“Maradona good, Pele better, George Best” say United fans, believing Best to be the greatest player ever to play the game. In 1968, when United were the first English team to be crowned Champions of Europe, George Best scooped the European Player of the Year award. His team mates Bobby Charlton and Denis Law had already been given the honour.
Since then, however, no United player has won the Ballon d’Or. David Beckham came close in 1999 after United won the Treble, coming second to Barcelona’s Rivaldo. The only other United player since Best to appear in the top 3 was Cantona in 1993, with Denis Bergkamp, then at Inter, finishing 2nd, and Juve’s Roberto Baggio coming 1st.
Cristiano Ronaldo seems certain to claim the title this season, despite UEFA being less than keen to hand over the award to a player in England. After breaking George Best’s goals record this season for a midfielder at United, when he scored 32 in 1968, Ronaldo has confirmed his place in United’s history books at least. He is currently on 34 goals, with there being at least at least 9 games left to play (more if we progress in the Champions League), scoring goals from all over the pitch, leading Sir Alex Ferguson to draw comparisons between him and Best.
“There are certainly similarities,” Ferguson said. “When George played as a winger I don’t think he ever stayed still. He roamed from side to side – he played on the right, the left and through the middle. I’ve looked at Best’s goals and a lot of Cristiano’s are similar. He starts from wide positions before cutting inside. The boy’s in tremendous form right now.”
There is a lot of talk of football not being like it used to be, back in the good old days, when men were men, etc., which would lead some people to say there is no way Ronaldo can be compared to Best. Whilst Ronaldo has certainly toughened up, he is a far cry from a player like George Best, who bombed down the field without shin pads, getting kicked from pillar to post. Whilst Ronaldo is one of the most fouled players in the league, we all know who would have convincingly win in a fight between him and Best, if we really wanted to look at strength.
However, whether we like it or not, the game has moved away from its more physical roots, and the focus is technical ability rather than physical strength. The question is, does Ronaldo have technical ability that matches that of George Best?
George Best Greatest Goals
How do you think Ronaldo rates in comparison to Best?
Made in Manchester is available for just £5. It includes 30 articles from the country's best football writers about graduates from the Manchester United academy. Everyone who buys a copy enters a competition to win the new home shirt. All profit goes to Trafford Macmillan so please support this fantastic cause.