Butler: United's immortalized George is simply the Best

Noel Butler
9/27/2013 4:32:12 PM
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After last Sunday afternoon's embarrassing performance in the Manchester Derby, there was no finer remedy some 72 hours later than defeating the one club Wayne Rooney believes are Manchester United's fiercest rivals.

Having pulled a summer-long strop, he's recovered from an injury suffered at the start of the pre-season but also got injured again from a bizarre training ground collision that blew a significant divot in his re-thatched hair style.

Now back on the team, Rooney wears a type of headwear which likely wouldn't have been permissible if the Quebec Soccer Federation oversaw the BPL. He has returned to his high-performing rugged self, potting scorchers seemingly for fun.

All of this combined, it's safe to say Wayne Rooney has dominated the headlines so far this season like no other Manchester United player in recent memory.

Or just like George Best used to do after every operatic performance which occurred each Old Trafford Saturday afternoon back in them halcyon days of the 1970s.

No, this is not an exercise in pole-vaulting Wayne Rooney into the exalted George Best-type comparisons - they simply don't exist.

Well, not in the strictest of senses.

Both did hone their crafts on the streets of the inner city neighbourhoods they hailed from. And as Rooney has threatened to 'walk out,' Best actually did - and on more than one occasion.

Then of course, their off the pitch extra-curricular activities do cross paths.

Renowned for his marginal propensity to consume booze, Best graced a football pitch like no one before or after as he glided right on through the mistimed challenges of so very many of his opponents. Stand up Ron 'Chopper' Harris and Norman 'Bite Yer Legs' Hunter, especially.

These challenges were not ever aimed at the ball, but the Belfast Boy's ankles. Best was required to be more ballerina than a Rudolph Nureyev in his prime.

Ahead of Saturday afternoon's West Brom game, the last time the BPL champs were at home for a league game was a fortnight ago - a 2-0 victory against newly-promoted Crystal Palace.

The three points were certainly welcomed by the 75,000-plus Manchester United faithful who had gathered at Old Trafford. Moreover, Sept. 14 was a highly poignant day for the elder generation especially.

Exactly 50 years ago to the day, George Best made his Manchester United debut - a mere strap of a lad, just 17 years of age.

This regal-type occasion was certainly not lost on Rooney as along with his teammates prior to the kick off against Palace, witnessed an homage to Best.  As a personal encore, Rooney - very fittingly - scored United's second goal.

Best had been discovered by United scout Bob Bishop, who recommended the 16-year-old to United manager Matt Busby.

There was no lengthy dossier required and power point presentations were two generations away.  All it took to convince Busby was a mere seven (a fitting number, no?) words.

'I think I've found you a genius,' the telegram stated. Bishop wasn't exaggerating.

Best eventually would go on to make close to 500 competitive appearances for United. In his sophomore season, the club captured their first title since the 1958 Munich air tragedy that decimated the club.

Just a few short seasons later, Best followed that up in the showpiece 1968 European Cup Final played at Wembley Stadium. With a brilliant individual effort, Best scored the game's winning goal and United secured English football's very first European title.

Later that year, Best was anointed European Footballer of the Year.

As Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo captivate their audiences today, Best enthralled and entertained like no one else. Now 50 years on, he still very much reigns supreme in the hearts and minds of all United supporters.

The Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) – who speaks for hundreds of thousands of the club's  most dedicated supporters - were in the news earlier in the week as they successfully saw off any legal attempt to reverse the recent decision granted by the local Manchester council to deem Old Trafford a protected Community Asset.

And MUST Vice Chairman Sean Bones counts amongst those fortunate enough to watch Best in his prime. Bones's fondest recollection came during a game against that team who delivered England's only World Cup triumph in 1966 - West Ham United Football Club.

"One of the games I always remember was in the 1971/72 season when George scored a fabulous hat trick against West Ham at Old Trafford," Bones told TSN.ca by email.

"George always created huge excitement and expectation when the ball arrived at his feet. In that game he was completely unplayable, even the great Bobby Moore couldn't get close enough to him to put in a tackle."
Even as Jan. 4 of next year signifies the 40th anniversary of Best hanging his boots up on United, his legendary status still shines as beacon bright as it did in those swinging 1960s.

"George Best means everything to Manchester United supporters," said Jones. "He was a pure genius on the football field - to see him play was literally like watching poetry in motion." 

As Rooney was seemingly agitated for a move all summer long (with United pushing back two official offers from Chelsea shortly after the transfer window slammed shut) and with a virtuoso two-goal performance during United's Champions League debut, the former Everton striker reached the 200-goal plateau.

He now sits in fourth place on the all-time Manchester United goal scoring list. Another 50 would see him surpass Sir Bobby Charlton at the top.

David Moyes (not missing an opportunity to latch onto this as the club look to extend Rooney's contract past next July) commented immediately after he reached the lofty 200 club plateau, saying he could eventually go on to be mentioned in the same breath as United's most illustrious and accomplished players.

And by extension, alongside some of the world's greats.

How's that for a carrot to contemplate? Not so fast. Even for Wayne's Manchester United World.

Invoking Pele's endorsement of Best as the greatest ever, Bones cited that locally-held Mancunian expression which sums up poetically where Best sits amongst planet football's all-time greats.

"We have a saying here in Manchester," he said. "Pele Good, Maradona Better, George Best."

You can reach and follow Noel Butler at:

TSN & TEAM Radio is your BPL home this season. Double Header Saturday Kicks Off with Manchester United vs. West Bromwich Albion, with the pre-game show at 9:30am et/6:30am pt. It's followed by Swansea vs. Arsenal at 12:30pm et/9:30am pt.

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