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Feb 25, 2013

Beckham debut has France swooning

David Beckham was the undisputed star of the show as Paris Saint-Germain triumphed in Sunday's Classique against Marseille to remain on course for the Ligue 1 title.

• Beckham revels in 'perfect' debut

Though named among the substitutes, Beckham, 37, was the centre of attention long before he emerged from the bench to replace Javier Pastore on 76 minutes.

Despite the fact he had not played a competitive fixture since December 1, the former England captain's cameo went a long way to suggesting he was not merely a clever marketing ploy, but that - as PSG coach Carlo Ancelotti said in his post-match press conference - "he's a PSG player, period".

'Paris smiles with Beckham' was Le Parisien newspaper's front-page headline, accompanied by a picture of a gleeful Beckham in the arms of Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The paper added inside: "The Englishman reassured [Ancelotti]: not rubbish, not fantastic, he played for some 15 minutes, showing he's in the sort of shape that could be stretched to 60 minutes in a game."

L'Equipe used the same picture of Beckham under the headline, 'PSG bring OM to their knees', with reference to the eight-point gap between the league leaders and Marseille in third. However, they were slightly more sceptical about his contribution.

"In quarter-of-an-hour on the pitch, David Beckham didn't answer all the questions about his physical condition, but he confirmed that he hadn't lost the art of the pass somewhere in the middle of the hills of Los Angeles," wrote Jerome Touboul in France's biggest sports daily.

Beckham completed eight of his 12 passes on a snowy evening which - as L'Equipe wrote - "might have reminded him of his Mancunian youth". The former Real Madrid man showed his ability with the ball at his feet remains intact, and he notably flicked deftly into the path of Jeremy Menez in the build-up to PSG's late second goal.

A clearer picture of the state of his ageing legs may be provided, however, when Marseille return to the Parc des Princes for Wednesday's Coupe de France tie between the pair.

Ancelotti admitted post-match that Beckham, though he replaced Pastore administratively, was indeed a substitute for a "tired" Marco Verratti, who is suspended for the midweek reunion of French football's two biggest names.

Should Beckham start, his team-mates are in no doubt the latest and biggest PSG recruit to date will not let them down.

"You could see David Beckham is still a player of great quality. He played really well when he came on with several good passes to his team-mates," Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who scored PSG's 100th goal in meetings with Marseille, said.

"Beckham, he's a master, a star. It's a pleasure to play with him. Through his qualities, the young players are going to learn a lot," Brazilian starlet Lucas told Le Parisien.

Even Verratti, who faces a greater battle for a place in the side following Beckham's arrival, is relishing the experience.

"In the weeks and months to come, I'm going to steal some of his secrets and learn things from him," the Italy international said.

France international midfielder Blaise Matuidi explained that the massive hype that surrounds Beckham - which meant his wife, Victoria, was joined by former president Nicolas Sarkozy, Samuel Eto'o and Ronaldo in the stands in the French capital - does not spill over into the dressing room.

"David is a great guy, and a superstar, even though you wouldn't know it from being alongside him every day," he said. "He's lucky that certain members of the squad speak English, which has helped him settle in, even if he knows a few words of French already. And he can still play. He's someone who knows how to handle games, so he'll naturally bring something to the side."

Despite being part of a defeated Marseille side - who would almost certainly have ruined Beckham's big night but for a goalkeeping masterclass from Salvatore Sirigu - Mathieu Valbuena could not help but be impressed.

"He's a great player who hasn't lost his technique. I think he'll bring a lot to PSG," the diminutive midfielder told RMC radio. "Beckham, he's class. I think he'll bring a lot in human terms, on and off the pitch. I think that's important, and it's good for Ligue 1."

Though media scepticism remains high about Beckham's ability to boost PSG's bid for a first French title since 1994, the club's supporters have clearly already taken him to their hearts. After being greeted by hordes of fans and photographers as he stepped off the team coach for his first PSG game, Beckham was then presented to the Parc des Princes crowd, with L'Equipe - showing just how much scrutiny he was under - timing his now-trademark smile-and-wave routine at a precise 34 seconds, while The Beatles' 'Hey Jude' blared out from the PA system.

When his name was read out, it was given a greater cheer than any of the other PSG players, while he was given a raucous reception when he finally stepped out onto the pitch.

"His entrance was something extraordinary," Pastore said. "The public in the Parc gave him a special welcome."

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