Whilst it was hardly the media storm that greeted his first 15 minutes as a Paris Saint-Germain player on Sunday, David Beckham’s first full start for his new team was still a very big deal.
A rematch against bitter rivals Marseille from Sunday at the Parc des Princes, but this time in the Coupe de France, the Englishman started in place of the suspended Marco Verratti. Coach Carlo Ancelotti had wasted no time in announcing his intentions to start Beckham in the clash, and the Italian made good on his word.
The 37-year-old started in a deep-lying role along side regular holding midfielder Blaise Matuidi, placing Beckham in close proximity to the defence. The Englishman was comfortable there from the kickoff until his 86th-minute substitution and grew in confidence as the match progressed.
Whilst plenty was made of the possibility of playing Goldenballs out wide when he first arrived, Ancelotti appears to only think of him as a central midfielder now. That seems to suit Beckham fine. Playing in a deeper role as Verratti does, guarded by Matuidi, the former Manchester United and Real Madrid man can make the most of his limited mobility and concentrate on his technical assets.
That is what happened against OM. From the off, Beckham looked familiar in his position and very quickly started to stamp his authority on the side. He was involved in creating a flurry of early opportunities. Drifting toward the right, where he linked up well with the impressive Gregory van der Wiel, Beckham started probing with some telling passes into the path of the Dutchman.
He also went directly to strikers Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Kevin Gameiro at times, as the new boy started bossing proceedings. A number of close calls for OM followed, and the Englishman started to dictate the tempo. After a clash with Joey Barton, Beckham upped his work rate. Some vintage Beckham followed; a string of trademark expert passes and some tantalising crosses provided PSG with some opportunities.
Ibrahimovic and Gameiro heading wide in short succession.
The hosts took the lead through the Swede shortly after, but it was not Beckham who supplied the inch-perfect long-range pass; it was midfield partner Clement Chantome. The Englishman’s work for the first 45 done, and the Parc des Princes were roaring their approval.
The second half started with a similar intensity, Beckham once again laying on a great headed opportunity, this time for defender Zoumana Camara, with a corner kick delivery that rolled back the years. The Frenchman’s goal-bound effort was headed off the line by Marseille striker Andre-Pierre Gignac though, shortly before PSG made it 2-0.
Beckham played no role in the lead up to the penalty that was earned and dispatched by Ibrahimovic, but he had done enough by that point.
Targeted by the Ayew brothers all night, they started laying into le Spice Boy once frustration had crept into the Marseille ranks, and late on, younger brother Jordan went too far.
The Ghanaian went in hard on Beckham on the touchline and both went sprawling with Ayew appearing to try and punch Beckham as he fell. After some squaring off and a heated exchange, both received a yellow card and shortly after that, Beckham was substituted.
The unsavoury tussle with Ayew junior won’t live long in the memory though. The positive first impressions in the first half, in particular, will.
Playing closer to the defence seems to suit Beckham because it takes the emphasis away from his pace and more onto his distribution. The partnership with Matuidi is beneficial because the French international takes care of the physical battles, whilst the Englishman conducts the play from behind his shield.
The performance was an extension of what we saw on Sunday in the first match. Beckham undoubtedly still having the appetite, stamina and ability to still play at this level, but what was not expected was that he would last 86 minutes. That extended outing likely means that he will not feature against Reims on Saturday, or if he does, not from the start.
It was a strong first full performance and further encouragement for the club, the fans and most importantly, the player himself. Marseille are currently challenging for the title (a fading notion), and for Beckham to play so well against them is proof that he can cut it in a physical league and face the best and still be effective.
There is still a long way to go, but if Beckham continues his early form, then his initial five-month sojourn will be a fruitful one. The victory assuring PSG of a place in the Coupe de France quarter finals, where they will now face Evian, a winnable fixture.
Beckham will arguably feature in most, if not all of the capital club’s remaining cup campaign; the challenge now is to get himself into contention for a regular starting berth in the league.
The flashes of vintage Becks will help though, and given how much pre-judging was going on before Beckham even stepped onto the pitch in PSG colours, he has started to prove some of his critics wrong already.