George Best was discovered aged 15 in Belfast, by Manchester United scout Bob Bishop, who excitedly sent a telegram to Utd manager Matt Busby. It read simply: "I think I've found you a genius." Bishop was right, and after a colourful 20 year career Best is now bracketed alongside legends of the game such as Pele, Maradona and Johan Cruyff. Indeed the affection and esteem with which he is held in his native Northern Ireland is summed up perfectly by a local saying: Maradona good, Pele better, George Best.
Best made his Man Utd debut aged 17 on September 14, 1963 against West Bromwich Albion at Old Trafford. The following season, he helped United win the Football League title alongside Bobby Charlton and Denis Law, ushering a golden era for the club. In 1967 they won the league again, and in 1968 became the first English club to win the European Cup, beating Benfica 4-1 at Wembley, with Best scoring a crucial goal. Three minutes into extra time, with the scores tied at 1-1, Best picked up the ball 25 yards out, dribbled round the keeper and rolled the ball into an empty net. Best's performances that year earned him the accolade of European footballer of the Year.
Off the field, Best was becoming equally notorious; he opened nightclubs and fashion boutiques and was dubbed the Fifth Beatle, thanks to his good looks and long hair and his conquests of two Miss Worlds. But his lifestyle led to problems with gambling, womanising and alcohol addiction.
His football suffered and in 1974, after 470 appearances and 179 goals he quit Man United. He enjoyed a brief resurgence at Fulham, but then rapidly declined during spells at clubs in America, Ireland, Scotland and Australia. In 1984 he retired.
Best died in November 2005 aged 59 after problems caused by his alcoholism. The final word is best left to fellow Northern Ireland legend Danny Blanchflower who said of Best in his heyday: "He has ice in his veins, warmth in his heart, and timing and balance in his feet."