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Born: Saturday 24 February 1940, Aberdeen, Scotland
Position: Inside Forward/Centre Forward
Famous mostly for his time with Manchester United where despite missing the final itself, he helped the team to a first European Cup win in 1968, inside-left Denis Law is the only Scottish player ever to be named European Footballer of the Year. He also had two separate spells with United's local rivals Manchester City, while at international level his total of 30 goals for Scotland remains joinly a national record.
The youngest of seven children, Law was born in Aberdeen on 24 February 1940. He grew up in a relatively poor family, living in council accommodation and wearing handed down shoes throughout his youth, but spent what little money he had on watching football. Such was his love of the game from an early age, that he turned down the chance to go to Aberdeen Grammar School as he would have had to play rugby there instead of football.
Having developed into a promising inside-left and played for Scotland schoolboys, Law was offered a trial by English First Division side Huddersfield Town in 1955. A slightly built teenager with poor eyesight, he was somewhat surprised to be offered a contract but having joined Huddersfield, underwent surgery to correct a squint and became a much more confident player. After the club's relegation in 1956, Law found himself on the fringe of the first team and made his debut in a Second Division match at Notts County on Christmas Eve 1956.
Law's pace, control and reading of the game brought him to the attention of Scotland's temporary manager Matt Busby, who give him an international debut against Wales in October 1958, Law scoring in a 3-0 win. His passing ability made him ideally suited to the often deeper role of inside-forward and a number of top clubs, including Busby's Manchester United, began to chase his signature. It was actually United's rivals Manchester City who eventually secured a British record deal in March 1960, with Law's arrival helping them avoid relegation that season.
Although City faced another relegation battle in 1960-61, Law had an impressive first full season at the club and shortly afterwards got the opportunity to move overseas to Italian side Torino. In the autumn of 1961 he helped Scotland to the brink of qualification for the World Cup finals, narrowly losing a play-off to Czechoslovakia, but at club level he was struggling to adapt to the different style of football in Italy.
He decided to return to England in 1962, refusing to move to Juventus and instead joining Manchester United in another record deal for a British player. With United still rebuilding their squad after the Munich Air Crash of 1958, Law's first season with the club provided him with yet another battle against relegation but also saw an excellent run in the FA Cup. United reached the final against Leicester City, where Law scored the opening goal in a 3-1 win to seal the club's first silverware since Munich.
That triumph sparked a dramatic upturn in United's fortunes and Law soon became a prolific goalscorer, grabbing 30 goals in as many games as the team finished second in the league in 1963-64, four points behind champions Liverpool. They also reached the last four of the FA Cup and quarter-finals of the Cup Winners' Cup, with Law's overall goal total reaching 46, an achievement which saw him voted European Footballer of the Year for 1964.
His first league championship medal came in April 1965, as United edged out Leeds on goal average to take the title. Weeks later, his equalising goal in a World Cup qualifier against Poland took his tally for Scotland to 24, breaking the national record which had been held since the 1930s by Hughie Gallacher. Sadly for Law, he suffered a bad knee injury in the return game against Poland which would prove to be a recurring problem for the rest of his career.
Scotland eventually missed out on a place in the World Cup and Law went through the peak years of his career without appearing in a major international tournament, but he did enjoy another fantastic season in 1966-67. He helped United to their second league championship in three years, but also famously scored one of Scotland's goals in their 3-2 win over world champions England at Wembley, an achievement he rated above the league title.
In 1968 United lost their title to rivals City but also reached the European Cup final for the first time. Sadly for Law, he had aggravated his knee injury again and was forced to watch the 4-1 win over Benfica from his hospital bed having undergone surgery. There was more European disappointment a year later, when United's trophy defence ended in a 2-1 aggregate defeat to AC Milan during which an apparent goal from Law was deemed not to have crossed the line.
In the summer of 1969, Matt Busby retired and the great United team of the late 1960s began to decline. Law's knee problems continued to affect his career, limiting him to just ten league appearances in 1969-70, and when he was placed on the transfer list his fitness dissuaded potential buyers. He enjoyed a temporary return to form in 1971-72 as United had a fantastic first half of the season, but results deteriorated badly after the turn of the year and the team could only finish eighth.
Poor results continued the following season and when manager Frank O'Farrell was sacked, Law suggested Tommy Docherty as his replacement. Docherty dragged United from the bottom of the table to a position of safety but in the summer of 1973 decided to release Law on a free transfer, after 11 years at the club. In 404 games for Manchester United, he scored 237 goals, a total which still places him second behind Bobby Charlton on the club's all-time list.
Deciding to rejoin Manchester City, Law helped his new team to reach the League Cup final in 1974 where they were narrowly beaten by Wolverhampton Wanderers, as well as returning to the Scotland team as they sealed their first World Cup qualification for 16 years. The season also brought one of the low points in his career however, as he scored the goal which seemed to have condemned his old United team-mates to relegation when City won at Old Trafford. Law was devastated at the thought of relegating his old club, but other results meant United would in fact still have gone down had they won.
Due to a pitch invasion, the game was abandoned after Law's goal with the result standing at 1-0 to City and it turned out to have been his last kick in club football. He finally appeared in the World Cup later that summer, playing in Scotland's 2-0 opening game win over Zaire, but missed the draws with Brazil and Yugoslavia which sent Scotland out despite remaining unbeaten. His total of 30 goals for Scotland was later tied by Kenny Dalglish, but has never been surpassed.
Law was told that if he remained with Manchester City, it would only be as a reserve and not wanting to make the step down he decided instead to retire from professional football aged 34. In retirement he chose a media career over coaching, working in both television and radio as an analyst and presenter. On UEFA's 50th anniversary in 2003-04, Law was named as Scotland's greatest player of the previous 50 years.
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- Published on Tuesday, 27 November 2012 16:09