When George Best set out to humiliate Johan Cruyff


The story of George Best nutmegging Johan CruyffEven the greatest George Best fans had to admit, by 1976, that his best days were well behind him. 30 years old. Addicted to alcohol. Kicked out of Manchester United. George Best, many argued, was now a pale shadow of the genius dribbler he used to be.

That’s also what Dutch journalist Bert Nederlof thought. With the Holland vs Northern Ireland World Cup qualifier approaching, Nederlof was assigned the task to write a portrait of George Best. Nederlof flew to London to watch Best play for his new club Fulham against Southampton. After 90 minutes, Nederlof had seen enough. He wrote that Best was a fallen superstar no longer able to do what it takes to be a good footballer. Nederlof would soon regret those words.


A few hundred miles away, British journalist Bill Elliot was traveling with the Irish squad to the stadium where they’d meet Holland. The Orange squad, and their captain Johan Cruyff, in 1976, were synonymous with greatness. Elliot asked Best what he thought of Cruyff. “Outstanding”. “Better than you?”. George looked at the journalist and laughed. ‘You’re kidding aren’t you? I tell you what I’ll do tonight… I’ll nutmeg Cruyff first chance I get.”

What follows is Elliot’s description. “Five minutes into the game Best received the ball wide on the left. Instead of heading towards goal he turned directly infield, weaved his way past at least three Dutchmen and found his way to Cruyff who was wide right. He took the ball to his opponent, dipped a shoulder twice and slipped it between Cruyff’s feet. As he ran round to collect it and run on he raised his right fist into the air.”

“Only a few of us in the press box knew what this bravado act really meant. Johan Cruyff the best in the world? Are you kidding? Only an idiot would have thought that on this evening.”

While there doesn’t exist video evidence of this historic scene, Nederlof confirms that Best had played an absolutely incredible match, inspiring small Northern Ireland to a 2-2 draw against the best team in the world. “After the game, I caught the eye of the Dutch coach, Jan Zwartkruis. He gave me the most cold stare I’ve ever witnessed. Perhaps I shouldn’t have told him before the game that Best was nothing to worry about”.

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  1. #1 by Jurgen on November 15, 2011 - 14:05

    Awesome story. Real shame there’s no video, that would’ve been brilliant.

  2. #2 by Franco on December 24, 2011 - 03:53

    Best is one of a very very few players that ever lived that can be compared to Cruyff on ability, they were very similar in a lot of ways in the way they ran at players, controlled the ball, could use both feet equally well & could head the ball, the difference for me between the 2 was that Cruyff was a much better team player, he understood tactics & strategy better.
    I like both guys, 2 of my favourites but for me Cruyff was better than Best… & not many could say that, not many at all.

  3. #3 by burke on March 15, 2012 - 14:33

    Franco i think your wrong in your comment cruyff had a much better team around him but best had nothing but himself best was the best…

  4. #4 by dan on December 14, 2012 - 15:44

    @ Burke

    Sorry mate, Cruyff WAS the reason the team around him was so good. He was the master tactician, visionary and motivator on the pitch, as well being sublime in his own right. That’s what sets the really really world-class payers apart form the rest, and is the reason only those in the British Isles regard Best as among those and the rest of the world doesn’t.

  5. #5 by Rimbaud on February 1, 2013 - 12:11

    In fact, the story itself rather proves that Johann Cruyff was the better footballer. Or at least the one you’d rather have on your team…

  6. #6 by Steve-o on February 5, 2013 - 23:20

    Which of the two nutmegged the opposition goalkeeper in the European Cup Final before coolly slotting the ball into the empty net?

  7. #7 by Dudley on June 13, 2013 - 15:20

    Sort of proves, actually, that Crujff was the better player. Running away from goal, wasting a play, just to nutmeg a player (as if a nutmeg could prove one footballer is better than another).

  8. #8 by John on August 8, 2013 - 23:46

    Dudley…you clearly missed the whole point of why George Best played Football, it was purely for the fun of the game, not to be a tactical surgeon like Cruyff or Beckenbauer, but purely for fun. After a match, who would you rather hang out with…Best, or Cruyff :-)

    George Best
    “I spent a lot of money on booze, birds and fast cars. The rest I just squandered.”

  9. #9 by John Mcaulay on September 7, 2013 - 14:57

    Not only was cruyff far superior to best,he is the greatest player ever.Cruyff played for his team ,his country,and his fans.Best played for himself only.Cruyff is the only footballer whom in his day was the worlds best player and the worlds best coach..

    • #10 by Ellen on October 31, 2013 - 23:18

      All i can say is NONESENSE!!! Best was 10 x the footballer Cruiff ever was. Elegant, fast, best balance and played the game for the fun of it, the only player that can me mentioned and comes close to George was Diego Armando —, both were geniuses and had their destructive demons outside of the football field.

      • #11 by ahum on November 1, 2013 - 10:38

        nonesense?
        bobby charlton himself said that when best came close to the goal, he wouldn´t pass.
        this in contrast to himself or cruijff or messi or what ever player with superior decision making.

      • #12 by Mark J on November 1, 2013 - 14:05

        Ellen,
        I can appreciate your love of Best, however, Cruyff was the beter footballer, he changed the way the game is played, and still being played today. Tiki-Taka and total football, fighting to regain possession in 6 seconds….this is Barcelona’s style of play today, and is Cruyff’s legacy. The legacy of George Best is Gascoigne, another pure talent wasted by demons on and off the pitch.

      • #13 by Michael Collins on August 21, 2014 - 22:42

        Heard enough of this tired old crap. Just watched a game between Leeds and Man U in 1972. Eddie Gray at one point shows Best the ball, Best goes for it, at which point Gray drags the ball back and goes past Best. It’s as good as any nutmeg. So was Gray better than Best for making him look like a buffoon? Between 1969-75, Cruyff was electric on a football field, and as good as anyone I’ve seen. After 75, then he star dwindled somewhat.

  10. #14 by JM on September 13, 2013 - 16:20

    If Best was playing wide left and Cruyff wide right then Best wouldn’t have had to dribble in field to find him as they would have been playing on the same side of the pitch.
    Just saying……

  11. #15 by velocete on February 13, 2014 - 19:44

    all the cruyff was a better player etc etc reading that just shows george best was cool as fuck and an entertainer to boot the man was awesome. id rather that sort of maverick ability any day off the week. sadly football lacks that sort of prowess these days. it more about athleticism now rather than showmanship and skills like this. as for the boy commenting about paul gascoigne the man was a genius his goal against scotland in the euro championships. is still one of the best ive seen (im scottish btw) i was lucky enough to see paul play for my team. rangers ill never forget the day he scored a hat-trick and single handedly took aberdeen apart. to secure 8 in a row.

  12. #16 by Mark on February 14, 2014 - 16:12

    The game needs a few more like Best and Gazza. There are no characters in the game anymore, pure tactics, skill, and athleticism. When you’re the best player on the pitch and you know it, you do things that are outside of the “team” game, but you do it because you can. Football needs more of this.

  13. #17 by Rolf on April 3, 2014 - 12:17

    You can’t really measure who is/was best. It is just a matter of opinion. Two of the players that have given me the best football memories are George Best and Diego Maradona. Oh, and Cantona… and Cruyff… and ….. the list is endless

  14. #18 by Willem H on June 16, 2014 - 20:17

    Best was a really great player. But to call Best a better player then Cruyff based on a game where Best played really good is a little bit funny and childish imho. Pity that Cruyff didn’t went to the word cup of 1978 in Argentinia where Holland ended up 2nd place. What if left winger Rensebrink didn’t hit the post? Would they’ve come home alife if Holland won that tournement in Argentinia?

  15. #19 by Michael Collins on October 18, 2014 - 16:57

    This is a silly blog. The day Best set out to humiliate Cruyff? For all those supporters of George, who I admit was a mighty fine player, look at the clip of Leeds verses Man Utd. I think it was 1972 or 73 and Leeds won 5-1. At some point through the video, Eddie Gray receives the ball on the left wing and is faced by Best. He roles the ball forward under his left foot, Best goes to get it and Gray drags it back, pushes it past Best and leaves him for dead. As good as any nutmeg. Was Eddie Gray a better player than Best for totally outwitting him? Come along all you United an Irish fans! The day Best set out to humiliate Cruyff? What about the day Eddie Gray made a total buffoon out of George Best?

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