David Beckham: how this crock of a footballer can still woo the French | Stuart Jeffries
It doesn't matter he's too old to play for Paris Saint-Germain – Becks can still score in France as an honorary Frenchman
The French people aren't what they were. Today, faced with one of the greatest insults to their national pride of recent times, not one of them is building a barricade or setting fire to an overturned Renault Clio. Not one has the couilles to stand up, as Charles de Gaulle did when confronted with the intolerable prospect of Britain becoming a member of the EEC in 1967, and say "Non!"
What is this outrage? David Beckham has signed for Paris Saint-Germain, currently the best team in France. It's a club that, thanks to being bankrolled by Qatari money, offers the best hope that a Gallic club team has had in decades of performing on the international stage with the success of Real Madrid, Manchester United, AC Milan or Bayern Munich. The problem for French football is that the successes of its club teams in Europe have rarely kept pace with the triumphs of its national team (in part because many of the best French players have been lured to Spanish, German, Italian and English clubs). The hope for France was that the vast sums spent by PSG in the last 18 months (at least £200m) building up a squad that includes such players at the top of their games as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Thiago Silva, Lucas Moura and Ezequiel Lavezzi would pay dividends and send French club football to the next level.
Where, though, does a 37-year-old English winger in the twilight of his professional footballing career fit into this plan? Surely Beckham, a player with no recent top-flight experience who would struggle to make it into the starting lineup of an English premiership team (not even Aston Villa's), has no place in PSG's footballing revolution? What next – Eric Cantona as PSG's fortysomething fox in the box? If Beckham were a goalkeeper, there would be no problem: he could be 65 and stand between the Parc des Princes goalposts smoking Gauloises for 90 minutes, then use his free bus pass to get home, and no sensible PSG fan would object (I exaggerate but only slightly). But an outfield player? The destiny of latethirtysomething outfield players, unless they're Ryan Giggs, is to play out their declining years in Accrington Stanley reserves until their spirits are totally crushed.
Perhaps then Beckham's signing is a British plot as sinister and successful as sending Jane Birkin on a secret mission to destroy Serge Gainsbourg's artistic credibility. The British, after all, have previous in offloading questionable products in France. Think of that episode of The Apprentice in which one team crossed the Channel on a mission, namely to slay shoppers at a French market armed only with lumps of rubbery Cheddar. It was the opposite of an Agincourt moment, as Lord Sugar pointed out in the boardroom inquest. Nor did British designer John Galliano's stewardship of Christian Dior in Paris end well.
There is another possibility. Maybe the export of Beckham is part of a policy to improve Anglo-French relations. Beckham perhaps is a British cultural ambassador to France like Charlotte Rampling, if not quite as hot, or like Kristin Scott Thomas, if not as posh, or like a reverse Cantona, if not quite so engagingly surly. By this account, it doesn't matter that he's too old to play for PSG. As if to give substance to this possibility, Beckham announced on Thursday he would give his PSG salary – estimated at £150,000 a week, which is a lot of citrons pressés however you look at it – to a French children's charity. It's the kind of astute diplomatic move that, along with his pretty face, good manners and chiselled abs that makes one suspect Beckham isn't British at all. It seems that France, like Spain and the United States before it, is poised to be charmed by a man who, with his un-British attention to grooming, muscle tone and non-novelty underwear, may become an honorary Frenchman before his six months in Paris are up. Is it a PR mistake for his fashion-conscious, unsmiling wife to remain in the UK for the sake of the kids while he plays in Paris? Probably: if she's as unsmiling and fashion-conscious as the last sentence suggests, she'd fit right in.
Only one problem: like Girls Aloud, Beckham can't speak French. Such are Beckham's language skills that there are Spaniards still laughing away a decade on from his Real Madrid post-match interviews in what purported to be their native tongue. How British hearts swelled with pride though, when Beckham was sent off during a Spanish league game in 2004 after calling a linesman a "hijo de puta" (son of a bitch) – even though we knew, really, that he remained a monoglot yeoman with a squeaky voice. To really be beloved in France he needs to learn to swear with the virtuosity of a Frenchman who's mislaid his linen Agnes B scarf in the Rue du Bac. He'll need to shrug at reporters at press conferences and say: "Il m'emmerde avec ses questions à la con" rather than, as he has done until now, politely answering them. And he needs to leave his obliging permasmile at home. He won't be needing that. If he adheres to these simple rules, France won't be able to say "non" to Dagenham Dave for long.
Filed under: Euro 2012
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