George Best: Soccer’s ultimate playboy?

Story highlights

One of soccer's ultimate mavericks George Best died 10 years ago

Ex-Man Utd star Best won two English league titles and one European Cup

He was known for his womanizing and a long battle with alcoholism

CNN  — 

“I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.” George Best.

He was soccer’s first celebrity and the game’s ultimate playboy – impudent, outrageously talented but fatally flawed.

George Best made his name at Manchester United, winning two league titles and one European Cup triumph in 1968, the same year he was voted the continent’s best player.

But the pop star lifestyle that saw the Northern Irishman christened “the fifth Beatle” came at a cost and he lost a lifelong battle with alcohol a decade ago.

“He was a free spirit on and off the pitch and the first of football’s glamor pusses,” Jimmy Armfield, who played against Best numerous times for his side Blackpool, told CNN Sport on the 10th anniversary of his death.

“The aura around him added to his game – he was playing in the swinging sixties and his game lent itself to the media. I think he reveled in that side of it.”

Armfield, who played 43 times for England between 1953 and 1966, agrees the playboy side of Best’s character only adds to his legend.

“It certainly is part of it,” he added. “You can’t change a man and that is what he was but it didn’t take away from his terrific ability. That’s what I remember him for.”

Living the high life

Best also expressed his hope that tales of his largesse wouldn’t overshadow his gifts as a footballer.

But with an off-field existence as exuberant and colorful as his, it was bound to infiltrate his playing legacy.

One of his most infamous lines, delivered in his unique, laconic style went as follows: “In 1969 I gave up women and alcohol – it was the worst 20 minutes of my life.”

Later, a waiter delivering champagne to Best’s hotel room was confronted with a bed that supported thousands of pounds in casino winnings, and the current Miss World.

He asked: “Mr Best, where did it all go wrong?”

“I’ve found a genius”

“Genius” was the word that immediately lodged in the mind of former United scout Bob Bishop when he first saw Best play as a slight teenager in Belfast.

He contacted the legendary Matt Busby, then manager of United, and told him: “Boss, I think I’ve found you a genius.’”

Bishop was right and Best would go on to be dubbed by Pele as the “greatest player in the world.”

After breaking into United’s side as a 17-year-old, he helped the club to the league title in the 1964-65 season – its first since the Munich disaster of 1958 that saw eight players and three staff killed in a plane crash.

A year later Best’s fame skyrocketed with a tour de force showing in Lisbon against Benfica, his two goals in the away leg catapulting him from the back pages of the newspapers to the front.

A picture of him wearing a sombrero upon his return to Manchester saw him dubbed “El Beatle,” in reference to the hit band fronted by John Lennon and Paul McCartney.

The apex of Best’s career came in 1968, when his goal in extra time at Wembley helped United win its first European Cup, with Benfica again the vanquished opponent.

But controversy was never far away. Suspensions and fines for hitting bars and nightclubs instead of training and matches were a regular pattern.

In 1971 he swerved United’s game with Chelsea in west London to spend the weekend with rising actress Sinead Cusack in north London instead.

He would open a nightclub, several restaurants and even a fashion boutique as his love of the limelight mushroomed.

Best unexpectedly quit football at the age of 27 and played his last game for United in 1974, but would go on to represent a number of clubs, including three in the United States.

Coming soon: Best the film

Best’s rise from a Belfast estate will be documented in an upcoming film about his life produced by Stephen Evans, whose credits include “The Madness of King George.”

A screenplay is written, over 100 hours of archive footage has been collated, and an actor lined up to play Best. A crowd-funding campaign is under way and Evans hopes to start shooting in spring 2016.

But he rejects the “ultimate playboy” tag.

“It’s more complicated than that,” Evans told CNN. “He began playing at Manchester United when the paparazzi started, when the Beatles started and it all happened from there.

“This is a shy guy from Belfast who has never been out of Belfast. The whole thing starts to move with him – at 18 you’ve got a couple of hundred outside his house screaming and shouting.

“I have massive empathy with him, his journey was quite bizarre and he was the first superstar on the planet football wise.”

Evans thinks the project will resonate with the public just as much as Best did during his turbulent career.

“Number one, he delivered on the pitch,” Evans added. “Also, he was handsome and charismatic, which is quite a big bonus in life.

“The joy for me is trying to understand him. He was very shy in his childhood and not regarded as attractive but after getting a bit of luck he gets to Manchester United.

“Yes he slept with a few Miss Worlds – he was incredibly handsome, monumentally famous and successful and girls threw themselves at him. That’s what happens.

“It didn’t happen to me sadly but you can’t win them all!”

Best’s battle with the bottle continued after he hung up his boots for good in 1984.

He underwent a controversial liver transplant in 2002, carried out by Britain’s taxpayer-funded National Health Service.

A year later more tales of his drinking emerged and prior to his death on 25 November 2005, he was pictured in a national newspaper with the warning: “Don’t die like me.”

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