| PSG’s David Beckham during the Ligue 1 match against Olympique Marseille, on Sunday. (Getty Images) |
Paris: David Beckham has always liked a grand entrance, the chance to upstage and outshine. It came late, but he made his mark in Paris Sunday night. Just a few minutes after arriving as substitute in PSG’s home tie with Marseille, he ambled into the visitors’ area.
Here he exchanged a brisk one-two with fellow substitute Jérémy Ménez, who crossed the ball for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to poke the ball home for PSG’s second and decisive goal. Ligue 1 leaders PSG had opened the scoring thanks a Nicolas Nkoulou own goal in the 12th minute.
Beckham was the first to congratulate Ibrahimovic, leaping into his arms with the enthusiasm of a seven year old. It was a moment which gave a hint as to why, at 37, England’s most celebrated sportsman is still out there playing football: he loves it. “There was a bit of nerves, but I enjoyed coming on, I really want to play with the likes of Ibra,” Beckham said. “Mind, I couldn’t feel my feet for the first two or three passes; they were frozen from sitting on the bench.”
All weekend Paris had been anticipating the arrival of the new model on the Parisian catwalk. As fate would have it, it pitched him against French football’s other resident Englishman, Marseille’s Joseph Anthony Barton, as he likes to style himself on this side of the channel.
It was, according to France Football magazine, not just a sporting clash, there was a moral dimension too: “’ange contre le demon” was its front page headline. And we can all hazard a guess as to who was the angel and who the demon. What a possibility this was.
The suave, beautifully turned-out Beckham against the sharp-tongued rough-edged scruff Barton, the Spice Boy against the Psycho. It was London against Liverpool, the swish, swanky capital against the chippy provincial port. A bit like Paris St Germain against Marseille, in fact. Barton himself recognised the gap between the two exiled Englishmen.
“Beckham invented it, the footballer as a brand,” he said. “He’s your blue-chip company. I’m probably Ronseal or something.” Since Ronseal serves a useful purpose, he might be a little elevated in his comparison.
Certainly in Paris this weekend it was the senior brand that excited the interest. Everyone was energised by the possibility of the game’s most handsome man turning out in Paris blue. Canal Plus had set up a television camera just to follow Beckham through the game.
Hundreds of photographers lined the touchline. Former president Nicolas Sarkozy turned up to watch. Even Mrs Beckham managed to make it on time.
And then Carlo Ancelotti, the PSG manager, spoiled it all by only naming Beckham as a substitute. That camera of Canal Plus would not have to stray far to catch him: he was on the bench. He got a grand entry, though. Before kick off, he was announced to the crowd. For fashion connoisseurs, he was wearing grey tracksuit bottoms, a red shirt and “to demonstrate quite how much Mrs B has taught him about the need properly to mix and match” red boots. He and his outfit got a huge roar of approval.
It was, he said, “a pretty incredible reception.” He looked lean, lithe, fit. But he has not kicked a ball in anger since he played in the MLS Cup final for the LA Galaxy back in December. So Ancelotti was not inclined to jeopardise PSG’s relentless progress towards the domestic title simply to write a few headlines.
“Of course I want to push for a place in the starting eleven, but I don’t expect it,” Beckham said. “I’ve done nothing for seven weeks. It’s taken me a while to get back up to speed.”
But then there are those who suggest that in just sitting there on the bench, with about five hundred telephoto lenses trained on his every swallow, Beckham was doing what he had signed up for.