No three players embody the spirit, meaning and values of Manchester United quite like Denis Law, George Best and Bobby Charlton, who all played together for the club for the very first time on January 18, 1964.
On the pitch, the ‘Holy Trinity’ of Law, Best and Charlton have often brushed aside all that came before them, while off the pitch the mere mention of their names still conjures up images of Manchester United’s glorious past under Sir Matt Busby in which the three played a central role.
The trio found themselves in the starting XI for the first time ever for United’s Premier League game at West Bromwich Albion, with all three scoring in a 4-1 victory. They would become one of the most successful and well-known combinations, not only in the history of the club, but of the game as a whole.
Meeting at a time when the club was still reeling from the 1958 Munich air disaster which all but wiped out the team, the triumvirate would oversee a transformation from tragedy and turmoil into unprecedented success for United.
Bobby Charlton, a Munich survivor himself, had been at Manchester United since 1953 and had won the league title in 1956/57 less than a year before the young team’s untimely demise on that horrible night in 1958.
Unsurprisingly, the crash had a huge impact on the club’s performance on the pitch and United narrowly avoided relegation in 1963. They eventually finished 19th in the Premier League, with 34 points from 42 games, with this shaving close despite the arrival of Denis Law from Turin for £115,000. The Scot’s impact was invaluable not only in keeping the team in the top flight but also in winning the FA Cup that year.
But the arrival of George Best, who made his United debut aged 17 on September 14, 1963, to reunite Law and Charlton would completely transform the team. Best’s dribbling ability, pace and unbridled confidence complemented Charlton’s vision and passing accuracy perfectly, while making the most of the aerial presence provided by Law.
United won their first league title since the Munich tragedy when they beat Leeds at the end of the 1964/65 season as Best, Law and Charlton combined to find the net no less than 48 times between them to help the Red Devils take the title on goal difference.
They were horrible for opponents to deal with, as a famous quote from Bill Shankly memorably summed up about a squad briefing ahead of a clash between Liverpool and United.
“I pulled the Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best models out of the modeling yard and put them in my left pocket,” Shankly explained. “Then I said to our players: ‘Don’t worry about them, they can’t play at all.’ It was psychology, of course. Charlton, Best and Law were three of the best players in the world.”
Manchester United’s title success in 1967, their second in three seasons, meant they would again compete in the European Cup, a trophy dear to everyone at the club and of particular significance to manager Matt Busby. .
The first English team to take part in the tournament in 1956, it was chasing glory in the new competition that tragedy struck following a trip to Belgrade in the quarter-finals in 1958, with eight United squad members killed when their plane crashed. following a refueling in Munich.
It was therefore an emotional evening when the club fulfilled Busby’s – and the club’s – long-held ambition of winning the European Cup in 1968 with a Charlton brace and a typical Best goal as United won a 4-1 victory over the mighty Benfica. at Wembley.
But as the curtain fell on the Sixties, a combination of Law’s lingering injuries, Best’s well-publicized battles with alcohol and Charlton’s aging body, not to mention the retirement of the great Matt Busby, meant that the ” Holy Trinity” was finally disbanded. in 1972.
Having first taken to the pitch together at The Hawthorns in January 1964, three of football’s most recognizable names had managed to win two league titles and a European Cup between them, not to mention individual recognition. All three were Ballon d’Or winners during their time in Manchester.
For his efforts in the 1963/64 season, including an impressive 29 goals in all competitions, Denis Law was named European Footballer of the Year. Bobby Charlton received this honor after England won the World Cup in 1966, and “El Beatle” himself, George Best, received the Golden Ball trophy after helping United win the European Cup. Europe for the first time in 1968.
Each of them left a legacy that is still remembered to this day as all three are immortalized in the form of a bronze statue outside Old Trafford. Their successes as individuals and as a trio arguably remain unparalleled in footballing history.