PSG took on AS Saint-Etienne on Sunday evening, as David Beckham accompanied his new side to the Stade Geoffroy-Guichard, the site of his most infamous footballing contribution. This article examines Beckham’s performance within the context of his arrival in the capital.
Back in 1998, when, during England’s Round of 16 World Cup clash with Argentina, Becks swung a leg at Diego Simeone, he didn’t quite have the star power that he does today. On that fateful day, he was merely a tempestuous young prodigy, an emerging star of Manchester United and taking his first tentative steps into the national set-up.
His return to the Loire saw a whole new Beckham from the one dismissed so ignominiously 15 years ago; few back then could have foreseen England’s pariah going on to enjoy such a long, illustrious and ultimately, ground-breaking career.
Early signs suggested that last night would be an altogether more successful experience for Beckham but another 2-2 draw and another frustrating capitulation, saw him trudging off the pitch with regret not so dissimilar to that of 1998.
In the World Cup, all those years ago, Gabriel Batistuta scored an early penalty before Alan Shearer and—unforgettably—Michael Owen turned the tide in England’s favour. It was not to last, and a Javier Zanetti goal before halftime ultimately led to the heartbreaking lottery of penalties—although by then, Beckham was history, shown red long before the Three Lions’ spotkick agony.
Table-topping Paris began brightly on Sunday evening with Argentine midfielder Javier Pastore scoring within the first ten minutes, before Zlatan Ibrahimovic doubled his side’s lead from the spot soon after. Seemingly enjoying an unassailable lead and looking totally in control, PSG afforded the hosts a route back before halftime, as pressure from Brandao led to Alex deflecting a dangerous Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang cross into his own net.
Salvatore Sirigu looked on in dismay, as Beckham began to get that sinking feeling once again.
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The Stephanois looked by far the better team in the second half; imbued with confidence following their earlier goal, they sought to reel Paris back into the contest.
It wasn’t long before their persistence paid off; only moments after Ibrahimovic had spurned an inviting opportunity, the home side took their chance. Full-back Francois Clerc received the ball on the edge of the box and looking up, spanked it elegantly past Sirigu. It was a delightful finish and one which more than justified the home side enjoying a share of the spoils.
Paris, clearly bewildered at having squandered their two-goal advantage, sought to once again regain the initiative. Unfortunately for Becks and Co, their endeavours were in vain, as the home side remained resilient to secure a point.
The former England captain had some of the finest opportunities to steal a win towards the contest’s close; two of his trademark freekicks promised a lot but ultimately failed to deliver: one cannoning into the wall and the other flying just wide of the post.
Beckham struggled to shine and did little to truly impact the visitors’ performance, his stats being competent without being spectacular. He was his side’s most successful passer of the ball, converting 75 attempts, more than anyone else in dark blue. He was charged with keeping the side’s tempo though and encouraging the movement and retention of the ball, rather than influencing affairs higher up the pitch. He complemented his central midfield partner, the more destructive and mobile Blaise Matuidi, chipping in with a feisty tackle of his own in the first half.
Beckham also demonstrated his commitment to the cause late on, remonstrating with the referee in protest at some controversial decision making. It seems the language lessons are going well!
PSG fans will be encouraged by his playing the full 90 minutes, potentially silencing those that had previously doubted his fitness. Whilst the former Real Madrid man will be contented by his endurance against testing opposition, his side’s capitulation will have done little to banish to unhappy associations he has with the stadium—despite media conviction to the contrary.
The result leaves Paris still atop, ahead of Lyon, Saint-Etienne’s local rivals, and able to take solace in a 5-point cushion separating them from OL.
Having extended their 14-game unbeaten run, and not having lost yet this year, ASSE are looking good value for a Champions League spot and currently sit in 4th place, two points off Marseille in third.