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“If I’d been born ugly, you’d never have heard of Pelé.” Many a true word is spoken in jest, and few would argue George Best was the most naturally gifted footballer Britain has produced.

Speed, balance, vision, superb close control, the ability to create chances and score from seemingly impossible situations tells half the story. The other half was an uncontainable zest for the game as it should be played, a ceaseless trickery and joy. Pelé, for his part, dubbed United’s no.7 "the greatest player in the world." A skinny teenager from Belfast's Cregagh estate, Best was spotted by United scout Bob Bishop, who famously told Matt Busby: “Boss, I think I’ve found you a genius”. Having fought off initial homesickness, Best turned professional on his 17th birthday in May 1963, made his debut in September – and scored on his second appearance. A first cap for Northern Ireland swiftly followed. And in 1964/65, alongside Denis Law, Bobby Charlton and David Herd, Best was a key figure in the Reds’ first title triumph since the pre-Munich era. The following season he almost single-handedly destroyed Benfica in the European Cup quarter-final in their own back yard. After scoring twice in a 5-1 success to inflict the Lisbon giants’ first home defeat in Europe he was dubbed ‘El Beatle’. A second title followed in 1967, and Best proved the scourge of Benfica again a year later in the 1968 European Cup Final, giving the Reds a 2-1 extra-time lead en route to a 4-1 success. Best’s 28 goals that season – he was PFA and European Footballer of the Year – made him United's top scorer, a position he retained over the next four campaigns. As the Busby era ended and an ageing side was dismantled, Best struggled with the personal demons that would dog him until his death in November 2005. He famously ‘retired’ to Marbella in 1972, before coming back again and eventually leaving for good in January 1974 for a globe-trotting series of destinations taking in, among others, the rather unlikely surrounds of Dunstable Town, Fulham, Los Angeles Aztecs, Brisbane Lions and the Jewish Guild of South Africa. As he asked, he should be remembered for the back-page headlines, not the front. And what glorious memories they are. His 361 league appearances in Red brought 136 goals; he holds the post-War record for the most goals by a United player in a single match – six versus Northampton Town, in an 8-2 FA Cup fifth-round mauling in 1970. Best’s send-off in November 2005, a riotous afternoon of applause at West Ham, was followed by a game of which he would have been justly proud. Appropriately enough, fellow Irishman John O’Shea netted the winner.

Read Less About George Best
  • Position


  • Country

    Northern Ireland

  • Date of birth

  • Joined

  • United debut

    v West Brom (H) League

  • Left United


George Best
George Best (183 games, 47 goals)
Clubs: United says

When he turned 21 in May 1967, the Belfast boy had already racked up a mammoth number of games for the Reds.

Best's bow

George Best made his United debut on this day in 1963, at home to West Brom. If you're too young to remember the Irishman's genius, see more about him below 👇

Crerand, Aston, Busby and Best with the European Cup in 1968

Kings of Europe, 1968: Key men quoted Article

See what some of the central figures had to say about United's historic 4-1 win over Benfica on 29 May 1968.

George Best scoring a goal for United in 1968.

On 4 May 1968, George Best scored the first of his three hat-tricks for United, in a 6-0 win over Newcastle United at Old Trafford.

We ❤ this classic pic

There's cool - and then there's casually lifting your Ballon d'Or award before a game.

Denis Law exchanges pennants with Real Madrid's captain Francisco Gento ahead of United's 1968 European Cup semi-final first leg at Old Trafford

'Everybody feared Real in those days' Article

It's 50 years since our historic European Cup semi-final, first leg win over Real Madrid.

'A vital step on the road to the Holy Grail' Article

Fifty years ago, Matt Busby's United left it late to beat Polish champions Gornik Zabrze en route to the European Cup.

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