George Best is still regarded as the archetype of the football playboy. During his legendary Manchester United days he appeared practically every day in either the tabloids or tv due to his achievements on the pitch, but also as a consequence of the scandals surrounding his private life. By way of his dribbles, goals and good looks he managed to captivate wide audiences, and brought about the innovation of screaming teenage girls to the English football grounds. Best owned boutiques, night clubs and sport cars and slept with various Miss Worlds. Quite simply, he was football’s answer to the movie actors and rock stars of England’s swinging sixties.
Eventually, a series of footballers with pretensions to achieve the same sort of stardom status emerged in Britain. Rodney Marsh, for example, was purchased by Manchester City in the early seventies because it was thought that both his talent and charismatic image would rival Best’s; however, no player managed to equal Bestie’s iconic playboy image. By the mid-seventies, both Best and Marsh had had enough with grey English weather, muddy pitches and with the rigid disciplinarian principles of both their clubs and the Football Association. They decided to seek exile in the sunny locations of California and Florida to play in the refurbished, and more laid back, North American Soccer League. When they returned to Britain, they played together for second division Fulham and resembled famous actors playing cameo roles rather than professional athletes. Their "partying" was now taking place in the fashionable Chelsea and Knightsbridge districts of London, but their exploits on the pitch were virtually over as Fulham just managed to avoid relegation.
Football playboys were also to be found in other parts of Europe. In the early 60’s northern Italy witnessed the appearance of the "bambino d’oro": AC Milan and Italy classy teenage midfielder Gianni Rivera. However Rivera, in spite of receiving similar film maverick treatment from the press, was not exactly a "rebel" in the style of Best. Unlike the Irishman, he was never reported to have missed training sessions due to the excesses of the previous night. On the contrary, Rivera came across as a more responsible type of player who captained his club for more than twenty years. This lack of rebellious spirit would also later apply to Italian "primadonna’s" of the seventies and eighties such as Paolo Rossi, Giancarlo Antognoni, and Antonio Cabrini. Germany did have eccentric star players with rebellious attitudes, such the cases of Paul Breitner and Gunther Netzer in the seventies, and Bernd Schuster in the eighties, but none of them were much related with the fast life, nor for that matter was the outspoken Johann Cruyff in Holland, probably even more classier and flamboyant than Best on the pitch, but a "family man" off it.
In South America, and especially in Rio de Janeiro, there were however plenty of impudent playboy footballers to be found. Brazilian internationals such as Jairzinho, Paulo Cesar Lima, Francisco Marinho and Argentine carioca legend "Gringo" Doval, set the mood of the seventies with their skills on the legendary Maracana Stadium and with their carnavalesque spirit in the beaches and night clubs of Copacabana, Leblon, and Ipanema. Doval, nicknamed "el loco" (Crazy) in his country, along with his attacking and clubbing partner the legendary "Bambino" Veira, who got his nickname from Rivera, actually paved the way for the arrival of the long haired-rebellious football star in Argentina during the sixties. They were the "party animals" of the so-called "cara sucias" (dirty faces), of a San Lorenzo team that included a bunch of equally talented and charismatic young players, who in spite of not winning trophies, managed to both captivate and scandalize the troubled Buenos Aires society of those years, thanks to their charm and irreverence both on and off the pitch.
Usually the stereotype of the Football playboy is not simply associated with womanizing, clubbing, fast cars and different type of excesses and transgressions, but also with a basic level of quality and grace on the football pitch. The achievement of reasonable degrees of sporting success is another requirement. It is probably for this reason that, in most cases, football playboys also tend to be midfielders or strikers rather than defenders and goalies.
In the last two decades football playboys have been scarce and less flamboyant. Maradona, like Pele previously, in spite of their night life inclinations, have been revered more as "gods" than playboys. Gazza’s image in the nineties in England was more in line with a "fish and chips" aesthetic than with fancy night clubs and Becks, in spite of his jet-setting entourage, somehow lacks the "physique du rol". The notorious rebel and party maniac Edmundo in Brazil and, for different reasons, controversial French stars such as Ginola, Barthez and Cantona, are the latest versions of the football playboy, an almost extinct "species" these days.