03 October, 2005

The Best

News this evening that soccer legend George Best is seriously ill with a kidney infection. Latest reports say that he is out of danger. But, this is the latest development in the sad downfall of the great Ulsterman.

Best burst on to the scene as a lanky teenager for Matt Busby's Manchester United in the mid sixties. The word mercurial was coined for Best. He had speed, strength, a good striker of the ball and was the finest dribbler of the age when dribbling went out of fashion. United won a couple of titles and became the first English club to win the European Cup (in 1968) when Best outshone Benfica's Mozambique genius Eusebio.

Like Eusebio, Best eventually wound up playing in the North American Soccer League in the 1970s. By then, drink and the fast lane had taken a toll on Best. The shy kid was feted, loved the life of wine and women.

Best grew disillusioned with the game, as he was the target of foul after foul. Spells with Fulham and the Los Angeles Aztecs paid the way. There were flashes of genius still. His extracurricular activities sometimes overshadowed the soccer.

My only live view of Best was at Giants Stadium of all places. Best's Aztecs played Pele and the star studded Cosmos. By then Best had stopped training, was overweight and drifted in and out of games. Pele on the pitch possibly inspired him as in the second half, he moved to midfield and dominated the game.

Pele too was in the papers over the weekend (sadly not on the Guardian website). Keith Eddy, the Cosmos captain, recalled Pele's farewell game in the Meadowlands which took place 28 years ago this week. Pele played a half each for the Cosmos and Santos, his Brazilian club, the only other club he played for. The end was tears in the rain.

Best's life will end in tears. Yet, one of his good friends and drinking buddies, another misunderstood genius- Rodney Marsh - always claims that people should not feel sorry for Best. It is not a fall from grace, says Marsh. Best lives the life he wants. So, drink, failed marriages, kidney transplant, jail sentences and Sky Sports punditry are all part of Best's life tapestry.

Remember, the body swerve, the dribble, the sideburns, the skinny frame, the goals.


Blogger Basil said...

As I recall, Eusebio went on to be the Astros' back-up catcher . . .

04 October, 2005 20:59  

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