Paris: Make no mistake about it, David Beckham’s move to Paris Saint-Germain may look like a publicity stunt by a club desperate to raise its international profile, but it’s also a timely boost to the French domestic game.
In footballing terms, there is no real sense in PSG’s decision to sign the former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder, who turns 38 in May and becomes the oldest outfield player in Ligue 1.
He has only agreed to a five-month contract with the Ligue 1 leaders and admits that it will take several weeks before he is “up to speed” and ready to play. Then he will have to find a place in a PSG midfield that is not exactly short of options.
Despite that, he hinted at the possibility of extending his collaboration with the club beyond the summer, possibly in some kind of ambassadorial role.
“I don’t see it as a short-term project,” he said. “I have only signed until the end of the season, but I consider myself to be a part of the club’s future. I can help the club grow and help the French league grow.
“There have been no discussions about me having a long-term role at the club, but I think a long-term partnership is what we’ve looked for.”
Beckham also spoke very diplomatically of the French game as a whole.
“When I played for Real Madrid and we went to Lyon and Marseille these were some of the toughest games,” he said, mindful of the fact that he is now an ambassador for Ligue 1 as a whole.
“The league is full of talented players and teams, and it is pretty close at the top just now. It’s a difficult league. I know it will be a challenge but it is one I’m really looking forward to.”
There are doubts as to what he can offer on the pitch as PSG look to win a first league title since 1994, but there is no question that this is a mutually beneficial move.
Beckham can continue to play football at the top level, which he has always claimed is all that matters to him, while PSG’s image gets a much-needed boost too.
“The Beckham brand is much stronger than the PSG brand,” Lionel Maltese, a professor in sports marketing at the Kedge Business School told reporters.
“Beckham has fans all over the world but you don’t see PSG shirts in every shop in the world. That will change a bit. Beckham will get people talking and that will be good for the club.”
There is more to it than that, though.
PSG are owned by Qatari wealth, and Qatari television network Al Jazeera entered the French domestic market last year with the launch of subscription sports channel BeInSport. Nasser Al Khelaifi is both the president of PSG and of Al Jazeera Sport.
The acquisition of broadcast rights to Ligue 1 has been central to them gaining a foothold domestically, but international rights are incredibly valuable too, as they can help raise PSG’s global profile.
“Anything positive for PSG is positive for Ligue 1,” Matthew Spiro, a Paris-based journalist who commentates on the French top flight, told reporters.
“Having Beckham at PSG is good for the image of Ligue 1 around the world and is beneficial for Al Jazeera.
“Other Ligue 1 teams and players will be excited to play against him too, and his presence will further increase interest in games involving PSG.”
His arrival is good news for the French domestic game after a month in which many leading players have departed, with the money on offer in destinations such as Russia and the English Premier League too good to turn down for those not lucky enough to be on the books of wealthy PSG.
French players are always seduced by the passion for the game across the Channel, so the Premier League draws players towards it like a magnet.
England will remain a greater attraction in the long-term, but the short-term boost provided by Beckham will be considerable.
“It is a very nice feeling we have in France at the moment because so many French players are leaving the country to play elsewhere,” David Ginola, a former PSG player who later went on to become an icon in England, told BBC Radio 5 live.
“It is good to see David Beckham come to play in France.”