Next in our ‘Terrifying Trios’ series, we profile the ‘Holy Trinity’ of George Best, Denis Law, and Bobby Charlton at Manchester United.
On January 15th, 1964, the deadly triumvirate of George Best, Denis Law, and Bobby Charlton started together for the first time at Manchester United.
All three scored in a 4-1 away win over West Brom, with Law netting a brace on the day.
The ‘Holy Trinity’ (or ‘United Trinity’) would go on to score 665 goals in 1633 games, and each member of the trio would win a Ballon D’Or.
They would be major contributors to United’s maiden European Cup triumph in 1968, and a statue of the trio was unveiled at Old Trafford in 2008.
“George was unique, the greatest talent our football has ever produced, easily” – Sir Alex Ferguson
George Best was a football icon who inspired Diego Maradona, and was undoubtedly one of the most naturally talented footballers of all time.
He delighted fans with his dazzling feet and spell-binding dribbling, and was as famous for his life off the pitch as he was for his brilliance on it.
‘The fifth Beatle’ was discovered by United scout Bob Bishop in Belfast at the age of 15, which prompted Bishop’s famous telegram to United boss Matt Busby which simply read “I think I’ve found a genius”.
Best, then 17, made his league debut on September 14th, 1963, and scored six goals in 26 appearances in his debut season (1963-64) as United finished second behind their long-term rivals Liverpool.
The skillful teenager scored 11 league goals in his second season, dazzling opponents with his eye-catching dribbling and technical ability, helping United to the First Division title in the process. United next won the title (by four points) in the 1966-67 season, with Best scoring 10 goals, including a brace in a 2-0 win at Anfield.
‘Georgie’ was a key playerwhen United became the first English team to lift the European Cup in 1968. His goal handed United a 1-0 win in their first leg semi-final against Real Madrid at Old Trafford, and the English side progressed after a thrilling 3-3 draw in the Bernabeau in the return fixture.
He scored a trademark goal after a fine dribble in the European final against Benfica at Wembley, which United won 4-1 – Bobby Charlton also scored a brace on the historic night.
Domestically, Best scored an incredible 28 goals that season, and became the youngest ever recipient of the FWA Footballer of the Year award.
His mesmerizing performances also won him the Ballon D’Or that year, capping off a wonderful year for the world’s best winger, who was still only 22.
United endured a miserable campaign the following season, slumping to 11th in the league, despite Bests’ continued form and 22 goals. In the 1969-70 season, he scored another 23 goals, including a record six in an FA Cup clash.
He finished as the Manchester club’s top scorer for six consecutive seasons, but his partying and alcoholism contributed to his steady decline. After spells in the League of Ireland, America, and Australia having left United in ’74, Best finally hung up his boots in 1984. Sadly, he passed away at the age of 59 in 2007 as a result of his alcoholism.
In total, the Northern Irish winger scored 179 goals in 470 appearances for the Red Devils, and managed nine goals in 37 international appearances, but ‘El Beatle’ is remembered for far more than just his goals.
“Denis was fast, arrogant, tough, skilful, sharp, good in the air and it all just boiled down to a fantastic player” – Sir Bobby Charlton
Denis Law remains the greatest footballer that Scotland has produced.
‘The Lawman’ joined United in 1962 for a then British record fee of £115,000, after spells at Huddersfield Town, Manchester City and Torino.
Law scored just seven minutes into his United debut, and it was a sign of things to come. He scored 29 goals in his debut season, including one in United’s 3-1 victory over Leicester City in the FA Cup final.
In the 1963–64 season, he scored a club record 46 goals, a record which still stands to this day.
He scored 28 goals in his third season, and also claimed the Ballon D’Or for his performances, as well as a place in the 1964 World XI.
In the 1967-68 season, ‘Denis the Menace’ bagged 23 goals in 36 league appearances for the Red Devils, despite being placed on the transfer list after a falling out with Matt Busby. Unfortunately, the prolific forward missed the European semi-finals and final due to a persistent knee injury, and George Best later quipped:
“Bobby, Denis and I never played together in finals because we had to give the others a chance!”
Law’s knees injuries continued to plague him, and in the summer of 1973, he returned to Man City after 11 seasons at Old Trafford.
Law was also prolific at international level, scoring a record 30 goals (a record shared with Kenny Dalglish) in 55 appearances for Scotland. He played one group game (against Zaire) in the 1974 for the Scots, who did not progress beyond the group stage.
Ironically, his final goal at club level was a backheel for City which relegated United to the Second Division, with the striker asking to be substituted immediately afterwards.
The Scottish striker scored 237 goals in 404 appearances for the Red Devils, a tally surpassed by only Wayne Rooney and Bobby Charlton.
Now 77, Law was with George Best in 2005 when his former teammate died of organ failure.
“He was as near perfection as man and player as it is possible to be.”
– Sir Matt Busby
The third member of the ‘Holy Trinity’ was Sir Bobby Charlton, who is regarded as one of the finest midfielders in history.
Charlton represented the Red Devils from 1956 to 1973, and was just 20 when the Munich tragedy occurred – he was pulled from the wreckage by a teammate.
Regaled for his vision, creativity, and shooting ability, Charlton was the complete midfield player, and was once described by Franz Beckenbauer as having the “lungs of a horse”.
He started his career on the left of midfield, before moving into side into a more central attacking midfield role.
The Englishman was also regarded as a perfect role model and consummate gentleman, illustrated by the fact that he picked up just two yellow cards in his distinguished career.
Just two months after the Munich tragedy, Charlton scored on his international debut against Scotland at Hampden Park.
As mentioned above, the midfielder – who was United captain – scored twice in the club’s 4-1 win over Benfica in the 1968 European Cup final. In total, Charlton scored 249 goals and set a club record of 758 appearances, which was eventually broken by Ryan Giggs.
The dynamic midfielder won three league titles, an FA Cup and the aforementioned European Cup at club level, but his greatest triumph came in an England jersey.
The Three Lions started the 1966 World Cup (in England) with a disappointing 0-0 draw with Uruguay, but triumphed 2-0 over Mexico in their second game, with Bobby scoring a sublime goal.
Charlton scored both goals and produced a world class performance in England’s 2-1 semi-final win over Portugal, setting up a final against West Germany. Geoff Hurst was the hero in the final, scoring a hat-trick in England’s historic 4-2 win, but Charlton was the lynchpin of the team.
“England beat us in 1966 because Bobby Charlton was just a bit better than me,” Beckenbauer later reflected.
Charlton was named as the Footballer of the Year, European Footballer of the Year and voted Best Player in the 1966 World Cup.
The World Cup winner turned 80 earlier this month, and has a stand at Old Trafford named in his honour.
Manchester United were lucky to boast the three best players in the world in the 1960’s, and the ‘United Trinity’ is still remembered as the greatest attacking trio to grace English football.
Their statue stands proudly outside Old Trafford, and their legacy lives on.