Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 19 April 2014

Paris move may be next for Beckham as he leaves USA

You can trace David Beckham's changing priorities on the great football field of life by his postal addresses over two decades. Manchester, Madrid and Milan are great football cities. Los Angeles is not.

Beckham completed his fifth year in the US late on Sunday night with a well-scripted finale, helping create the goal that earned LA Galaxy victory in the MLS Cup final in front of a record crowd.

Soccer stardust duly sprinkled, his contract in southern California ends this week and he will spend it considering an offer from the French league leaders, Paris St-Germain.

The club's Brazilian director of football, Leonardo, believes that there is a “50-50” chance that Beckham will grace the Parc des Princes after the Ligue 1 winter break.

Paris is more of a football town than LA but it is hardly a great football city. The only professional football club in greater Paris has a passionate fanbase, including President Nicolas Sarkozy. But the exploits and escapades of the city's club never dominate bar, taxi or playground conversations in Paris as they do in Lyon or Marseille or Bordeaux.

To most Parisians, male and female, Leonardo is not a Brazilian midfielder turned football executive but a dead Italian painter. In the words of the American singer Tom Waits: “Not a man's town, Paris, not a man's town.” And even in the football-mad, racially mixed banlieues, or suburbs, of Paris — one of the greatest breeding grounds of football talent in the world — PSG have never excited great passions. They are regarded by many, but not all, suburban kids as a “white” club with a vociferous and violent minority of racist fans.

If Paris is David's next address, it would be Victoria's choice then? A lifestyle move, not a football move? Not necessarily. In 41 years of existence, PSG have always been a sort of French Manchester City: perennial underachievers stumbling from one self-inflicted crisis to the next. Now, like City, they have struck oil.

In August PSG were taken over by Qatar Sport Investment, a joint venture of the Qatari government and Qatari Olympic Committee. PSG, not City, could now reasonably claim to be the “richest club in the world”. They are owned by the state of Qatar itself, not just a single super-wealthy member of the Abu Dhabi royal family.

In the last transfer window, PSG came second only to City in the European spending league. They smashed the French transfer record to capture the elegant Argentine midfielder, Javier Pastore, from Palermo for £36m.

Fourteen games into the Ligue 1 season, and despite losing 1-0 at home to Nancy on Sunday night, PSG are top of the league, on goal difference from unfancied Montpellier and well clear of their likely title rivals, Lille, Lyon and Marseille.

The Qatari owners’ ambition is not to overtake Olympique Lyon or Olympique Marseille. It is to gatecrash the European elite and rival Barcelona or AC Milan or Manchester United.

Hence the importance of the negotiations with David Beckham. The ex-England captain (pictured left) may look like a has-been to British fans. To Leonardo, he is a symbol of the club's new status.

The new Qatari president of the club, Nasser al-Khelaifi said, more bluntly that Beckham was “not just a footballer but a brand”.

In other words capturing Beckham is part of a dual strategy.

He will help PSG to become a global merchandising power to reduce the need for Qatari oil money and help to spin a spurious image of Qatar as a great footballing nation before it stages the 2022 World Cup.

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