George Best’s condition improved further with doctors reporting that the ailing British football legend could be out of intensive care this week.
The 59-year-old former Manchester United star, who is suffering from internal bleeding and kidney problems, managed a few words to his sister Julie and girlfriend Ros Hollidge at the Cromwell Hospital, in south west London.
Doctors said Best was slowly getting better – but friends warned the ex-Northern Ireland midfielder was in terrible pain.
Professor Roger Williams, who oversaw his liver transplant three years ago, said: “Mr Best is greatly improved, he is out of bed and sitting up talking.
“However, he will remain in intensive care for several more days at least.”
Best’s manager, Phil Hughes, said: “It’s great news, but he is in an incredible amount of pain.
“He isn’t yet able to hold conversations, but he did manage to say a few little things this morning.”
Best’s illness is believed to be related to the immuno-suppressant drugs he takes to stop his new liver – which he received in July 2002 – being rejected.
His condition deteriorated severely last week after four weeks of hospital treatment for an infection, prompting new fears for his life.
Family members and former colleagues, including ex-team-mate Denis Law, flocked to his bedside to offer him their support.
Hughes, who has confirmed that Best carries a donor card, said his client is likely to need attention from medical staff for some time.
Best, who won the European Cup with Manchester United, has a well-documented history of alcoholism.
He caused outrage when he embarked on a drinking binge within months of his liver transplant operation – despite vowing to stay dry.
The player was told that one more drink could kill him when he underwent the surgery and has been criticised by a liver specialist for putting people off organ donation.
The football star earned his status when he helped Manchester United to win the English league championship in 1965 and 1967 and the European Cup in 1968.
Voted European Player of the Year in 1968, Best’s ability, coupled with his long-haired good looks and sometimes wild temperament, led him into party-going habits which took an increasing toll on his career.
He quit United for good aged 28, a fact viewed by many football experts as a tragic waste of his unique talent.