Beckham fever grips Paris - but at a price

PARIS Fri Feb 1, 2013 6:26pm IST

Soccer player David Beckham presents his new jersey after a news conference in Paris January 31, 2013. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes

Soccer player David Beckham presents his new jersey after a news conference in Paris January 31, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

PARIS (Reuters) - Five minutes before opening at the Paris St Germain store on the Champs Elysees, Alexi Milewicz, 16, is waiting eagerly to grab the first Beckham shirts, already displayed in the shop window less than 24 hours after the star's surprise signing.

But his face falls when he sees the price -- 110 euros for a shirt with the player's name and uniform number 32.

"I was expecting something between 85 and 100 euros," he said, before sloping off empty-handed, his enthusiasm for the high-profile star and fashion darling untarnished.

"He's always been a role model, in fashion and in football. I even had one of his shirts when I was little and he was at Real Madrid. It's magic him being here," Milewicz said.

Paris woke up on Friday to a wave of Beckham madness, after the 37-year old former England captain signed a five-month contract with one of France's best-known clubs, PSG.

Media and public reaction was torn between enthusiasm for a talented player and scepticism at a major marketing ploy by the wealthy Qatari owners of the headline-grabbing club.

Sports daily L'Equipe called the move a "A Major Showbiz Coup", while Le Parisien said PSG had bought a "Royal Prize". Analysts were quick to point out the merchandising value of the shirts alone will pull in 17 million euros.

"Qatar can get whatever they want. In Beckham they've got someone everyone in the world is talking about. The fact he's only coming for five months shows he really is just the icing on the cake," said Benoit Fournier, 45, a writer and PSG fan.

TOURIST ATTRACTION

Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe also hailed the signing as a boon for the French capital, adding to tourist attractions such as the Eiffel Tower or Notre Dame cathedral.

Since taking over PSG less than two years ago, Qatar investors have spent over 200 million euros on transfers, signing Swede striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Argentine internationals Javier Pastore and Ezequiel Lavezzi as well as Brazil centre backs Thiago Silva and Alex.

Ibrahimovic has grabbed attention in France as much for his talent on the field as for his huge 14 million euro-salary, which one government minister branded "indecent".

In a savvy move, Beckham, said yesterday he would donate his PSG salary to charity, earning praise from Delanoe who called the player a positive role model for youth in the poor suburbs of Paris, but also a measure of cynicism.

"They say it's going to charity but you don't know what's going on really. His travel expenses from London to Paris alone will cost a fortune," said Milewicz.

Despite the doubts, however, fans were unanimous in dismissing speculation about Beckham's fitness after his two-decade career, saying the player's unrivalled ball control would more than make up for any loss of stamina.

"He probably won't last the full 90 minutes, but as a substitute or over a first or second half his technical skill will be more than enough," said Mourad Adli, 41, a catering manager and avid fan.

(Additional reporting by Tara Oakes and John Irish, editing by Paul Casciato)

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