defences like a skier on a slalom course, or go past them with a burst of devastating speed. He could shoot brilliantly with either foot and out-jump much taller opponents to win the ball in the air. George Best had the confidence and arrogance to try absolutely anything - he knew he was a genius and was not afraid to show it.

It was obvious to Sir Matt Busby from the outset that the skinny 16 year old from East Belfast was something extra-special. Best made his league debut for Manchester United and won the first of 31 international caps before he was 18. It wasn' t long before he was a household name throughout Britain. By 1966, George Best superstar had arrived, especially after his magnificent performance in United's 5-1 thrashing of Benfica in Lisbon where he scored twice. Nicknamed "the fifth Beatle", he was one of the most famous stars in Britain during the 1960s. Best was the first pop-star footballer, a personification of youth culture and the swinging sixties. At times he was getting 10,000 fan letters a week, something that had never happened to a footballer before. Sadly it was this pop star image that proved his eventual downfall, for he began to live the lifestyle of a pop star, and not a footballer. The alcohol, women and wild nights spent partying would ultimately shorten his career and lead to severe health problems later on. As he became a casualty of intense media attention, George could not concentrate on football without being hounded everywhere by paparazzi. After a series of on-off retirements and a dip in form, George left United for good on New Years Day 1974, his final game against QPR.

He then played for numerous other clubs, most notably Fulham (76-77) with the outlandish ex Manchester City star, Rodney Marsh. Then there was Stockport County, Hibernian and USA soccer teams L.A. Aztecs (1976-78) Fort Lauderdale Strikers (78-79) and San Jose Earthquakes (80-81). Even though not as fit as in his prime, the incredible skills were still apparent, no one could ever take that away from him.

George finally ended his football career with Bournemouth in 1983, although went on to play in many charity and friendly matches. In the 1990's he has established himself as a successful sports commentator with Sky Sports and after dinner speaker. Sadly, in 2000 Best had health problems due to liver damage caused by years of excess drinking. However, in July 2002 he had a successful liver transplant operation and made a full recovery.

Best was admitted to hospital on 1 October with flu-like symptoms, and suffered a kidney infection and internal bleeding before the latest decline. Drugs needed after his liver transplant in 2002 had made the recovering alcoholic more susceptible to infection. Things had looked more positive earlier in the week when Best was taken off sedation and regained consciousness. But then his condition deteriorated once more between 0100 and 0200 GMT on Wednesday.

(portions reprinted from McLeery's Manchester United Zone and BBC News)