Denis Law: When the king becomes the executioner

Upon arriving at Old Trafford, one of the most legendary stadiums in the world, we find a statue showing three Ballon d'Or winners. The protagonist of today's article has George Best to his right, Bobby Charlton to his left, and he, in the center, appears raising his hand pointing to the sky. These three players represent the rebirth of Manchester United after the Munich air disaster and were the ones who laid the foundations for what would later become the club.

Statue of George Best, Denis Law and Sir Bobby Charlton
The statue of George Best, Denis Law (in the middle) and Sir Bobby Charlton


Denis Law was born in Aberdeen, into a family of considerably limited resources. His father was a fisherman and, together with his mother, they were responsible for raising Denis and his six siblings. Young Denis had a huge love for football and for the club he supported, Aberdeen, and his life decisions were focused on having a future in the sport. He had a severe case of squint, a condition that causes the eyes to not focus on the same point or object.

Despite this, the young man from Aberdeen was a more than outstanding player. In fact, this is how he caught the attention of a Huddersfield Town scout, who took him to England when he was 14 years old to do a trial with the club. Denis was talented but, according to the English club's own coaches, "Never did see a less likely football prospect", due to his thin physical appearance and his shy and even nervous personality.

Although this definition seemed to distance Law from Huddersfield, his talent with the ball and his scoring ability ended up tipping the balance in his favor and, in 1955, the club signed the young man, just 15 years old. Shortly after his arrival, the club helped Law have surgery on his squint, which helped him in terms of his game and his confidence. Andy Beattie was the manager of the first team until November 1955 when, because the team was fighting to avoid being relegated, he was replaced by Bill Shankly. In December of that same year, Shankly would give Law his professional debut at just 16 years old.


The King, as he would be nicknamed later in his career, left good impressions every time he was on the pitch but that did not prevent the team from being relegated to the second tier of English football. Huddersfield would spend several years in that category and that would allow Law to find it easier to settle in the first team.

Matt Busby approached The Terriers to try to bring him to United but was met with a negative response, as did Shankly who, when he signed for Liverpool in 1959, tried to sign Law for the Reds. In fact, in 1958, Busby was the one who gave him his debut in the Scotland national team, when he was barely 18 years old. It would be in 1960, when Manchester City paid 55,000 pounds, a record in English football at the time, an offer that Huddersfield could not refuse.

Shortly after his arrival at City, and with a considerable improvement in his scoring numbers, now in the First Division, Matt Busby tried again to sign him for United. However, City did not see it viable to let Law go to the city rival. A little more than a year after his arrival, the Scotsman wanted to be in a bigger project since the citizen club, at that time, was in the lower positions of the table.

That is where Torino appears, paying 110,000 pounds, another record, in this case, for a British player and taking him to Italy, in this search for the Italian club to be reborn after the Superga tragedy. Italian football at the time was the greatest exponent of catenaccio and this made Law's adaptation difficult and turned matches into battles, something the Scotsman was not used to.

Although, in terms of football, The King had a good performance. His time in Torino had several difficult situations both on and off the pitch, which led the Italian club to accept an offer from Manchester United, just one year after his arrival. The Red Devils' offer was £115,000, which was a new British record and fulfilled Busby's wish to join the club.

United Trinity

Law would arrive at a club that was in full reconstruction after the Munich air disaster, with Busby at the helm and with Bobby Chalrton as the team's flagship. In 1963, a young Irishman named George Best would join the first team, and what would later be known as the United Trinity would begin to form. Law made an immediate impact at United in his first season however, it was the second season, 1963-64, that would allow him to reach his peak at the club and possibly in his career.

The Scotsman would score 30 goals in 30 league games and 46 goals in 42 games throughout the season, although this did not turn into trophies, it did allow Law to become known as a world football star, to the point of helping him win the Ballon d'Or that year, becoming the first and only Scot to win that recognition. This achievement meant that Manchester United were already on their way to becoming the club they once were before the Munich accident.

In 1968, United became the first English team to win the European Cup by beating Eusebio's Benfica 4-1 in extra time, after a 90-minute tie. Law could not play in the final due to an injury. In 1973, after 11 years with the Red Devils, the club decided not to give him a new contract after the Scot had injury problems, especially with his knee. 404 games and 237 goals later, Denis Law left Manchester United.

April 27, 1974

Manchester City offered him a contract and Law agreed to return to the citizens. He had a good debut where he scored two goals and then had a good season although his knee problems did not allow him to play as many games as he would have liked or at the level he had before. Cruel fate wanted that ,on matchday 42, the Manchester Derby was played in an atypical context: United was in relegation positions and needed to win and obtain other results in order to remain in the First Division.

On April 27, 1974, the match was played at Old Trafford. The tension and nervousness could be felt in the sunny but cold atmosphere of Manchester. The match was tied until the 81st minute, where a counterattack by City ended with Law scoring a spectacular back-heeled goal, in which the technical quality of the Scots could be seen. The King did not celebrate the goal. In fact, he seemed heartfelt affected, almost as if it were his team that was going to the Second Division and in a way, it was. A couple of minutes later, he asked to be replaced and went to the locker room. The United idol scored the goal that sealed the Red Devils' relegation.
Nathan Annan is from South Africa and loves to write, and above all about his favorite sport, football. Nathan's interest in football was sparked late but after watching a few matches in his hometown of Johannesburg during the 2010 South Africa World Cup, he was hooked.