Why there is more to say about George Best

Saturday 22 May 2021 07:00

Ask yourself the question, ‘Who is the greatest footballer that ever lived?’ and it’s likely that four or five names will flood the forefront of your mind: Pele, Maradona, Cruyff, Messi, et cetera.

But try to work out which one should emerge on top of the pile, and things get a little trickier. So why not keep things simple and settle on the man that was actually called ‘Best’? Most Manchester United fans – especially those who watched George play between 1963 and 1974 – chose that path long ago, and United Review isn’t about to argue. 

A new book about the godly Northern Irishman makes that very case, in what author Wayne Barton believes is the first work to present a truly full picture of a career stuffed with unadulterated brilliance. True Genius is far from the first work on the United legend, but the writer believes it adds something new – and long overdue – to the teeming Best catalogue. 

“It was the wish of George to be remembered for his football,” Barton explains, “and I said to the [Best] family that I’d do as much as I could to celebrate him just for that – and for his entire career. “When he left United and people get to that part of the story, they usually diverge from his football. But if you talk to Stockport or Fulham fans, or the players he went on to play with, they’ll talk about those days as some of the best of their lives.”


The sensitive Belfast-born star’s problems with celebrity and addiction are well documented, but Barton claims the genius shone from beginning to end. To reflect that, and add something different to the canon of Best literature, he’s focused on the beginning and post-United sections of George’s career. 

“Not a lot of people have gone into the youth-team element,” says Barton, who has written numerous books on United figures. “Seven or eight of his youth-team colleagues, like Willie Anderson and Jim Ryan, have contributed to the book, which really does bring a full picture of that. And the people I interviewed from after he left United make it a full football biography, which was the thing that was absent from the George Best library. I feel it will add to what people have already read about George; something of value. There are stories in the book which aren’t part of George’s legend.” 

Included are anecdotes of several confidence “explosions” that turned the young Best from a shy, doubtful boy who had been told he was too small for local side Glentoran, to a rapidly blossoming prodigy. Before long, he was demanding the ball from youth team colleague John Fitzpatrick and fearlessly telling him that he’d dribble past the entire opposition XI... before actually turning his boasts into remarkable reality.

After George’s first pre-season, Anderson recalls him returning as someone who almost seemed to have acquired a new skin; someone that was like “a rock star”. This was years before George was dubbed ‘El Beatle’ or ‘the Fifth Beatle’ by the press, following his heroics in the 5-1 demolition of the fearsome Benfica in 1966. 

But there’s also plenty on his famous first-team United career, of course, which saw the multi-purpose forward deliver five consecutive seasons of 20+ goals, the decisive goal in the 1968 European Cup final and the club’s third Ballon d’Or of the ’60s. 

Want to know what happened to the shirt Best wore in that 1968 final (George is pictured wearing a swapped Benfica jersey in the celebrations)? Want to know the real story of his controversial United departure in 1974? True Genius can tell you.


And even if you are too young to have seen Best play, this book is for you, according to Barton – who held Eric Cantona and Cristiano Ronaldo as his United ideals before undertaking this project. 

“George said: ‘If just one person thinks that I’m the best player that ever lived, that’s enough for me.’ And I thought: I wonder if that’s how I’ll come out of this project – as a convert? And I have. 

“People love Ronaldo and Messi, but George was scoring corner kicks and intending to do it. When someone doubted his intentions, he’d do it again. It’s just ridiculous levels. He was that far in front of everyone, even with the conditions as they were. 

“In ’71, they clamped down on tackles from behind, and George’s form rose to another level. Every time there was an advancement in the game, it was almost like football was catching up with George and he was getting even better.” 

A BT Sport film stuffed with unseen footage is set to accompany the release of True Genius, and Barton is hopeful that Best’s talent is about to be thrust back into the limelight where it permanently belongs. 

“It elevates him to a different level,” says Barton. “I’m now completely convinced he’s the best footballer that ever lived.

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