By Robin Bairner
The drifting snow of France in February may not have quite the same appeal as sunny California, but the backdrop scarcely mattered as David Beckham made his debut for Paris Saint-Germain on Sunday night in a 2-0 success over Olympique de Marseille.
Ligue 1’s biggest rivalry produced the most important match of the domestic season to date, yet the fact Carlo Ancelotti’s side claimed a rather undeserved success seems something of a sub-plot to the Englishman’s bow in his new colours.
This has undoubtedly been the most-hyped Classique in recent history, and that was largely because of the presence of the 37-year-old. France Football portrayed him as an angel on the front cover of their Friday edition next to Joey Barton’s devil, while Canal+ trained cameras on the former Manchester United and Real Madrid star throughout the evening – even when he was merely sitting in the dugout.
The match was not the event: Beckham was.
Ancelotti’s first call to ask his new charge to warm up on 50 minutes saw close-ups of the player lacing up his boots, and during his subsequent exercises at the side of the field, television directors seemed as interested in his stretches as the action that was being played out on the Parc des Princes pitch.
It was a thrilling up-tempo match that Marseille dominated in the main yet contrived to lose. Salvatore Sirigu had to make several fine saves to help les Parisiens protect an early 1-0 advantage, given to them when Lucas Moura’s early drive was deflected into the net off Barton and then Nicolas Nkoulou.
Beckham arrived on the field with 15 minutes remaining to great cheers from the home crowd, who had already welcomed him immediately before kick-off to the strains of The Beatles’ ‘Hey Jude’ playing over the public address, with the stadium announcer presumably ignorant of welcoming a United legend to the sound of a Liverpool band.
What followed was an encouraging cameo performance that showcased the Englishman’s talents and dropped a strong hint that he is still able enough to play a role for this side. He was busy in the middle of the field and he even managed to deploy a couple of trademark raking passes.
In the closing stages, it was a ball from Beckham that found Jeremy Menez in the box to cross for Zlatan Ibrahimovic to convert home via his knee. Even the Sweden international looked a little embarrassed to have scored a scrappy goal that snatched the focus from Beckham for just a second.
“It was a special night for the team and for me,” he admitted after the game to the press, considering the wider implications the result would have on the title race as opposed to the economic boon he represents to the side from the City of Lights.
Nevertheless, to have Beckham play for PSG - incidentally becoming the 400th player to do so - has been priceless publicity for the club, as Sunday night’s media circus demonstrated perfectly.
Now it is down to the Englishman to show that he still has some of that old magic and that he is not merely in France to bring a little Hollywood to PSG.
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