In signing David Beckham, Paris Saint- Germain will be aware that they have signed not just a player but someone who has carefully nurtured his public image ever since his days as a fresh-faced youngster at Manchester United. Proud family man, fashion guru, friend of A-list celebrities and politicians , the 37-year-old midfielder is as much known for his activities off the pitch as his pinpoint passing, tireless running and deadly free-kicks on it. Beckham has risen from a modest background in Leytonstone, east London, to become one of the most marketable figures in world sport, aided by a high-profile marriage to former Spice Girl, turned fashion designer, Victoria Adams.
As a talented younster, he declined to sign with his local side Tottenham Hotspur and instead joined Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United, becoming the heart of a side that included Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Phil and Gary Neville and Nicky Butt. He scored on his debut at 17 and stamped his arrival in the English top-flight with an audacious goal from the halfway line in a match against Wimbledon on the opening day of the 1996-7 season. In eight years at Old Trafford, he collected six Premier League crowns and the 1999 Champions League, making him one of the most recognisable — and bankable — sportsmen in Britain.
Yet his time at the top was not without controversy: he became a hate figure for some at the 1998 World Cup when he was sent off for a petulant kick at Diego Simeone during England’s last-16 defeat against Argentina in France.
His reputation was only restored with a breath-taking last minute free-kick in England’s final World Cup qualifying match against Greece in 2001 and subsequent penalty winner against Argentina at the 2002 finals. A well-publicised bust-up with Ferguson over his commitment to the game had by that time led to a 35-million-euro move to Real Madrid, where his increasingly global reputation saw an explosion in replica jersey sales, notably in Asia.
He was even the inspiration for the hit British film Bend It Like Beckham, about a Punjabi-origin schoolgirl in west London who dreams of playing football like her idol, against her conservative parents’ wishes. Beckham dropped a bombshell in 2007 when he announced a shock 25-million-euro move to LA Galaxy.
In the United States, his popularity helped drive up interest and attendances at Major League Soccer, which the Galaxy won in 2011 and again last year.
During his time in the States, Beckham had two loan spells at AC Milan before a serious Achilles injury deprived him a chance for a last appearance at the World Cup in 2010, leaving his caps total on 115 — a record for an outfield English player.
According to the Sunday Times’ rich list, Beckham’s estimated net worth in April 2012 was $300 million (Dhs1,083 million), yet even at an age when he could understandably retire, he was still being coveted by clubs the world over.
Beckham missed out on playing for the Great Britain team at the Olympics he helped bring to his home city last year but still played a starring role, driving a speedboat with the Olympic flame to the stadium before a global audience of millions.
Even if his time in Paris looks likely to be the last chapter in his storied playing career, PSG will be hoping the presence of “Becks” will not only boost their coffers but spur them to future success.