David Beckham during a match for Paris Saint-Germain.

Beckham at PSG: the last tango in Paris

“Paris now has it all – officially,” quipped a local to the BBC cameras. “Macaroons, croissants and David Beckham.”

Beckham’s sojourn at Paris Saint Germain,
“one last adventure”
as the curtain descended on his glittering career, may have been short and sweet, but the taste – as it is wherever he goes – was lasting. 
 
No sooner had he pitched up at Parc des Princes in late January 2013, having penned a five-month contract that would take him past his 38th birthday, his new team-mate, a pre-United Zlatan Ibrahimovic – and a man for whom ‘shy’ would hardly be the first epithet you’d select – had experienced the full effect of the Beckham phenomena first hand.
“He got all the attention – I could finally go on my own way,”
said the Swede.
 
Though doubtless delivered in his characteristically tongue-in-cheek style, Ibra was right. Even the man who trademarked his own name realised he couldn’t compete with Beckham for star quality, nor the comfort and ease with which he has worn his fame.
David Beckham is unveiled by Paris Saint-Germain.
Beckham was unveiled by PSG on 31 January 2013.
The deal itself was unique. Beckham, finally captured after resisting two earlier French entreaties, would come to Paris and play for free until the end of the 2012/13 season. His wages – reportedly around £3.4 million – would be gifted to charitable works on behalf of children.
 
Replica shirt production went into overdrive – the night of his signing was marked by a window display devoted to the new arrival. Out on the pitch, a ‘Becks-cam’ was set up to capture every move of his debut, a 14-minute cameo from the bench in a 2-0 victory against Marseille late in February. Beckham was involved in the build-up that led to Ibrahimovic’s injury-time clincher.
 
If, to the more cynical, or at least the untutored eye, the move had appeared something of a last whistle-stop for a fading star, it was anything but. In-between clubs for seven weeks, Beckham had been keeping sharp by training with Arsenal. 
What’s more, it showed how little the tall poppy detractors understood, even after all this time, of Beckham the sportsman, as opposed to Beckham the brand. If there were headlines to court, and charm offensives to make, it was a case of plus ca change. Just as Cantona’s metaphorical trawler followed the sardines, so Beckham’s attendant circus always dutifully tags after the ringmaster.
 
Those who’d covered his MLS career at LA Galaxy, or his subsequent two loan deals with Milan – his then-boss Carlo Ancelotti’s presence at PSG was key in his move to France – had clocked Beckham’s unstinting professionalism; a still-burning desire impressive at his venerable age. That flame had been clear all those years back in that quiet, floppy-fringed teen from Leytonstone. A devotion to the game – the love of playing for playing’s sake – that marked him out in that talent-drenched Class of ‘92. He may have lacked the pulse-quickening wizardry of Giggs, or the breath-taking mastery of Scholes, but so what? Try matching his energy. Try keeping pace with him. Try defending against him.
 
Over two decades later, here he was. Still lean, still keen. Still in demand. And rightly proud of it. His country’s most-capped outfield player (since surpassed by Wayne Rooney), he also now had a stab at more sporting history: the first Englishman to win a league title in four different countries.
David Beckham at LA Galaxy
Beckham returned to Europe after five-and-a-half years with LA Galaxy.
“I’ve had more offers now than I have probably had in my career,”
he beamed in front of the assembled press glare that greeted his arrival, adding, significantly,
“at my age”
.

Beckham’s desire for one last push even impressed his old mentor Sir Alex. The Scot had witnessed his young charge haring about fields from Academy level to the Champions League, but even a decade after the winger had departed Old Trafford, Ferguson was struck by motivation that was still strong enough for Beckham to play for 70 minutes of PSG’s first-leg Champions League quarter-final pairing with Barcelona.
 
“Quite an achievement after five years in America,”
his mentor observed.
“I asked myself: ‘How does he do it?’ Stamina was the first answer. But David also discovered a desire to confound everybody.
 
“And he could still hit a fine cross, a good cross-field ball, which are traits he never lost. They were ingrained in what he was as an athlete.”

 
Dogged pursuit of the challenge –
“relentless application”
according to Ferguson – is what kept Beckham lean and hungry. That drive, that edge that marks leaders out from also-rans. It is a common trait among the club’s modern greats.
Sir Alex Ferguson says

“I asked myself: ‘How does he do it?’ Stamina was the first answer. But David also discovered a desire to confound everybody."

Beckham’s PSG stats in themselves are modest, almost a footnote to his career. Just 14 games all told – ten league appearances, two in Europe, two in domestic competition. Only five of those outings were starts.
 
Two assists, no goals. But he arrived with PSG topping the table from serial title-winners Lyon only on goal difference. When he left, it was as part of a first triumphant Ligue 1 side since 1994, finishing 12 points clear of Marseille. Beckham paused to reflect that had Ancelotti not been bound for the Real Madrid hotseat he might even have considered signing on for another year.
 
As it was, his first league start, a 3-1 win over relegated Brest – captaining the side in specially made red, white and blue boots – and providing a 31st-minute assist for Blasé Matuidi from a corner – was to be it. When he left the field with 10 minutes remaining, the tearful farewell punctuated by endless hair ruffles, handshakes and hugs – even from the opposition’s goal scorer – it was to a stadium singing his name.
 
A French crowd singing an Englishman’s praises – noteworthy in itself. This however, really was time.
“I wanted to go out as a champion,”
he said.
“I’ve finished my career in a team that treated me like I’ve been here 10 years.”
 
Entente cordiale indeed. When the club opened its hall of fame in July 2017, there was Beckham, alongside Ronaldinho, Ibrahimović and George Weah.
“Fashion icon and ambassador,”
it read, ending
“his career in beauty as a champion of France.”
David Beckham with sons Brooklyn, Cruz and Romeo.
Beckham celebrates the Ligue 1 title with sons Brooklyn, Cruz and Romeo.
Those who’d watched him in Red during that thrilling, probably unsurpassable decade wouldn’t have doubted him passing his French exam with flying colours. He’ll always have Paris, just as he will Manchester, Madrid, Milan and Miami and the haul of 19 trophies along the way.
 
And he isn’t resting easy now. As his old boss said,
“you have to admire his tenacity. He amazed me, and he amazed everyone at Manchester United. Whatever he pursues in life, he just keeps on going.”
 
Those whipped, cross-field balls of yore and devastating pin-point centres have been supplanted by new explorations in space. In 2020, he will launch his own MLS franchise, Club Internacional de Futbol Miami, or Inter Miami for short. 
 
The club crest contains a sun with, you guessed it, seven rays. His playing career may be in the rear-view mirror, but his eyes are always firmly fixed on the next bend. Underneath all the trappings, though, that work ethic that made him great remains intact, ingrained. As his old coach Eric Harrison observed,
“In my eyes and in most, he’s David Beckham, footballer – not a global icon.”

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