What unfolds beyond Beckham in Paris
By Arthur James
Under the first impulsive tenure of ‘El Presidente’ Florentino Perez, Real Madrid pursued a business model as simple as it was flawed; they spent copious amounts of money bringing in globally established superstars. Further peppering with a combination of relatively underpaid home-grown and often under-appreciated teammates, Perez’ project became The Galácticos. Under the guidance of Club President Lorenzo Sanz, Real had won their 7th and 8th European Cups in 1998 and 2000 respectively. However, the appeal of Perez and his promise of ruthless spending in an effort to control the transfer market were such that Sanz and his two European Cups in three years lost out in the Club’s Presidential election of 2000.
The initial merit of domestic and continental success granted credence to this electoral surprise. In the summers of 2000, 2001 and 2002, Perez brought Luis Figo, Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo to Madrid for a combined figure surpassing the 100 million pound mark. These players along with Raul, Roberto Carlos and Iker Casillas venerated the club to their Galactic status. However, while the first three seasons yielded two League titles and their ninth European Cup, the summer of 2003 offered Real Madrid their opportunity for the biggest seat at football’s economic table. While the six players mentioned exuded a global appeal matched by few, the perennial superstar of footballing fame came by the means of a 25 million pound Englishman. When you’re looking to build a team you can fork out top money for the best players and it can often yield expected results, however, if it is a brand you are looking to expand, then you need a David Beckham.
This piece of footballing knowledge was not lost on Nasser Al-Khelaifi when he ventured into European football by means of Paris St. Germain. The Qatari tennis player turned hegemonic mogul of sporting institutions – he is concurrently the President of Qatar Tennis Federation, Vice-President of the Asian Tennis Federation and director of Al Jazeera Sports – realised that the accumulation of superstars on the pitch is not indicative of success off of it. It bears noting that no business endeavour the like of which spend hundreds of millions on a football club does so without the intention of garnering some benefits. For Perez at Madrid success on the pitch often appeared secondary to the importance of perception for those who bore witness to it.
Galácticos were all good and well but if they did not shroud themselves in a unique glamour then how were they any different from winners before them? In acquiring the services of David Beckham, Al-Khelaifi has announced to the world that the consortium supplying his money is not solely satisfied with the potential of success. When you attain David Beckham, you proclaim to the world your desire for attention on your path to that success. At 37 years of age a club does not sign David Beckham for his longstanding impact. Beckham is brought in as a troubleshooting figure who presents to you the keys to a kingdom even an unlimited surplus of money can struggle to attain. He is an instant boost to your global reach, a player who has been of the fiercest media interest since his impetuous sending off in St. Etienne against Argentina in the World Cup of 1998. Testimony to this claim lies in the fact that when Beckham featured in the starting XI against Barcelona on Tuesday night the whole footballing world was made aware of it.
Yet, therein lays the duplicitous nature which further enhances Beckham’s appeal for a club craving exposure. Last Tuesday, Beckham’s global demand was clearly seen not to reduce his professional impact. While his off the field duties are no doubt demanding on his time, his footballing ability and physical conditioning are in his own words as ‘good as they were three years ago.’ It was three years ago when Silvio Berlusconi’s A. C. Milan recruited him for a second loan spell for reasons no doubt shared by Perez, Al-Khelaifi and the duly rewarded L. A. Galaxy.
However, Beckham’s experience, enormous level of success throughout his career and his determined prolongation of this career is diluted by a media which appears to demand we perceive him as nothing more than a novelty, a ‘ringer’ that boosts profile but has little impact on results. For those who witnessed Beckham on Tuesday night the claims of the French press that he was ‘poor…lacked rhythm…and was off the pace’ appear to have been pre-ordained thoughts of an expected performance that never materialised as such. The 3/10 rating awarded to him by French newspaper L’Equipe is just simply bizarre. Beckham was by no means stellar, but he was competently operational. His exposure to the likes of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Andrea Pirlo and a brief time with Claude Makelele have allowed him to execute the role of an aging footballer, perhaps not with the same aplomb but certainly with a shared determination. His deep lying role on Tuesday’s night gripping encounter was a solid performance from a now more limited footballer. Could a younger player have lasted longer than 70 minutes and manoeuvre the pitch quicker for the entire 90? Certainly.
Could a younger player have had a greater attacking input without compromising his defensive duties? Perhaps. However, would that younger player have played over 100 Champions League games, or won domestic honours in England and Spain not to mention a Champions League itself? Would that same young player have wilted against the most fearsome midfield trio of a generation? If you are going to go toe to toe with Barcelona you are as well to have at least one or two players who have done it before. When it comes to Champions League football David Beckham has played with the best, has played against the best and after five years in L. A. he knows how to deal with players who have not and will never celebrate a career as rewarding as his own. Beckham may indeed nurture a club’s economic impact simply through having a squad number a fan may duly print on their own replica jersey.
However, in a PSG team of assembled superstars like Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva or Lucas Moura, Beckham appears to be filling the onfield role he did at Real Madrid ten years ago; he is resourcefully adept at creating space for those who can do the most damage with it. Then as well as now he is far from being the best player on the pitch, but at 37 he does not possess the privileged role of entitlement that some may wish to insist upon. He is far closer to that of being a respected sage then a bumbling old fool.
While the PSG of now are not quite at the level Madrid was at ten years ago their ambitions are aligned. Beckham’s fame and appeal have steadily grown while his character has rarely been probed. The discussion of Beckham and his being passed around clubs of great aspiration removes the autonomy which is so vital to his success. To simply assume that Beckham is beckoned when needed fails to perceive that Beckham has decided to join them ahead of anyone else. What has been good for Real Madrid, L.A. Galaxy, A.C. Milan and now PSG has been even better for David Beckham.
His extra-curricular work on sporting matters such as London’s 2012 Olympic Games bid and England’s failed World Cup efforts indicate a man neatly prepared for a life after professional football. His demeanour suggests coaching or management will not suit him greatly, while a position among the hierarchy of the games leading figures may find him very eagerly involved. It bears noting that the Qatari World Cup of 2022 is already a bone of global contention. There is no doubt a powerful Qatari businessman motivated by football like Al-Khelaifi will want such a tournament to run free of any such contention.
What greater personal ally could he make then that association with one David Beckham? By 2022 Beckham will have long retired from the field but his importance off it will simply have taken another shape. For so long he has been the butt of countless jokes, but it seems that David Beckham has been and continues to be one of the smartest guys in the room. He knows what he wants and he is doing everything in his power to ensure he gets it. When you get David Beckham you get fame and financial fortune for your club and brand, however, what David Beckham gets is yet another inch on his ever expanding global importance. Twice he was World Player of the Year runner-up, yet something suggests that off the field the world of football may someday be his and his alone although he’d never let you know it.
This piece was written by Arthur James, a 22 year old student of English in Dublin’s Trinity College. Comments below please.