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Tuesday, Sep 17, 2019

Beckham who? Manchester still dotes on Best

Slight exaggeration in the popular saying notwithstanding, it's not only Northern Ireland which emptied its heart and showered unbridled love for its prodigal son George Best, the pop star in boots.

india Updated: Aug 07, 2007 18:09 IST
Amlan Chakraborty
Amlan Chakraborty

Maradona good, Pele better; George Best.

Slight exaggeration in the popular saying notwithstanding, it's not only Northern Ireland which emptied its heart and showered unbridled love for its prodigal son George Best, the pop star in boots.

Two years since Best succumbed to alcoholism in a London hospital, every blade of the grass at Old Trafford's immaculately manicured turf is still seeped in memory of one of the greatest footballers who trod on them.

And, rather intriguingly, David Beckham, playing his trade these days in a country hooked on to basketball and baseball, doesn't enjoy similar status.

Rather, contemporary sport world's most photographed prima donna remains conspicuous by his absence at Old Trafford, which seems to have simply disowned him.

In contrast, the Best aura simply does not fade. In fact, it grows as Manchester finds it a way to atone for the iconic winger's unceremonious farewell some three decades back.

It was Man U scout Bob Bishop, who discovered the slight 15-year-old, who had been rejected by his local club.

"I think I've found you a genius," read the telegram to their legendary manager Matt Busby. The rest, as people say, is history.

One hundred seventy eight goals in 466 appearances, including six in one match, and life came a full cycle for Best, every inch a showman dubbed the fifth Beatle for his long hair, handsome looks and celebrity lifestyle.

Alcoholism and indiscipline joined hands to ruin his career and the same club that doted on him showed him the door in 1974.

Stints at Fulham, in America, Scotland, and Australia followed but Best was clearly not the player he was at Old Trafford. The magic was on the wane and eventually gambling, womanising and alcoholism dropped early curtains on a glorious career.

Post-retirement, Best appeared as a soccer pundit with a channel but discovered old habits die hard. His alcoholism got many a manifestation -- public drunkenness on television, convictions for drunk driving, assault on a policeman or domestic violence. The monster had gone out of control and a liver transplant further complicated things.

The same hedonist who once bragged "I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered," resembled a tragic hero from the Theatre of Dreams as he pleaded "Don't die like me" and departed the scene on November 25, 2005.

Despite his vices, the enigma, lives on. Manchester relives the old time as an omnipresent Best peeps out from posters, souvenir pins, mufflers, scarves, coffee mugs, murals, thermos, water bottle and every knick-knack.

Josh, who sells souvenirs outside Old Trafford, has an explanation on what makes Best an enduring legend while Beckham is United's forgotten past.

"Best was a winger but his goal-scoring ability was just awesome. He was every inch a Man U man. He was as much substance, as much show. And his self-destruction streak only added to the aura. Manchester still regrets sacking him, which was anyway the right thing to do. By then, they had seen the best of Best."

"In contrast, Beckham looked more show. I mean he did well but somehow, he is not the quintessential Man U guy. Despite his skills and everything, he was too clever to drop anchor and stay put in Man U," he explained.

Even at the Man U mega store at Old Trafford, Beckham is as visible as a cigarette in a health club. It seems almost a conscious effort by the club to erase every mark of Beckham left.

Instead, Man U is head over heels in love with its new winker-winger and Josh too vouches Cristiano Ronaldo means brisk business for the people of his ilk.

"Best is always in demand, even among current generation while Beckham does not sell. And with Ronaldo in the wing, it's like 'Beckham who?' here."

First Published: Aug 07, 2007 17:52 IST