Early Doors

Brand Beckham gets another reboot

Early Doors

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There is a passage in Paul Scholes's autobiography that is rather telling regarding David Beckham's formative years at Manchester United.

Describing a goal, Scholes wrote: "As became usual down the years, David Beckham was first on the scene for the celebration and he was pretty quick off the mark a little later when I headed the winner too."

Beckham claimed he merely "wanted to share the joy of scoring", but the implication taken from the testimony of the shy, introverted Scholes is that his team-mate was a player fully aware of the value of his personal image, who wanted to ensure his face was splashed across the papers.

With those perfectly parted, mopped curtains cascading down his face in his early years at United, it is said Beckham had an uncanny habit of finding himself centre stage when the photographers' shutters clicked to immortalise another moment in United's grand history. Beckham's boyish, beautiful face taking pride of place.

It is a habit that has never left him.

In truth, no player in the history of football has had a keener sense of how to build a brand through the power of the image, the power to command the spotlight. It has made him a modern phenomenon.

Whatever his detractors say, sporting excellence has been the foundation for the cult of Beckham. Look again at that quite astonishing solo performance against Greece in 2001. It founded his reputation as England's lionheart and could hardly have been scripted better, right down to the last-gasp free-kick that took his country to the World Cup. It demonstrated Beckham's knack for seizing the moment. He knew he would be the story.

As well as his greatest performance, his greatest goal had deep significance too, demonstrating his ability to tame the zeitgeist and pull it under his control. In a week when the Spice Girls had just hit number one with their debut single 'Wannabe', Beckham launched an era of mega-celebrity by lifting a shot over Wimbledon's Neil Sullivan from his own half. Another bright image seared into permanent record.

His more stage-managed affairs - a teary resignation as England captain after the 2006 World Cup; innocently draping a green and gold scarf around his neck to tacitly support the anti-Glazer cause after Milan went to Old Trafford in 2010 - are only marginally less enduring, but they all help to burnish the brand, provide a compelling set of images that make up the legend.

Yesterday, he was at it again.

As a free agent, Beckham didn't have to sign for Paris Saint-Germain on Thursday. Presumably it was just a happy coincidence that in the process of doing so he completely hijacked transfer deadline day. Beckham, as ever, was the main event, his ego being nourished to the full, even on one of the most hectic days of the season.

News and sport reporters were hastily dispatched to Paris for the grand unveiling, and as hordes of paparazzi and press chased him in and out of the hospital where he conducted his medical, it was apparent that the Beckham brand has lost none of its allure. A 37-year-old with no top level football on his CV for three years could still command the attention of the world's press.

But PSG have not purchased a midfielder, they have purchased a fashion icon, a marketing titan, who will enrich the club through his commercial value and bring great prestige to PSG and their Qatari owners. Qatar have the World Cup, the world's most famous club in Barcelona on their payroll and now the world's most famous player too.

Beckham's Paris match is a perfect synergy of status, wealth and power, yet impressively he was able to spin it as a humanitarian undertaking. Because, even when holding his glitzy press conference in a cavernous room at Parc des Princes, Beckham had another trick with which to astound his enraptured audience. He was, he announced, playing for free, his entire salary for his five-month contract going to a children's charity.

This is unmistakably a grand gesture and a laudable act in a world where Christopher Samba can command £100,000 per week from the team sat bottom of the Premier League. It rightly saw the former England captain attract huge praise. No one should sneer at a decision that will benefit charitable casues.

And as Beckham himself was keen to point out, it is probably a unique arrangement. He said: "One of the reasons I wanted to come to Paris was we decided on something quite unique. I won't receive a salary. I'm very passionate about children and charity and so are the club. I don't think something like this has been done before."

It is no doubt highly coincidental that France's socialist government has one of the most robust tax regimes in Europe, and furthermore Beckham has not elaborated on whether this arrangement will extend to his commercial income, which is likely to be substantial.

It has also empowered his brand once again. Now Beckham will always be the star who played for free - and not only that but assisting vulnerable or sick children while he did it (the exact charity has yet to be decided). It is an arresting tale, but it brings to mind the old philosophical quandary of whether an act can ever be entirely selfless. One imagines that while giving up a reported £1 million in salary payments, he will earn even more thanks to the knock-on effect of this noble act.

But that's irrelevant really. The charity will benefit enormously, PSG have their prestigious acquisition and the boy who once strained to get his face in the frame during goal celebrations is now more celebrated than ever before.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It's fine. West Brom was my home but this is a new chapter. I love West Brom and always will. I am optimistic. A few good players have arrived here [at QPR] and I am happy with the trust Harry Redknapp has in me. The last few results have given us a chance to stay up. I don't think the owners will bring in so many players if they don't think it will happen." - Peter Odemwingie, shortly before being refused entry to Loftus Road and having to head back to The Hawthorns with his tail firmly between his legs. The story of his deadline day is quite astonishing.

FOREIGN VIEW: Continental leagues are usually more restrained than the cash-soaked Premier League when it comes to deadline day, but the biggest deal of the day was done in Russia where big-spending Anzhi agreed to pay 35 million euros for Shakhtar Donetsk playmaker Willian. Shakhtar manager Mircea Lucescu said: "This is personal decision, and we must respect it. There is a club willing to pay the release clause in his contract, and Willian agreed to move. There is nothing I can do. To tell you frankly, I tried to convince him to stay because I think his decision is hasty and not thought out well enough. He is like a son to me."

COMING UP: We preview all the weekend's games in the Premier League, while Jim White files his latest blog at lunch and the Fantasist pops in for his regular weekly chat to help you decide which of the deadline day arrivals are worth picking up.

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