The question of how a man could have everything and be systematically destroyed by alcoholism is at the heart of George Best's unflinching autobiography Blessed. In 1990, Best--arguably the most extravagantly talented footballer the UK has ever produced; certainly domestic football's first and brightest superstar--irrevocably redefined himself in the public's mind as a bloated, foul-mouthed, pitiful drunk with that appearance on the prime-time TV chat show Wogan.
The pictures tell at least part of the story. The young Beatle-haired Best of the 1960s at Manchester United; the scrawny boy from Northern Ireland, breathtakingly audacious with the ball at his feet, dismantling Europe's finest defences. The ever-more chubby, bearded Best of the 1970s, after his shock "retirement" at 26, exercising his increasingly elusive talent with second-rate teams. The Best of today: mottled, grey, eyes now tinted with jaundice and seemingly sharing the general sense of surprise that he's still here at all.
Now Best is able to candidly reflect on the story of his rise and fall. He revels in the highs, which were spectacular: a brilliant career with Man Utd, including a European Cup medal; a media darling, with a Miss World or two on his arm. But he also calmly recounts the lows: a litany of professional and domestic woe, including that public humiliation on Wogan.
The worst thing was that I thought I'd got away with it, that though I might have been a bit tipsy, I had come across as reasonably coherent. But when I saw the recording the following day, it was obvious that I had been completely out of it ... it's awful to see yourself coming across as some mumbling drunk.
Now of course Best makes his living with after-dinner speaking and TV punditry, and--despite the co-author here--Blessed reveals an easy authority with words which turns a compelling testimony into a funny, moving and deeply personal story. This is extra-time for Best, an astonishing sporting talent that was snuffed out. If he survives, with the spirit that imbues this book intact, he may yet astonish us again. --Alex Hankin