Editor’s Note: This is the 3rd and final piece in our “Rebels” series by Travis.
“If I’d been born ugly, you’d never have heard of Pelé.”
Handsome, charming, quick, tricky and a true number Seven. No one could deny the genius that was George Best, a man who lived life the same on the pitch as he did outside of it. While he hated misses on the pitch, he spent most of his time with them away from it. Whether destroying Benfica in European finals or his liver in pubs, he lived each moment as if it was his last, a true rebel to the societal view of meekness and conformity.
A winger first, who could play with both feet –though initially right-footed—on either side, who became a player who could operate anywhere from midfield and above. One that could easily out-jump taller defenders, dribble his way out of any situation and finish from any angle, no matter how impossible. He was a rebel, not only in his attitude on how he lived his life unapologetically and voiced his candid opinions without regret but also because he seemed so perfect on the field.
Only in a few video games would one be able to create a player with every desired attribute of players and managers. And only in dreams, could anyone conjure up such a personal life filled with alcohol, women and front page appearances. We all dream of it, George Best lived it.
The dream of living as you wish: whether it be growing heavy sideburns and a moustache or bedding miss Universe, few have the courage to go after what they want as Best did and few ever will. Though his football should always be more emphasized, the success would not have been possible were it not for his general attitude, grabbing life by its horns and seducing it into submission the same way he seduced a man’s wife upstairs at a hotel while his mates reportedly got the man drunk.
As they say though, genius itself is a burden. After the retirement of Busby, Best became the center of his team, a responsibility that he admitted led him to heavier drinking. He became increasingly more short-tempered on the field, which led to red cards that led to not reporting to training then more drinking then more fines, the thought of not being able to win or compete also drove him closer to the bottle. The pressure of being the focus of the team, of dragging them by his own hand, of his genius had become too much for the pint-sized golden boy.
For all of his problems, there has never been another footballer that combined his on-field genius with his off-field celebrity as well as Best. The few that have come close are constantly trying to apologize and pander to their detractors, to be sorry for who they are, Best never lived like that. He knew who he was, what he wanted, and he lived everyday like he could lose all of it the next day.
As Bob Bishop once told Matt Busby when he first discovered Best, “Boss, I think I’ve found you a genius”. He also found a legend that day.