Following his first two appearances in the red and blue of Paris Saint-Germain, David Beckham has proven that he merits a place in Carlo Ancelotti’s first-team plans.
The Italian—for his part—has been confident over Beckham’s fitness from the start and did not hesitate to use him as soon as he could. He and sporting director Leonardo then happily pointed out to the press the Englishman’s effectiveness on the pitch in the recent double-header with Marseille to prove his point.
"You said we signed him only to take pictures, to set up news conferences and sell shirts," Leonardo told the assembled media at the Parc des Princes on Wednesday night.
"It's up to you to judge. You are the experts, the extraordinary consultants who know football."
They have a point.
Beckham and PSG have underlined the fact that his move to the capital was not just a marketing stunt. Now the Englishman is once again being taken seriously as a player after initial skepticism from many quarters.
So that begs the question, what will Beckham’s role be for the remainder of the season in the French capital?
In first two matches, he has occupied a deep-lying position. Marco Verratti has made the position his own this season but is regularly suspended.
His development in that role will continue when available, but his ill discipline, a product of inexperience, has seen the team deprived of his talents on a number of occasions. This is something that he needs to stamp out of his game.
Beckham, though, has proven himself more than capable of filling Verratti’s shoes with his experience compensating for his lack of youth. In certain games, he will provide that necessary reassurance that an erratic Verratti cannot currently provide, a potentially match-winning quality in such a key position.
The key is keeping Beckham fit. For example, PSG play Reims Saturday night with Valencia to follow in the Champions League on Wednesday. Verratti is once again suspended for the visit of the Spaniards, so Beckham will be expected to play if Thiago Motta is still recovering from his recent injury layoff. That Italian international, though, is expected to feature against Reims.
Injuries are playing a big role in central midfield selection currently, with Motta injured since January and Lucas Moura recently out with the flu. Those absences have stretched Ancelotti’s diminished resources thin since the loan departures of Adrien Rabiot, Mathieu Bodmer and Momo Sissoko.
Add to that the presence of Clement Chantome who, as he proved against Marseille with his sublime pass for Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s opener, still has a part to play, too. Chantome has seen action wide on the right with Beckham and Verratti sharing the partnership with Blaise Matuidi.
The French international has been the one constant in the midfield so far, though, and sooner or later he will need to rest for one or two games. That will likely open the door once more to Motta to re-emerge, possibly alongside Beckham at times.
So it would appear that Beckham’s deep role, just in front of the defence, is here to stay. Whilst Verratti has the makings of Andrea Pirlo 2.0, he does not yet have the temperament or experience. Beckham has the latter, but his legs don’t make him one for the future.
Ancelotti’s rotation system makes the best of the situation, enjoying the ability to rely on the presence of Beckham who cannot, much as he would want to, command a starting berth every game at the age of 37.
Verratti will continue to be pushed forward as he progresses in learning his responsibilities, and the presence of Beckham should spark a growth in the diminutive Italian’s maturity.
Crucially, too, as we have already seen from his first two matches against Marseille, Beckham has a calming influence on the team when introduced. That influence will be needed as PSG face an early onslaught from Valencia next week as los Che try to level the Champions League tie.
Ibrahimovic’s extended European suspension means that until Silva returns to first-team action (it could be this weekend at Reims), Beckham will go into that game as the most senior member of Ancelotti’s side.
For that reason, I expect to see Beckham rested ahead of the likes of Reims. An important game, yes, but given the clash with Valencia on the horizon, not the most vital for the Englishman to play in.
He could get 15-20 minutes like he did against Marseille in Ligue 1 this weekend to continue his return to full fitness, but I expect to see him feature more heavily next midweek.