MANCHESTER Everyone who saw Duncan Edwards play agree he was destined to be one of the greatest of all time.
His close friend Bobby Charlton, who has been associated with Manchester United for 55 years, said he was the best player to represent the club and the best he ever played with.
"He was the best player I ever saw, or am likely to see in my life," he told Reuters. "If I was asked to name a team of the players I played with, his name would be the first one I would put in, no question about it."
Bobby Robson, who made his England debut against France in November 1957 in Edwards's 18th and last international before he died, aged just 21, three months later, agreed.
"What is beyond dispute is that Duncan Edwards, at the age of 21 was the finest young player in this country at that time and surely would have gone on to be one of the greatest players the world has ever seen."
Former United manager Tommy Docherty, who played for Scotland against Robson and Edwards in that game, backed up Robson's assertion.
"There is no doubt in my mind that Duncan would have become the greatest player ever. Not just in British football, with United and England, but the best in the world.
"George Best was something special, as was Pele and Maradona, but in my mind Duncan was much better in terms of all-round ability and skill."
His old schoolmaster Geoffrey Groves recognised Edwards's potential greatness as a young boy.
He remembered a match in which the youngster "told all the other 21 players what to do, and also the referee and both the linesmen.
"When I got home that night I wrote to a friend, telling him I had just seen a boy of 11 that would one day play for England."
His prediction came true seven years later when Edwards made his full debut against Scotland at Wembley on April 2, 1955. He was just 18 years old and the youngest player to have played for England in the 20th century.
Edwards was born in Dudley in the Midlands on October 1, 1936, and scouts from every top English club were aware of his prodigious skills by the time he was a teenager.
United signed him as a 15-year-old amateur in May 1952 and 11 months later he made his league debut, but, although still young, Edwards did not look a boy.
"Look at the photos of him in the United youth teams, he is physically twice as big as everyone else," said Charlton.
Naturally blessed with size, power, speed, control and courage, Edwards was also powerful in the air and could hit the most accurate long-range, cross-field passes.
His shot, with either foot, was virtually unstoppable and when he went upfield he caused havoc in opponents' defenses. His nominal position was half-back, today's wide midfielder, but he could play anywhere and do anything.
United manager Alex Ferguson said there was one particular story about Edwards he enjoyed.
"When United won the League in 1956, they were losing to Blackpool and...they turned to Duncan at halftime and said: 'Come on Duncan get us going'.
"So you've got John Berry and all these experienced players in the team and they turned to Duncan Edwards as their savior at just 19. That tells you everything about him."
Charlton was closer to Edwards than anyone at United, sharing a barracks with him when they were doing Army service together near Shrewsbury in the mid-1950s.
He remembered their great friendship and said Edwards was the only player he ever felt inferior to.
"I knew him better than anyone else, I was closer to him than anyone else because we literally were in the same billet in Shrewsbury.
"I never thought I could be as good as him. Never. He had every talent, he was the best short passer, he was the best long passer. He had terrific vision.
"His 60-70 yard passes with a heavy ball were pinpoint accurate. He had an enthusiasm for the game, he never stopped talking about it. He'd pick you up if you were losing. He was absolutely sensational, fantastic.
"He was a great loss to England, and he would probably have played in the 1966 World Cup final because he was young enough. Probably also the United team that won the European Cup in 1968."
None of that came to pass because, after a valiant battle for life, Edwards died 15 days after the Munich air crash as a result of his injuries.
There are two stained glass windows dedicated to his memory at St Francis Church in Dudley. When former United manager Matt Busby dedicated them in 1961 he described Edwards as "a truly amazing boy".
One who was blessed with almost everything, apart from the time to show the world how great he could have been.
(Editing by Ken Ferris)