31/07/2002

Surgeons say soccer legend is doing the best

The medical team who carried out the complex liver transplant operation on Northern Ireland footballing legend George Best has said that they are "very pleased" with his progress.

Best, who had been on a transplant waiting list for eight months, received a phone call at 6am on Tuesday morning telling him that the transplant operation could go ahead. The 11-hour operation which followed at London's Cromwell Hospital was described as "difficult" but Best was doing "very, very well", according to consultant surgeon Professor Roger Williams.

Best had regained consciousness last night and is currently in intensive care. Should his progress continue without problem, doctors could take him out of the intensive care unit "late today". However, Best will be closely monitored as there is risk that the transplanted organ may be rejected.

Prof Williams said that Best was a "very sick man" but he had an excellent chance of recovery and would remain in hospital for several weeks.

The 56-year-old former Manchester United ace has suffered from alcoholism for a number of years, and his health had seriously deteriorated in recent months.

George Best was football's first superstar and, at the height of his fame in latter half of the 1960s, he was known as the 'fifth Beatle'. Best received many footballing honours, including two league championships medals in 1965 and 1967, and the 1968 UEFA Cup winners medal. In 1968 he was voted European Player of The Year, but by the 70's the considerable pressures of dealing with fame began to take their toll.

After missing training sessions he was dropped by Man Utd and by 1972 he announced his retirement. Despite a couple of comebacks, and stepping out for a number of clubs in the US and UK, his uncontrollable spiral into alcoholism was punctuated by the ignominy of appearing for a Ford Open Prison team in 1984 – having been convicted of drink driving and assaulting a policeman.

His health problems had lead to a number of hospital stays related to his failing liver of late. During a holiday to Cyprus, he was admitted to hospital in Cyprus with gastroenteritis and last year he was taken to Belfast City Hospital suffering from pneumonia. His liver was said to be working at only 20% capacity before yesterday's operation.

Best had remained busy with punditry slots for SkySports and also has a weekly column with the Mail On Sunday.

Messages of goodwill have come pouring from around the world, from fans who remember the glory days.

(GMcG)

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