From the very first time he ever picked between clubs, he opted for the better one; the harder choice, signing his first professional apprenticeship papers with Manchester United over his local club Tottenham Hotspur at age 14.
Now, at 37, rather than play out a final encore to his many fans in some exotic locale where he is guaranteed the spotlight and all the playing minutes he can handle, the English midfielder is opting for a five-month contract with Paris Saint-Germain, one of Europe’s most ambitious clubs.
News broke early Thursday morning on the final day of trading before the so-called transfer deadline of European soccer. It ended months of speculation unloosed when Beckham announced that he wouldn’t be returning to the Los Angles Galaxy for the final season of the two-year extension he signed after the 2011 season, using an opt-out clause. Beckham had been rumored to be headed as far away as Australia and China and was allegedly coveted by several clubs in England as well. It’s been reported that he had offers from a dozen clubs on all six continents. For the last few weeks, Beckham had been in training with Arsenal, setting off yet more rumors.
On Tuesday afternoon, Beckham sat before a wall of flashbulbs and told reporters he’s had “more offers at age 37 than I’ve probably had in my career.”
Beckham added: “I chose Paris because I can see what the club are trying to do,” he said. “It’s a club that’s going to have a lot of success over the next 15, 20 years. To be part of something that’s growing is something that’s very exciting to me.
“Every club I’ve played for throughout the world I’ve been successful with,” added Beckham. “I have a lot of experience in the game and I’m still fit.”
PSG always seemed to hold a special lure to him, however. It was the club that pursued him hardest before he re-upped with the Galaxy when his initial ground-breaking five-year deal ran out. And Beckham has a good relationship with manager Carlo Ancelotti and technical director with Leonardo dating back to his time with AC Milan. The city of Paris has an obvious lure to the Beckham’s jet set lifestyle and his family will live in London, an easy commute away.
In an interesting wrinkle, Paris is probably also the least appealing destination financially. The socialist government of Francois Hollande, which swept into office in the recent election ousting the more business-oriented Nicolas Sarkozy, hopes to implement a 75 percent marginal income tax rate on anybody earning over a million euros per year (about $1.35 million). Beckham’s salary would likely push through that threshold and income from his many endorsement deals and product lines would multiply that number. It’s unclear where Beckham himself will establish his permanent residence, however. Yet Beckham won’t be taking a salary from PSG. Rather, he is donating the money he would have directly to a local children’s charity. This constitutes an unheard-of charitable gesture, even if a cynic might wonder if avoiding taking an income might also spare him from being taxable in France on his many other income streams from endorsement deals and various product lines.
Lately, PSG has been the biggest player on the international transfer market, joining the arms race with clubs such as Chelsea, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona for the world’s most expensive players. Last summer, it snapped up young Brazilian attacking midfielder Lucas Moura from Sao Paulo for some $54 million, twice what any other club has paid for a player in the winter transfer window up until Thursday morning.
This means Beckham, at his near-geriatric soccer age, will have to nudge out several world-class players if he is to get on the field; Jeremy Menez, Mohamed Sissoko, Mathieu Bodmer, Blaise Matuidi, Marco Verratti, Javier Pastore, Thiago Motta and Moura all play in the positions Beckham typically occupies.
But then that’s not so different from the other choices Beckham has made throughout his career. When he fell out of favor with his first manager and mentor at United, Sir Alex Ferguson, he signed for the world’s most stacked club in Real Madrid and won himself a job. After Real, he went to a league in the United States that was an unpopular destination with players in their prime at the time, and helped turn an underperforming Galaxy team into a two-time MLS Cup winner in a four-year span and augmented the league’s standing considerably. And during his time with the Galaxy, he twice went on loan to AC Milan, for no other reason than to test himself in the tough Italian league and show England manager Fabio Capello that he still had it.
By opting for PSG, Beckham has placed himself in European soccer’s rarified atmosphere anew. PSG is in a dog-fight with Olympique Lyon and Olympique Marseille for the French league title and is one of 16 teams still alive in the UEFA Champions League, having been paired with Valencia in the first knockout round.
The choice is bold and the stakes are high. Beckham wouldn’t want to blight the overall image of his career by going out as a bench-warmer on a team he could no longer hang with. But then again, no challenge has ever vanquished the golden-maned Brit yet, no matter how large.