Paris: Former England captain David Beckham on Thursday signed for Paris Saint-Germain in a five-month deal, fuelling hopes of a celebrity boost for French football as it faces up to an exodus of top players.
The 37-year-old midfielder — one of the world’s most recognisable sportsmen with a pop star wife and an estimated net worth of £190 million (Dh1.1 billion) — has been without a club since leaving Los Angeles Galaxy last year.
But after a day of fevered speculation, the ex-Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan star was unveiled by the French league leaders at a packed news conference after a routine medical at a city hospital.
Club president Nasser Al Khalaifi told reporters he was delighted to have secured Beckham’s services until June 30 while the player himself said he was “excited and honoured” to be part of PSG’s plans to develop into a major European force.
“I chose here because I can see what the club are trying to do, the players they’re bringing in,” said Beckham, wearing a charcoal grey suit, white shirt and grey tie, predicting PSG would have “a lot of success in the next 15 to 20 years”.
Father-of-four Beckham, whose family will remain in London, revealed that he would donate his salary during his time in the French capital to a local children’s charity.
News of Beckham’s pending arrival lit up the final day of the January transfer window, a year after the former Old Trafford playmaker was first linked with a move to the Parc des Princes.
The deal with ‘Becks’ — who is married to the former Spice Girl turned fashion designer Victoria — gives PSG’s ambitious Qatari owners a celebrity brand with the clout to tap new markets for the club, particularly in Asia.
As a Manchester United player, Beckham was mobbed like a rockstar on visits to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand while in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, his distinctive mohawk hairdo sparked legions of imitators.
One Bangkok fan placed a sculpture of his idol in a Buddhist temple while a three-metre chocolate image of the player was even created in Japan.
“He’s more than a player. He’s a brand, a pop star,” said Leonardo in 2011 after making an initial approach to the player, who has a host of lucrative advertising and endorsement deals and is seen as much on red carpets as in the corridors of power.
France coach Didier Deschamps on Thursday said Beckham could provide a much-needed filip to Ligue 1, which lags other major European leagues for star power and this January has seen a glut of transfers to English clubs.
Deschamps, who played for Chelsea in 1999/2000 while Beckham was at Old Trafford, described it as a “very, very good thing for the media profile of Ligue 1”.
“He’s a player whose personality goes beyond football like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It gives a greater visibilility to our championship internationally,” he added.
Former AC Milan striker Ibrahimovic was brought to PSG in the close season last year as the club spent more than €200 million (Dh993.1 million) on the transfer market but is one of the few players of undisputed world class in France’s top division.
Beckham, capped 115 times for England — a national record for an outfielder — first came to prominence at Manchester United and in 1999 helped the club win the coveted “Treble” of the English Premier League, FA Cup and European Champions League.
Renowned as a dead-ball specialist for the quality of his delivery from free-kicks and corners, Beckham rose through the ranks as one of a crop of talented young players including Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville.
He made his United debut aged 17 in 1992 and went on to win six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League with the English giants.
His England debut came in 1996 and two years later he was sent off during a last 16 defeat by Argentina at the 1998 World Cup in France, making him a brief hate figure for many England fans.
Beckham’s relationship with United boss Alex Ferguson soured towards the end of his time in Manchester, with the veteran manager concerned about his increasingly high profile after his glitzy wedding to ‘Posh Spice’ Victoria.