PARIS – David Beckham’s sudden arrival at Paris Saint-Germain has been warmly received by French media and sport alike.
Beckham joined the cash-rich club on Thursday and then surprised people again by announcing he would donate his salary to a children’s charity.
The 37-year-old former England captain turned down several other offers as he bids to win the championship with a fourth different club in a fourth different country on the latest stop of his globe-trotting career— following success at Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Los Angeles Galaxy.
Daily newspaper Le Parisien headlined with “PSG gives itself a royal gift,” while Marseille-based newspaper La Provence said “Popstar David Beckham arrives to fanfare in Paris.”
Le Monde’s more sober headline is: “David Beckham, English footballer, global brand” — centring on Beckham’s massive marketing appeal, rather than his footballing ability.
His marketing appeal was obvious on the Champs-Elysees, where PSG’s flagship club store is based.
Beckham’s No. 32 shirt was placed in the front of the shop window on Friday, with the blue home strip alongside the red away strip and with “Beckham” beaming from the back of both jerseys facing window shoppers — in case they were not already aware he had joined.
The price of the merchandise — €110 ($150) for the full kit for adults, €85 ($116) for children — is likely to generate serious revenue for the Qatari-owned club.
“He wants to be part of our big project, and it was a big dream for us to see him arrive,” PSG President Nasser Al-Khelaifi told RMC radio. “David Beckham is a great professional and, off the pitch this represents a unique marketing bonus. David is David.”
PSG had already secured some marquee signings, such as Sweden striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Brazil defender Thiago Silva and Brazil winger Lucas, but Beckham takes PSG to yet another level.
Former PSG and France goalkeeper Gregory Coupet is confident that Beckham’s arrival — even if his contract is only until the end of the season —will significantly help to increase the French league’s profile abroad.
“It will give our league enormous visibility. It’s very exciting,” Coupet said. “It will shake things up enormously. If I was still a player, I would be happy to play with him or against him.”
He is the third high-profile English player to come to France in the past two seasons, with midfielder Joe Cole doing well for Lille during a loan spell last term and midfielder Joey Barton joining Marseille this season.
“People were already talking about PSG a lot, they’ll be talked about even more now with the arrival of David Beckham,” Lille coach Rudi Garcia said. “It’s good for the French league, because he’s an important figure in football, after all.”
Saint-Etienne coach Christophe Galtier agrees, saying “a great player is coming to our league, one more. That’s a good thing.”
Even across other sports, the enthusiasm was felt.
“It’s a good marketing coup for PSG. In terms of merchandising they won’t just be reaching Europe but the entire world,” France rugby coach Philippe Saint-Andre said. “It’s surprising and refreshing that an Englishman finishes his footballing career in France.”
Saint-Andre’s point has extra weight considering that it is usually French players leaving in droves for England — underlined by the fact that Premier League club Newcastle has 11 French players in its squad.
Taking a break from his Davis Cup preparations for the match against Israel, French tennis player Michael Llodra, a regular spectator at PSG’s Parc des Princes, joked that he was expecting to spend even more money to keep his son happy.
“It’s great for me as a PSG fan, and great for the league,” Llodra said. “But I get the feeling this means my son’s going to ask me for another shirt.”
But there was some skepticism as to why PSG signed Beckham, considering it already has a star-studded squad and that coach Carlo Ancelotti now has to find a way to fit yet another player into his side. PSG leads the league ahead of Lyon on goal difference heading into this weekend’s games and has struggled to find much fluency in its play this season.
“Ancelotti is in a delicate situation. He already has a squad. He already has problems to solve,” former Marseille President Pape Diouf said. “Did Ancelotti himself want Beckham to come? Or is it a well-elaborated marketing plan.”
Still, from now until June, at least, Beckham has a chance to become the prince of the Parc des Princes.