Published January 31, 2013
PARIS – At Paris Saint-Germain, David Beckham may again prove that there is still some good football in his 37-year-old legs. If not, no matter, because in Paris he's chosen a city where simply looking fabulous is enough to turn heads and make people go "Wow!"
And Beckham is a master at that.
PSG doesn't need Beckham to tear up and down the pitch week-in, week-out, delivering pinpoint crosses, as he did many moons and tattoos ago at Manchester United, the club that first made him a star.
It needs to associate its name and logo with brand Beckham, so that more people from Anchorage to Zhuhai start to remember what the initials "PSG" actually stand for. It needs his ability to glue eyeballs to television screens. It needs him for the same reason fashion lovers drool over Parisian couture: to stand out from the hoi-polloi.
PSG's slogan is "Dream Bigger" — an ambition made possible by the Qatari owners who bought the club in 2011 and brought rivers of investment. They want to make PSG one of the glamor clubs of Europe, mentioned in the same breath as a Real Madrid or a Bayern Munich, not merely a big fish in the comparatively small pond of French football. PSG beating the likes of Troyes or Evian in the French league will never be big news in Hong Kong or Houston. But the brief fling between Paris, capital of chic, and Beckham, king of football chic, will be. In this way, the two should fit like a princess' slippers.
Beckham in a PSG jersey might not make much football sense. Two of Beckham's potential partners in the PSG midfield, Lucas from Brazil and the exciting Italian Marco Verratti, are practically young enough to be Beckham's kids. At age 20, they represent PSG's playing future. Beckham, at 37, does not.
The brevity of Beckham's contract — five months — and the fact that his wife, Victoria, and their children will stay in London suggested this is more of a cameo role than a serious sporting one for Beckham and that PSG signed him more for the splash than to plug any weakness in its team.
Ryan Giggs, Beckham's former teammate at Manchester United, is still putting in useful shifts for that team at the even riper age of 39. Beckham will be closely scrutinized to see how he re-adapts to European football after six years of Major League Soccer with the Los Angeles Galaxy. It seems highly unlikely that Beckham could cope with playing every match for PSG, but he is sure to get some minutes.
None of which is meant disrespectfully. He looked amazing at his standing-room-only press call Thursday at PSG's Parc des Princes stadium, every inch sporting royalty in a sober suit and magazine hair, twiddling an expensive-looking pen.
The saucy journalist who called him the league's new "grand-papa" couldn't ruffle him. Beckham gets full marks for the way he has looked after himself, kept his competitive juices flowing and is squeezing every last drop out of his football talent before he retires.
"I still feel 21 years old most days," he said.
PSG's recruitment last July of star striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic and now Beckham is reminiscent of the "Galaticos" policy Real Madrid employed last decade to add zip and glitter to its brand. Beckham was one of those stars, and PSG is now paying for that same luster. Beckham's pledge to donate his salary to a children's charity made him and the club look good, by seeming to put some distance between them and football's money-is-everything mentality.
But as Paris fashion victims would tell you, buying expensive things is one thing, getting them to fit together into a stunning outfit is quite another. PSG's expensively assembled players have struggled at times to play as a team, especially when the headstrong Ibrahimovic is in one of his moods where he seems to do only what pleases him.
Beckham on Thursday named-dropped stars he has played with and championships he has won. It may be that he can use that clout in the PSG dressing room, to get his new teammates to work better together.
"I have a lot of experience in the game," he noted. "I can still run around, I can still play as I did when I was 21 years old. I have not lost any of my pace because, to be honest, I haven't had a lot of pace throughout my career."
On-field contributions Beckham makes will be a bonus. The big thing for PSG is simply that he is here, looking great in a city that has elevated that to an art. Their wealth allows PSG's owners to treat themselves and their grateful fans to la creme of football: one of the sport's best coaches in Ancelotti, one of the best strikers in the towering shape of Ibrahimovic and now an icon, Beckham. He gives them bragging rights over other status-conscious members of the Qatari elite.
If Ibrahimovic is PSG's sports car, the player whose goals will help the team get places, then Beckham is the rare vintage automobile to be shown off but not driven wildly so his aging parts don't overheat. He is an image-enhancer for PSG and Qatar, the Gulf emirate pouring billions into sport to win friends and influence and to provide future revenue when its gas and oil reserves are pumped dry.
In short, a big reason Beckham is in Paris is because PSG wants people like me to write this article and people like you to read it.
Are we really that easy to influence? Answer: Because of Beckham, I'm betting that if you didn't know already, you can now say what the "P'' in PSG stands for.
John Leicester is an international sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jleicester(at)ap.org or follow him at twitter.com/johnleicester