Posted: Thursday January 18, 2007 2:57PM; Updated: Thursday January 18, 2007 3:15PM
Not that there was much to be excited about during the first half -- both teams played uninspired soccer and the score was 0-0 at the half. Valenciennes opened the second half by getting a player ejected on a highly questionable second yellow card, then promptly scored two consecutive goals. PSG picked up a late goal to make it 2-1, but their players didn't seem as if they were really interested in spending their Saturday running around on the damp pitch. As the game slipped away, the PSG fans went from loud and excited to quiet and foreboding. With a loss they'd be one point away from the relegation zone, a disastrous occurrence for a club of PSG's fame. As the clock wound down, a fan in the front row one section over from us got into a yelling match with a PSG reserve player, punctuated by a bottle of water being thrown to the ground and a lot of oohing and ahhing.
We left a little early to beat the crowds back to the Metro station, and found ourselves face to face with hundreds of cops, decked out in riot gear. The police were waiting for the game to end, for thousands of unhappy fans to come storming onto the small streets ringing Parc des Princes. It was then I realized that I should probably get my parents out of there -- for some reason, I just kept thinking of the guy in Among The Thugs who was salivating as he waited for the riots to "go off." We hightailed it around the back of the stadium, taking the long way around and popping out by the Porte de Saint Cloud station just in time to hop on a quiet subway train.
The next day I did my best to read the French papers but couldn't find any mention of the police presence, the fan getting into it with the player, etc. C'est la vie. But there were pages and pages on the game itself, and PSG's poor performance.
The day I'd left New York for Paris, it had been announced that Beckham had signed what was being called a $250 million deal with MLS. (Although as Grant Wahl reported, it's actually not even close to $250 million.) While people in America began debating the wisdom of signing an aging star to a huge contract, Real Madrid began something of a smear campaign. Real president Ramon Calderon said of Beckham: "The proof our technical team was right in not considering his continuity has been ratified because no one, with the player having been free, wanted him." (Calderon, in a superb bit of foot-in-mouth disease, went on to admit that every player on Real thinks they're a superstar.)
The Beckham contract may have generated a few headlines in the States, but from what I saw, in Europe it wasn't that important a sports story, a curiosity more than anything else. The more important stories there were PSG's relegation battle and Chelsea struggling to catch Man United in the EPL. Becks got a few mentions on the sports page, but the long, breathless articles were in the gossip pages or lifestyle sections.
MLS and their deep-pocketed backer Phil Anschutz obviously understand the value of headlines and public relations, but until any MLS team has been around for decades and has to deal with furious fans and coaching controversies (can any casual fan even name the coach of the L.A. Galaxy?), their money won't buy history and passion. Becks will grab attention, but the entire MLS product needs to improve if the league wants to be mentioned along with the EPL, La Liga, the Bundesliga, Serie A or Ligue 1.
It's about the game, not the fame. C'est la vie.
Lang Whitaker is the online editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com.