For David Beckham the footballer, this really was the very end.
Now begins the rest of his already very famous life.
At a small, homely stadium on the Brittany coast of western France, with seagulls flying overhead and a world away from football temples like Manchester United’s Old Trafford where fans used to sing his name, Beckham on Sunday officially became football’s most famous new retiree.
Beckham announced his retirement May 16. He shed tears two days later at his last home game for Paris Saint-Germain, getting a rousing send-off and standing ovation in Paris. That, as it turned out, was the last match of his career. Coach Carlo Ancelotti said Beckham picked up a thigh injury in that game, was unable to train in the week since, “and so he was not able to play” on Sunday.
Coach Carlo Ancelotti had also previously suggested that the plastic turf pitch in Lorient’s stadium might be too taxing for Beckham’s 38 year-old legs.
So Beckham sat this one out. He didn’t have to make the trip, since he wasn’t on the team, but still he tagged along for the ride one last time.
Even though he had no role in the 3-1 win for PSG, Beckham will find this match hard to forget and not merely because it marked the finish to his 21 seasons as a professional footballer, a journey that saw him win titles and trophies with Manchester United, Real Madrid, LA Galaxy and now the new French champions.
Lorient President Loic Fery marked the occasion Sunday by giving Beckham one of his team’s bright orange jerseys with Beckham’s name on the back above the number seven and the word “Kenavo,” which means “Goodbye” in Breton, the Celtic language of Brittany. Up in the stands, fans played bagpipes and luxuriated in the warm evening sun.
In the 81st minute, the match turned bizarre. Referee Benoit Bastien sent off PSG’s keeper, Ronan Le Crom, for felling Julien Quercia as the Lorient forward was sprinting for the ball in front of the Paris goal.
Le Crom is a reserve keeper for PSG. He was born in Lorient. At age 38, it’s possible this is his last season. So Ancelotti brought him on, a kind gesture, for the last 30 minutes, replacing Alphonse Areola.
When Le Crom was then sent off, that left no one to guard PSG’s goal. Ancelotti called on Mamadou Sakho, a defender, to do the job. Sakho was sitting next to Beckham on the bench. They had shared a blanket to warm their legs and joked around while watching the game. Then, suddenly, Sakho borrowed Areola’s used pink jersey and pull on a pair of goalkeeper’s gloves.
Le Crom trudged off in tears. PSG teammates consoled him with a group hug. Beckham patted him on the head.
“It’s most likely the last match of his career,” PSG midfielder Blaise Matuidi said of Le Crom. “The referee could have been a bit softer with him and shown a bit of compassion.”
After Bastien blew the final whistle, Beckham sought out the referee to give him a piece of his mind. He made the “Are you crazy?” gesture tapping a finger against his temple.
What was said remained between them, because Beckham walked quickly past reporters without talking after the match.
“I didn’t play” was all he said, by way of explanation for his silence.
Then he disappeared up a flight of steps to PSG’s waiting bus and fans shouting “Daveeeed!” The bus has Beckham’s name and those of his teammates painted on its side.
And that was it.
All in all, this was a very low-key final footnote to one of football’s most storied careers. One couldn’t help but feel sorry for two Irish fans who travelled by boat, bus and train from Dublin and paid almost 10 times the going rate over the Internet for tickets, in hopes of seeing Beckham bend it just one last time. Ciaran Donnelly, 22, and Aidan Mulvey, 21, hung their home-made banner marked “thanks for the memories Becks” on a fence by the stadium. Donnelly said Beckham had been his hero from childhood when he’d owned a Beckham teddy bear and slept in Beckham pyjamas under a Beckham duvet.
Although Beckham the footballer is finished, Beckham the brand, the fashion maven, the businessman, the sport ambassador — the list is long and varied — is not. The challenge now will be to adapt his brand, so that it and he continue to thrive without the limelight that playing football brought.
“We might just never see the like of David Beckham again,” said Simon Chadwick, an expert in sport business and marketing at Coventry University in England, in an interview. “I don’t think there’s anybody in the world right now who has the potential to become the next brand Beckham.”