Beckham: Our new man in Paris?


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The Independent Online

France's largest circulation national newspaper yesterday covered its front page with a photograph of an Englishman making a rude gesture.

This was nothing to do with the so-called Franco-British “war of words” over the eurozone crisis, however. The Englishman in question was David Beckham. The headline in the daily sports newspaper, L’Equipe, read: “Le Voila!” Here he is!

According to parts of the French press, it is now a footballing certainty that the Beckham circus will pitch its big top in Paris in the New Year. Two newspapers reported that David Beckham, 36, had agreed in principle to join Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), the French capital’s only football club, majority owned by the Qatari government, for wages and fees which could reach €17m a year.

Beckham’s management company, XIX Entertainment, described the reports as “premature”. The former Manchester United and Real Madrid star might yet decide, a spokesman said, to remain with Los Angeles Galaxy, where his contract expires on 31 December.

No matter. The French newspapers were cock-a- hoop (or perhaps that’s coq-a-hoop) at what one described as a “historic moment for French football”. The arrival of “the planetary star” and “le spice boy” would lift PSG and the French club game into the “global elite”, said Le Parisien.

The newspaper said that plans were already advanced to welcome Beckham, like a conquering hero or visiting head of state, at a reception at Paris town hall. There was also talk of a parade down the Champs Elysée to show him off to PSG fans. At least one of them, a Monsieur N. Sarkozy, works conveniently nearby at the ElyséePalace.

Victoria Beckham was reported to have looked at a glittering town house in the wealthiest district of Paris, between the Champs Elysée and the river Seine. Places were said to have been reserved for the Beckham children at the British School, in the elegant western suburbs of the capital.

Why such excitement at the arrival of a soon to be 37 years old footballer, approaching the end of his career? For two decades, French club football, beset by low income and high taxes, has lost its best talent to foreign clubs. The arrival of Beckham, following the purchase of PSG by a sovereign investment fund of the Qatari government, is seen by some French football pundits as the dawn of a glorious, new era.

Not everyone is “over the moon”. The possible Coming of David, on a basic salary of €800,000 a month, has been criticised by some PSG fans. They complain that this is a marketing and commercial decision to promote the club in Asia and sell its shirts rather than to improve the team.

The Green candidate for next spring’s Presidential election, Eva Joly – not previously known as a football pundit – also took the “sick parrot” side of the argument yesterday. “Given his age and the state of his knees,” she said. “This is about business, not sport”.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, a senior Socialist politician, criticised Beckham’s “enormous” salary. With a share of image and marketing rights, and payments for appearances on the Qatari-owned Al Jazeera TV station,  Beckham’s rewards for moving to Paris could reach €17m a year, according to Le Parisien. If the Socialists win next spring’s presidential election, said Mr Ayrault, they would introduce a “maximum wage”.  

Could David Beckham become a political football across the Channel?  Is he going to generate still more Franco-British cultural misunderstanding?

The first signs are not good. The photograph of Beckham plastered over the front of L’Equipe yesterday showed him holding up two fingers, one on either side of his nose. If David Beckham does play for PSG from January, he will have to explain to his new team mates the difference between V for victory and a V-sign.