'Le Spice Boy' comes to Paris! French excitement reaches fever pitch as David Beckham signs for PSG
Excitement and speculation thrived today. Would Victoria also be coming? And all those children with the odd names?
John Lichfield has been The Independent's man in Paris since 1997, covering French news. Before that, he was the paper's Foreign Editor and he has also worked in Brussels and Washington. In 1999, he was the UK press Awards Foreign Reporter of the year.
Thursday 31 January 2013
Forget the war in Mali. Forget the French civil servants’ strike. One event dominated most news sites in France today – “Le Spice Boy” is coming to Paris.
Football is not an all-consuming passion in France – and certainly not in Paris. The American singer, Tom Waits, once famously said: “Not a man's town, Paris, not a man's town.”
If Paris-Saint Germain had signed any other 37 year-old, one-time footballing great, most of the city would have shrugged and asked: “qui?”
But David Beckham is not just a footballer. He is “un people” – the franglais word coined by the French press to mean a “celeb”.
Excitement and speculation thrived today. Would Victoria also be coming? And the children, one of whom is aptly named Paris?
There was ironic pride that a global super-star should be moving to France while the world enjoys the alleged stampede into tax-avoiding exile of most of the French glitterati. Paul, 24, a fan standing outside the Paris Saint Germain club shop on the Champs Elysées said: “Maybe David Beckham will ask for a French passport like Gérard Depardieu asked for a Russian one.”
One famous Parisian, unavailable for comment today, will certainly be delighted. Former President Nicolas Sarkozy, a match-going Paris Saint-Germain fan, was reported to have played a part in the club’s abortive attempt to sign Beckham a year ago.
Mr Sarkozy was instrumental in the Qatari government’s decision to buy PSG in 2011, which has made the French capital’s perennially underachieving club into the richest in the world.
Maybe the Beckhams will now become Sarkozy’s neighbours. Another recently imported PSG star name, the Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahamovic, considered moving in next to Nicolas and Carla in a gated estate which contains Carla Bruni-Sarkozy’s mansion in the 16th arrondissement. “Ibra” finally decided that the house on offer was too expensive and not grand enough.
The transformation of PSG into a global player in the football world – and goal-scorer for the Qatari government’s PR machine – has not pleased all Paris football fans.
Violette Nahmias, 27, an economics lecturer, has written blogs and newspaper articles complaining that the club has been stolen from its fans and that the atmosphere at the Parc des Princes has become stultifyingly dull.
What did she make of the signing of David Beckham?
“Beckham? They are really signing Beckham?” she told The Independent. “That’s wonderful news. He is the only player that would persuade me to go to the Parc [des Princes] again. I swore that I would never go back after a game against Sochaux at the end of last season. We were going for the championship and we won 6-1 but the atmosphere in the stadium was completely dead.”
“But Beckham is different. I love Beckham. I will swallow my words and principles to see Beckham.”
French journalists were both excited and cynical. “With ‘Becks’, Qatar PLC is hiring a show-biz figure, a poster-boy adulated in Asia who will open up new marketing horizons,” said the website of the centre-left Le Nouvel Observateur. “The fact that the ex-Manchester Unitred Number Seven is the shadow of the player he once was means little to the new bosses of PSG.”
The right-wing Le Figaro said: “The capture of Beckham is a wonderful media and commercial coup for PSG. His shirts will fly off the shelves at €85 a time.”
London calling: The commute
The Beckhams’ decision to live in London may work out well for Victoria’s fashion empire and their children’s education, but for David it heralds what could be a torturous 400-mile round commute.
Taking the Eurostar, which could cost Beckham £245 each way should he opt for a Business Premier ticket, could be the best option. The journey from London’s St Pancras to Gare du Nord takes two hours and 15 minutes – less onerous than the seven to nine hours it would take him to drive and take the ferry across the Channel.
Eurostar said “a lot” of people make the London-to-Paris trip each day for business, but would not give exact numbers.
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