The Christian doctrine of trinity defines god as three divine persons. The three persons are distinct, yet are one substance, essence or nature.
If Manchester United forms that essence, then Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best define the Holy Trinity within which the god of football subsided in the 1960′s. Immortalized in bronze on the frontage of the Theater of dreams, where they still cast their charismatic gaze on the Old Trafford’s entrance, the United’s trinity blended timeless football wizardry for a decade on the same field, and even today – 50 years on since they first played together – remains symbolic of what Manchester United stands for.
They came together at a time when United was still re-building from the emotional trauma of the Munich disaster which took away the core of a side that was destined for greatness. Bobby Charlton, a Busby babe, had already tasted the league success with that young United side of 1956/57 until his early charge for glory was halted by that horrific night in 1958.
Charlton and United would not sample any success again for five years as the focus of the club and Matt Busby shifted to re-build what has been lost in the ashes in Munich. These five years saw United stumbling down the pecking order in the league as they narrowly escaped relegation in 1962/63 where they finished a lowly 19th place in the league. In the same season, however, Matt Busby sowed the second seed of the trinity when he signed Denis Law from Torino.
The Scotsman proved pivotal in the 1962/63 season as his overall goal tally of 29 goals saved United from relegation in the league and also provided them their first trophy in the post-Munich era when they beat Leicester City in the FA Cup final. Law opened the scoring in the final and had also scored five times in the run in including the only strike against Southampton in the semi-final. The FA cup triumph showed United a source of light at the end of a dark tunnel and made them to start believing again. The success, however, as they say, does not come easy. Even with the experience and versatility of Bobby Charlton and the goal scoring class of Denis Law, United still missed that je ne sais quoi of champions.
The re-building saw Busby buying Denis Law, Pat Crerand and others, but he still believed in his philosophy of nurturing the young talent which made him sow the third and the final seed of forming the trinity when he decided to flux in a skinny lad from Belfast in the 1963/64 season.
The influx of George Best along with already established Bobby Charlton and Denis Law in the United side of 1964 proved to be the brooding, swaggering catalyst that would take them over the tipping line. Three months on from his debut, George Best made his second appearance for United when he lined up for the first time with Bobby Charlton and Denis Law on 18 January 1964 and, thereby, giving the world the first glimpse of a timeless magical trinity that would go on to re-write history and be talked on by generations to come.
The trio made an immediate impact by winning their first match 4-1 against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns where they even shared the goals among themselves. Law scored twice, Best scored only his second goal of his fledgling career before Charlton capped off a brilliant trinity debut with a goal of his own. They went on to score 37 goals in 20 appearances together by the end of 1963/64 season.
“Right away, you could see the great chemistry between them. Great players know how to play together. However tough the match was, you always knew Bobby could unleash one of his strikes from God-knows-where, Denis would make something out of nothing inside the box or George would just do something magical. What players they were.”
The holy trinity – Denis Law in particular – helped United tremendously improve on their 19th position in 1963 season to finish only second to Liverpool in 1964. The Scot’s overall goal tally of 46 goals in all competition singled him out as the pick of the lot and made him win the prestigious Ballon d’Or award – an individual honor that would come back to United two more times in the following four years as Bobby Charlton and George Best would emulate their teammate by landing the award in 1966 and 1968 respectively.
The 1964/65 season, the trinity’s first full season together, provided a new ray of hope for United supporters as they anticipated a start of something very special at Old Trafford. With such an array of talent peaking in unison, it was inevitable that United would reach the zenith again. The Holy Trinity had arrived – it used to simply roll off the tongue – Best-Law-Charlton – as the trio produced one magical moment after another on the pitch to become one of the most fearsome triumvirate of attack in Europe. And although they were different in terms of their abilities and lifestyles, they had one thing in common – to get United to the pinnacle of domestic and European football. The trio, with their charismatic displays, helped United win their first league title in the post-Munich era in 1965.
The trio simply complemented each other. Best’s greatest strength was his dribbling skills – speed, balance and superb close control. Bobby Charlton was a colossus on field – he was a player with great grace, moved along the ground very easily, beautiful balance, two-footed, with a beautiful running style. Denis Law was a natural goal scorer – he was very quick in the penalty area and an excellent header of the ball. The trio together were as close to football perfection as one could get and, hence, were justifiably named “The Holy Trinity” .
Following on the league success of 1965, the trinity would go on to reach the pinnacle of domestic and European football both individually as well as a team. After another league triumph in 1967 and bagging the European Player of the year award in 1964, 1966 and 1968, the trinity fulfilled Matt Busby’s and United’s long yearned dream of an European Cup victory in 1968 where Bobby Charlton’s clinical brace and a typical goal from George Best added to a Brian Kidd’s header earned United a 4-1 victory after extra time against the mighty Benfica.
After achieving the zenith of their success, Manchester United approached the crossroads as the Busby era started to end and the trinity, too, were fighting their own battles – Law with injury, Best with alcohol and Charlton with age. As all good things finally come to an end, the holy trinity was dismantled in 1972.
Nevertheless, their legacy still remains entrenched in the hearts of everyone associated with the beautiful game. The trinity’s influence transcended success as they brought joie de vivre back to the club, city and people who were still in the process of re-building themselves after the trauma of 1958. Rightfully commemorated with a bronze statue at Old Trafford, their legend is Manchester United figurehead – a link to club’s past, present and future.Published 18 Jan 2014, 10:10 IST