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Carlo Ancelotti’s decision to start David Beckham against Barcelona on Tuesday night was met with contrasting views. There were plenty of sceptics who thought that it was a gamble. Some even thinking it was more of a PR stunt by the club in a game of that magnitude with a vast global audience. On the other side of the coin, Beckham’s invaluable Champions League pedigree and his ability from set-pieces made perfect sense for him to be a part of the starting-XI. His performance on the night has interestingly been viewed in many different ways. Some parts of the media said he flopped, whereas others said he has still got it.
It all depends on the way you look at it. This is a man who is just a month shy of his 38th birthday, been back in European football for little over two months and had not started a Champions League game for three years. It is naive to think that he would instantly slot into a team of PSG’s class against a superior opponent and conjure up the same sort of play like he used to in his heady days. I do not want to be critical of Major League Soccer in the USA, it has come on leaps and bounds but the level of play compared to the Champions League is not recognisable. Having spent five years with the LA Galaxy, it would be hard to dig out a fixture that would have entailed the same level of concentration and fitness that he would have utilised against the Catalans. It is merely impossible. So, taking that into consideration, we were never going to get a marquee performance from a once fabulous player against the world’s greatest team.
He has his limitations now those legs are getting older. It was evident after the interval with Les Parisiens trailing 1-0 that fatigue was setting in. He looked weary as he ran across the midfield line, back and forth as Barca kept possession for fun. It certainly took its toll – not just on him – but it was certainly more evident. He picked up a booking for a tiresome, unorthodox challenge on Alexis Sanchez that was deserving of a caution. But, prior to Lionel Messi opening the scoring in the first-half, the Englishman did show signs of his quality. In terms of a delivery from a set-piece, there is no one better. He gave Barca a few worries that is for sure. His general link-up play was good, picking the ball up just in front of the back four and spreading it here and there. There was nothing flash, just nice and simple. And for 35 minutes he played his part in a wonderful period of play by the home team who were better than Barca. No doubt about it.
Their goal changed the whole complexion of the game, making us more introvert with our play, playing with a sense of anxiety and most importantly struggling to get the ball back. It took its toll and Beckham, who will always put a shift in, will never give up, could not muster the stamina to be effective. He was brought off for Marco Verratti – who was unlucky not to start to be honest – in the 70th minute and PSG would go on to score two goals in a frenetic last quarter of the game. There is no denying that change helped us with the fresh legs of the Italian running in the middle of the park supporting Blaise Matuidi. Jeremy Menez and Kevin Gameiro also coming off the bench helped. It is what effectively changed the game, we looked more dynamic all of a sudden and it is understandable of course. The legs of a 38-year old late on in the game against the team of the calibre of the Blaugrana will not have the same effect as that of a young buck like Verratti. In hindsight, would Beckham have been better to bring on as a late substitute, with Verratti starting in his place? It is up for debate for sure.
Beckham’s performance has been reviewed differently by various mediums. L’Equipe gave him a match rating of just 3/10. An unbelievably low rating which you can say is harsh. Others would disagree. Le Parisien was not so fond of his performance either calling it a ‘gamble that didn’t pay off’. Compare that to in England with the Guardian rating him at 6.5, one of the better performers for the French club.
You can assess the performance from different perspectives but the opinions evidently contrast. There is no doubt that his experience is what got him the nod to start and in the general scheme of things, he did not do too much wrong – in my opinion. As I said, for 35 minutes he played his part in a wonderful first-half by PSG, only outdone by one lapse in concentration which Messi punished us for. Becks has been criticised for the header out which led to that goal but what else could he have done? He got a clearance on it but Dani Alves ended up producing a peach of a ball for his teammate to score.
So, has David Beckham still got it? Or was Tuesday night a sign that the end is nigh? From my perspective, Beckham is a tremendous asset to this team but he has his limitations. Exceed them, and then there will be problems. I am a huge fan, I have said it countless times but fatigue was evident on Tuesday. Would he be able to start next week at the Camp Nou, on that huge pitch? Well with Matuidi suspended, Ancelotti may call on him again but it would be yet another massive gamble. Nevertheless, an opportunity Beckham will feel to prove people wrong again and let us hope he does.