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banner Thursday, 15 February, 2001, 15:14 GMT
Clash of the Titans

BBC Sport Online's Chief Football Writer Phil McNulty looks at two of football's greatest talents from different ages - and investigates who would be regarded as the greater achiever of the two.

David Beckham and George Best graced gossip columns and glossy glamour pages - but most of all they have graced Manchester United's number seven shirt.

The pair are both icons of the beautiful game and symbols of modern superstardom in their respective eras.

They were both comfortable with famous partners - although Beckham is settled with his wife Posh Spice while Best preferred a wide selection.

In an ideal world a combination of the two would give you the ultimate dream footballer
  Phil McNulty
Beckham and Best both enjoyed the trappings and intense pressures of life in the limelight, but handled it with varying degrees of success.

And while others may wish to remember other aspects of their lives, they underpinned that lifestyle with glorious natural talent.

Best was arguably English football's first genuine superstar of the modern era - arriving on the back of the "Beatlemania" of the early sixties, and just as BBC's Match of the Day gave football a massive profile.

It all started with a phone call from a scout to tell Sir Matt Busby: "I think I've found a genius" after watching the young Best in Belfast.

The Belfast boy sported A Beatles hairstyle and had a swaying, dribbling style that captivated the mood of a country as well the imagination of the sporting world.

Sublime skill

He boasted of his relationships with an array of Miss World winners and loved the glamour of the Swinging Sixties and the nightclub scene.

It may have cut short his career as he descended into alcoholism, but Best should also be remembered for his sublime skill.

He made his debut as a 17-year-old for Manchester United in 1963, helping them to the title two years later, and again in 1967.

George Best
The crowning glory of his Old Trafford career was the European Cup Final at Wembley in 1968.

He scored the crucial second goal in extra-time in the 4-1 win against Benfica, with a typical run from the half-way line and shimmy around the keeper.

Best was then crowned English and European Footballer of the Year - but it was all downhill from there - despite scoring six goals in an FA Cup tie at Northampton and winning 37 Northern Ireland caps.

The fallen golden boy developed a reputation for unreliability that ended in a walk-out and premature retirement from football at the age of 26.

He tried his luck across the Atlantic and even turned out for Hibernian and Fulham, but in some respects it was a career that was a cautionary tale of excess and under-achievement.

Best is currently recovering from another serious illness, and all lovers of the game will wish him well.

Beckham is at the peak of his career, loved at United but occasionally a figure of mockery and hatred from opposing fans.

David Beckham
Special qualities

He has already won more trophies than Best - but start an argument in the bar-room about who is the best and it might last all night.

They both possess truly special qualities, and in an ideal world a combination of the two would give you the ultimate dream footballer.

Let's examine the two players and their varying abilities.

POWER: Best was slight but deceptively powerful, as he needed to be when his wiry frame was confronted by men like Norman Hunter, Ron "Chopper" Harris and Tommy Smith.

He more than held his own, and was capable of looking after himself.

Beckham is afforded more protection, but still has that hot flash of temper Best also possessed. It has led to trouble, particularly in France 98 and the World Club Championships in Brazil.

PACE: Best definitely edges Beckham on pace, but the latter makes up for it with other qualities.

George Best
SHOOTING: Best was capable of moments of inspiration, but Beckham would win arguments against almost anyone on this score.

BALL CONTROL: Even Beckham would accept he would have to hand it to Best here. was magnficent at weaving past defenders at pace, and was more than happy to crown those great runs with a goal.

CROSSING: Best would repay the compliment here. Beckham is the best crosser of a ball in world football - and while he could count it among his qualties, Beckham is a true master of the art.

PASSING: Beckham must take pole position again. Best was magnificent, but if anything Old Trafford's modern day hero is even better.

Beckham has a range of short and long passing that stamps him as world class.

GOALSCORING: Best takes the honours. Beckham's boss Sir Alex Ferguson admits he should score more - this was a problem Best never had.

David Beckham
NATURAL ABILITY:Best wins again, but this is no disgrace to Beckham because he is up against one of the game's true legends.

Best had a natural talent that could be placed alongside Pele and Maradona when he was at his peak.

PROFESSIONALISM: Beckham has his critics, but he is the consumate professional. He still keeps his focus on football, despite making up one half of this country's most famous couple.

He has ensured his game has never suffered at the expense of his lifestyle.

Best's achievements were limited because he was unable to keep the balance. He had to cut short his career because he could not cope with the pressure.

VERDICT: George Best possessed the greater natural talent, but Beckham combines great skill with a strong character and an apparently crucial ability to resist the temptations that come with superstardom.

Best's achievements were curtailed, but Beckham still has the world at his feet.

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See also:

10 Jan 01 |  Funny Old Game
Clash of the Titans
14 Feb 01 |  Champions League
Man Utd survive in Spanish stalemate
07 Jan 01 |  Man Utd
Man Utd and the 100,000 reward
05 Dec 00 |  Northern Ireland
Dunlop and Best are honoured
11 Feb 01 |  Football
Robson unsure over captain Beckham
11 Feb 01 |  Football
Beckham's 30m deal
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