'Ronseal' welcome for brand Beckham
All weekend Paris had been anticipating a clash of the Anglos, an internecine feud of the most delicious sort. The new model on the Parisian catwalk was due to make his debut appearance.
And fate had it David Beckham would be up against the Ligue 1's other Englishman, Marseille's Joey Barton. Or as he styles himself now he is on the other side of the channel, Joseph Anthony Barton.
It was, according to France Football magazine, not just a sporting clash, there was a moral dimension too: 'l'ange contre le demon' was its headline.
The angel versus the devil. And we can all hazard a guess as to which was which. What a possibility this was. The suave, smooth, endlessly emollient Beckham against the rough-edged, sharp-tongued Barton, the Spice Boy against the Psycho.
It was London against Liverpool, the swish, swanky capital against the chippy provincial port. A bit like Paris St-Germain against Marseille, in fact.
Barton himself recognised the gap between the two exiled Englishmen.
"Beckham invented it, the footballer as a brand," he said before the game.
"He's your blue-chip company. I'm probably Ronseal or something."
Certainly in Paris this weekend it was the senior brand that excited the interest. Everyone was energised by the possibility of the game's most handsome man turning out in Paris blue. Canal Plus had set up a television camera just to follow Beckham through the game.
Hundreds of photographers lined the touchline. Ex-President Nicolas Sarkozy turned up to watch. Even Mrs Beckham managed to make it on time, scurrying in fashionably late after catching an early evening train from London.
And then Carlo Ancelotti, the PSG manager, went and spoiled it all by only naming Beckham as a substitute. That camera of Canal Plus would not have to stray far to catch him: he was on the bench. He got a grand entry, mind.
Before kick-off, he was announced to the crowd and trotted out under the sign reading 'Ici, c'est Paris' to a huge roar. For fashion connoisseurs, he was wearing grey tracksuit bottoms, a red shirt and – to demonstrate how much Mrs B has taught him about the need properly to mix and match – red boots.
He looked lean, lithe, fit. But he has not kicked a ball in anger since he played in the MLS Cup final for the LA Galaxy back in December. So Ancelotti was not inclined to jeopardise PSG's relentless progress towards the domestic title simply to provide a few headlines.
But then there are those who suggest that in just sitting there, with about 500 telephoto lenses trained on his every swallow, Beckham was doing what he had signed up for. He has been brought in by PSG, so the cynical view goes, merely as a marketing prop.
In the club shop, there was hint as to Beckham's purpose. A giant poster of the new poster boy decorated one wall, welcoming him to Paris. Every single shirt on sale had Beckham's name across the shoulders. At euros 85 a time, the rumour is Beckham receives 40 for every one sold. It was hard to see how much he had made since he arrived from shirts, as this was a night for padded jackets, woolly hats and scarves. And that was just what Zlatan Ibrahimovic was wearing during the warm up.
My it was cold. Paris in the spring is surely not a place Mrs Beckham expected to encounter a blizzard. Barton, though, appeared not to notice the insistent snowfall. On a night his colleagues were wearing gloves to a man, he came out in a short sleeve shirt. He was cheered on by the 400 Marseille supporters corralled in one corner of the ground. Someone had a cross of St George flag there, in homage to their mad Englishman. And he was neat, controlled, sitting in the middle of midfield, always willing to receive the ball, passing it on quickly, often to a player wearing the same shirt.
But he was not the Englishman the crowd wanted to see. They wanted Beckham.
And finally he emerged from the dugout in the 76th minute of the 2-0 win, the most valuable shirt in France given a brief outing, as he replaced Javiar Pastore. As the Canal Plus camera was provided with an action shot at last, as he pinged a thirty-yard pass out of defence up the line to Silva, the crowd roared his arrival. "David, David," they cried. For those in charge of the PSG bottom line, it was music to their ears. (© Daily Telegraph, London)