Former England captain David Beckham was on Thursday set to join Paris Saint-Germain, according to reports, fuelling hopes of a celebrity boost for French football as it faces up to an exodus of top players.
The 37-year-old midfielder — one of the world’s most recognisable sportsmen with a pop star wife and an estimated net worth of 190 million pounds ($300 million, 220 million euros) — has been without a club since leaving Los Angeles Galaxy last year.
But the BBC and Sky Sports News both said that the ex-Manchester United, Real Madrid and AC Milan star was due to be unveiled by the French league leaders later on Thursday after routine health tests.
PSG sporting director Leonardo had no comment to make about the reports when contacted by AFP but the player was seen leaving the city’s Pitie-Salpetriere hospital that the club uses to conduct medicals.
News of Beckham’s pending arrival lit up the final day of the January transfer window, a year after the former Old Trafford playmaker was first linked with a move to the Parc des Princes, amid reports that he could sign up to an 18-month contract.
Whatever the terms of the deal with “Becks” — who is married to the former Spice Girl turned fashion designer Victoria — PSG’s Qatari owners have signed a celebrity brand with the clout to tap new markets for the club, particularly in Asia.
As a Manchester United player, Beckham was mobbed like a rockstar on visits to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand while in the 2002 World Cup in Japan and South Korea, his distinctive mohawk hairdo sparked legions of imitators.
One Bangkok fan placed a sculpture of his idol in a Buddhist temple while a three-metre (10-foot) chocolate image of the Old Trafford playmaker was even created in Japan.
“He’s more than a player. He’s a brand, a pop star,” said Leonardo in 2011 after making an initial approach to the player, who has a host of lucrative advertising and endorsement deals and is seen as much on on red carpets as in the corridors of power.
France coach Didier Deschamps on Thursday said Beckham could provide a much-needed filip to Ligue 1, which lags other major European leagues for star power and this January has seen a glut of transfers to English clubs.
“It’s not yet official but if it’s the case it’s a very, very good thing for the media profile of Ligue 1,” said Deschamps, who played for Chelsea in 1999/2000 while Beckham was at Old Trafford.
“He’s a player whose personality goes beyond football like Zlatan Ibrahimovic. It gives a greater visibilility to our championship internationally.”
Former AC Milan striker Ibrahimovic was brought to PSG in the close season last year as the club spent more than 200 million euros on the transfer market but is one of the few players of undisputed world class in France’s top division.
Beckham, capped 115 times for England — a national record for an outfielder — first came to prominence at Manchester United and in 1999 helped the club win the coveted “Treble” of the English Premier League, FA Cup and European Champions League.
Renowned as a dead-ball specialist for the quality of his delivery from free-kicks and corners, Beckham rose through the ranks as one of a crop of talented young players including Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Gary Neville.
He made his United debut aged 17 in 1992 and went on to win six Premier League titles, two FA Cups and the Champions League with the English giants.
His England debut came in 1996 and two years later he was sent off during a last 16 defeat by Argentina at the 1998 World Cup in France, making him a brief hate figure for many England fans.
Beckham’s relationship with United boss Alex Ferguson soured towards the end of his time in Manchester, with the veteran manager concerned about his increasingly high profile after his glitzy wedding to “Posh Spice” Victoria.