Talking the Beautiful Game

George Best – Moments of Artistry

Our new “The Artists” collection will be launched on 15th February celebrating the exceptional skill and contribution of some of the greatest exponents of the beautiful game. There are 10 players honoured in this initial range and over the next few days our blogs will share some magical moments of artistry from each one of them. 

Today we feature Best

1 – v Benfica, European Cup final, 29 May 1968

Best had already shown his quality in the semi-final tie against Real Madrid, scoring a crucial goal in the 1-0 first leg win to set up the 4-3 aggregate score line. Perhaps his most important moment however came in front of 92,000 people at Wembley in the final against Portuguese outfit Benfica.

Goals from Bobby Charlton and Benfica’s Graca forced extra time, but George Best needed only a couple of minutes more to make an impact. From a goal kick, the ball sails over the Benfica midfield and bounces into Best’s path. The Northern Irishman cleverly knocks the ball under the last defender and rushes through on goal.

Finding himself one on one with the goalkeeper, Best produced one of his trademark swivels, feigning as if to shoot low to the ‘keeper’s left when in fact he dragged it to Jose Henrique’s left. With Henrique now stranded, Best calmly strokes the ball into the empty net, hitting it with just enough power to give the goalkeeper the false notion that he has a chance to claw it out. 

With Henrique futilely following the ball into the net, Best wheels away before his team mates, Brian Kidd and Bobby Charlton, made the score 4-1 just minutes later. Manchester United became the first English side to lift the European Cup, and Best had demonstrated that ability all greats have: to combine great artistry with great importance.

Relive It: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hBPGxE62sR0

2 – v Fort Lauderdale Strikers, NASL, 22 July 1981

If the ’68 European Cup final was the perfect example of a great goal of great importance, then this is a great goal at the opposite end of the spectrum. It does however retain a magical quality, as well as a great line from one of the commentary team. ‘They will give him the goal and they will give him three assists!’

The greatness of this goal is in its playground nature. It’s the kind of goal you score in year five and never forget.

Best receives the ball around 25 yards out, and his first job is to shake off the attentions of one member of the opposition, who has wisely decided to allow the midfielder little time on the ball. It is to no avail however as Best gets away down the defender’s left despite a lunging challenge.

With three defenders bunched up ahead of him, Best fakes a shot to go round one, then plants a toe in the ground to dummy another. After this he moves from his left foot onto his right and completely changes direction in the process (having already watched the video footage, pausing the run at regular intervals to jot down Best’s movements, even I was taken by surprise to see him dart this way). 

By this point Best has the all the defenders dancing to his tune, and could probably send them any number of directions. He decides on one more fake shot and is granted an audience with the goalkeeper, whom he smashes the ball past to score. The result of the game is irrelevant. This is all about the shimmies, the dropped shoulders and the fake shots. Magical.

Relive It: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o8wGN5uDaVg

3 – v Northampton Town, FA Cup 5th round, 7 February 1970

Having re-watched plenty of George Best’s highlights, from the swivels to the lobs, I think this game sums him up. Ever seen a man score six goals on a choppy pitch in England? Heh, once.

You see, for all the comparisons between players of the past and future, one thing will never be as good again, and that is watching supremely talented players like Best running through mud in a heavy football shirt, shorts high, socks low, being hammered by one-trick defenders; and somehow staying on their feet.

And that’s what this game is to me. It’s a glorious reminder of the past as Best runs through mud to put six goals past poor old Northampton Town.

The variation of the goals is also impressive. We have a header into an empty net, a finish after rounding the ‘keeper, a rebounded shot lashed in past a few defenders, a glancing header, a fine run onto a long ball finished off in style, and then my favourite for six.

I mean, it’s so good.

Best receives the ball from a square position just in front of the box and with one defender to his side, breezes past him. There looks to be contact, but you’d need to have tied his legs together with string to convince him to go down.

One on one with the goalkeeper, I’m not even sure if Best does anything. He might flick his right foot a little, but whatever he did or didn’t do, the goalkeeper simply guessed wrong, falling one way and allowing Best to simply carry on jogging towards the goal, before playfully smashing the ball into the net.

Relive It: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m8sVnE-Di5E

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