LONDON (Reuters) - Dressed in a sharp grey suit, blond hair neatly side-parted and wooing a crowd of French reporters with his boyish English charm, David Beckham began the latest, and possibly final, chapter of an extraordinary boys’ own football tale on Thursday.
Given the clamor surrounding his signing of a five-month deal with Paris St Germain, the marketing gurus will already be rubbing their hands at the thought of Beckham sprinkling his magic dust on the ambitious club’s global profile.
Whether or not Beckham’s brief tango in the City of Light has much impact on the club’s performance on the field of play is another matter, as they doing rather well already.
One thing, however, is for sure.
The 37-year-old, despite the glitz and glamour, the Hollywood friends and an annual turnover the size of a small country, will be desperate to prove he still has something to offer the game that made him a sporting icon.
“Wherever I’ve played, whatever team I’ve played for, I’m always 150 percent committed,” Beckham told a news conference in which he announced his salary would be paid to a children’s charity in the French capital.
“I don’t know if this will be my last contract. People have been speculating about that for a number of years, but I continue to play and sign contracts.
“I will see how I feel but I want to play as long as possible. My passion is football. It always has been.”
Some may see PSG’s signing of the former Manchester United, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy midfielder as little more than a gimmick, but Beckham’s fanatical devotion to the game means PSG fans can look forward to some illuminating cameo performances.
The week in week out hurly burly of league football might be too much for Beckham’s ageing legs, but as an impact substitute, manager Carlo Ancelotti may have a useful weapon in his armory.
“I can run around,” Beckham said. “I’ve not lost any of my pace because, to be honest, I’ve not had a lot of pace during my career. For me, Carlo Ancelotti is one of the best managers I have played for. It’s exciting on a number of levels.”
Whatever Beckham’s impact on the pitch, his presence around the training ground will do PSG no harm as they try to win the French title and progress in the Champions League in which they face Valencia in the last 16.
Having not played a match since signing off with LA Galaxy in the MLS Cup final in November, Beckham trained with Arsenal this week to regain his fitness and received glowing praise from Arsene Wenger.
“This guy has fantastic quality and has done the maximum in his career. Why? Because he loves football. After training he stays and plays,” Wenger said.
From the day a teenaged Beckham scored a goal from inside his own half for Manchester United in 1996, most of his career has been spent scaling dizzy heights.
While never blessed with lightning pace, nor the tricks of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo, Beckham’s tireless energy, trademark free-kicks and ability to deliver crosses on a coin, made him a potent force.
At Manchester United, the club of his boyhood dreams, he was instrumental in six Premier league titles. After leaving Old Trafford he spent four years at Real Madrid, winning LA Liga in his final season before pitching up in Los Angeles in 2007.
With Galaxy he joined a select group of players to win titles in three countries and yet, rather than relax on the California beaches during the off-season, the father of four twice headed back to freezing Milan for loan spells with Milan.
Nothing has given Beckham greater pride, however, than captaining his country and in 2009 he became England’s most capped outfield player, edging past the 109 of Bobby Moore.
A Champions League winner with Manchester United in 1999 and twice runner-up in the FIFA World Player of the Year awards, there is precious little missing from Beckham’s footballing CV while his off-field appeal continues to soar.
Once nicknamed Golden Balls, Beckham has had films named after him, become an ambassador for his country, befriended Hollywood A-listers and British royalty and even played a James Bond-inspired role in last year’s London 2012 opening ceremony.
While the family man clearly enjoys the fame and fortune he has gained from his talent, a passion for battle on a football pitch remains his real fix.
His five months in Paris could be the last stop for the Beckham bandwagon although on Thursday he declared he still felt like a 21-year-old so who knows where the story will end?
A circus it may be, but Beckham clearly remains the ringmaster.
Reporting by Martyn Herman