OBITUARY: BestÆs great gift had destructive side

George Best, who was to soccer what the Beatles were to music in 1960s England, died Friday at the age of 59 after a long battle with alcoholism.

Best, who was born in Northern Ireland and starred for Manchester United, had a liver transplant three years ago and had been hospitalized since Oct. 1.

He helped Manchester United win the 1968 European Cup but was unable to control his love of the fast life.

''I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars,ö Best said. ôThe rest I just squandered.ö

By 27, his career at the top of English soccer was all but over, and he spent his later years in the North American Soccer League, scoring 54 goals in 139 games for the Los Angeles Aztecs, Fort Lauderdale Strikers and San Jose Earthquakes.

The 1968 European Player of the Year had a very public battle with alcoholism.

He twice had pellets implanted in his stomach as aversion therapy but that didnÆt stop him.

In 1984, Best spent eight weeks in jail for drunk-driving and assaulting a police officer. In February 2004, he was found guilty of drunk-driving and banned from driving for 20 months.

In 2000 he spent five weeks in a London hospital with liver trouble. Two years later, he had a liver transplant. A year later, he was arrested after a fight in a pub.

''I was born with a great gift and sometimes with that comes a destructive streak,'' Best said. ''Just as I wanted to outdo everyone when I played, I had to outdo everyone when we were out on the town.''

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