Ferguson Asks New Generation to Draw on 'El Beatle' Memories; the Outpouring of Grief over the Death of George Best Could Give His Successors Inspiration at the Place Where He Made His Name

The Evening Standard (London, England), December 7, 2005 | Go to article overview

Ferguson Asks New Generation to Draw on 'El Beatle' Memories; the Outpouring of Grief over the Death of George Best Could Give His Successors Inspiration at the Place Where He Made His Name


Byline: IAN CHADBAND

THOUGHTS of George Best have been eclipsing the build-up to the Champions League juggernaut collision between Benfica and Manchester United to the point where you would hardly be surprised if Alex Ferguson's team disembarked from the coach at the Estadio da Luz tonight wearing 'El Beatle' sombreros in tribute.

How the great man would have loved the idea that he could still be the centre of attention even after he had gone.

How he would have enjoyed knowing that a new generation were being regaled with the legend of Lisbon 1966, when he turned up with a big reputation and left with an even bigger hat, the one which symbolised the dawning of football's first true superstar.

Wouldn't he have savoured old pal Pat Crerand retelling how Matt Busby called for the team to "keep things tight for 20 minutes" in their fabled European Cup tie that night, only for dazzling George to ignore the orders so blissfully that he had already scored twice within the first 12 minutes to set up the 5-1 epic.

What pleasure, too, would Best have taken from hearing the almost awed reflection of a latter-day imitator like Cristiano Ronaldo, who reckoned the video footage he had seen made him suddenly understand what a " fantastic player" Georgie was.

You cannot escape the spirit of Best here and, frankly, United do not want to.

For in what has all the authentic feel of a massive winner-takes-all European Cup night, with United staring at elimination and a possible [pounds sterling]15million black hole in the Stadium of Light should they be bounced from the group stages for the first time in a decade, they will take any inspiration they can find.

A win will suffice, a draw might be enough but defeat spells a winter of serious discontent, stretching from Stretford to Tampa.

Still, for omen-believing fans, both the return this week to reserve action of their 1999 Final matchwinner Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after a 19-month absence and the irony of this resonant fixture coinciding with Best's death lend the idea that United are fated to find their European swagger again when most needed.

Indeed, oddly for a club without an away win in Europe for nearly two years and now painted as tottering on the brink of crisis, there is still a palpable air of confidence in their camp.

Maybe the romantics among United's followers are buying the idea that one of the United trio who are the most natural heirs to Best's flamboyance and flair will have their own sombrero night.

Maybe Ryan Giggs, once saddled with the suffocating tag of 'the new Best', will enjoy one of his spellbinding outings should Ferguson decide that just one hour's competitive action in the past two months won't make him too rusty to play from the start.

Or maybe it could be a night for Ronaldo, Portugal's own exasperating, exhilarating version of young snake-hipped Georgie, to run the old enemy Benfica ragged. …

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