12.23.11

David Beckham to Paris: Why Soccer Star Should Stay in Los Angeles

The offer may seem irresistible, but beware the sky-high taxes, extreme fans, and general hatred of the rich. Eric Pape makes the case for Becks to say non to Paris Saint-Germain.

Cher David,

About that move to Paris Saint-Germain...

In the generous spirit of the holidays, I’ve decided to offer you, Becks, a little unsolicited advice. Word has it that you are preparing to abandon my native hometown of Los Angeles for my adopted city of Paris. My advice: Don’t do it.

I can understand the temptations, of leaving a second-rate soccer league in a city and country where few care about your sporting exploits. After all, the French sports-and-tabloid press—often one and the same given the conduct of certain French soccer stars—is all a-flutter over the next British invasion—yours.

If the popular newsdaily Le Parisien’s December 21 cover can be believed, you, Victoria, and your quartet of little Beckhams will move to the French capital after the December 31 expiration of your contract with the Los Angeles Galaxy.

The headline read like overheated gossip about a high-school prom invitee. “Beckham in Paris: He said YES.”

This revelation of your intent sparked something in France that can only be described as a Becksgasm. Rumors quickly spread that you will be appearing, rock star-like, at Paris’ Hotel de Ville (City Hall, as you will have learned to call it in LA – the mayor’s office), and perhaps engage in a celebratory jaunt up the Champs-Elysees. The presse populaire wondered fawningly whether either of two luxury residences that the team has scouted out for your brood will be up to your needs. If you come, forget the sumptuous 1,500-square-meter pad with a garden of equal size in the leafy Parisian suburb of les Yvelines (for just €60,000 a month). If the Beckhams are going to live in Paris, they should live in Paris.

Nor will the hotel particulier in Paris’ stuffy and old-moneyed 16th arrondissement do; it isn’t exactly the neighborhood for nouveau riche pop stars and paparazzi, of which you will have la monopole here. For my money, of which there isn’t much, I’d trust your wife’s instincts. Agence France-Presse cited a real-estate agent who escorted Mrs. Beckham to a decadent residence in the super posh Avenue Montaigne neighborhood in November.

Forgetting about real estate, your (hoped-for) arrival is being portrayed as the Second Coming. If the hype is to be believed, your 36-year-old knees won’t just bolster Paris Saint-Germain, your good looks will feminize the team’s fanbase. But that’s just a start. Your lucrative contract (if the news reports are to be believed) will make you the highest paid player in France, thus strengthening the sputtering French economy and alleviating part of the national debt. It has even been suggested that you could help France to retain the triple-A credit rating that is slipping through its leaders’ fingers.

If your potential impact on France sounds a little over the top, even to you, Dave, let me explain. Le Parisien puts your salary at €14.4 million over the next 18 months—plus an additional €17 million in possible merchandising bonuses. That sort of money might go far in Los Angeles, especially with a euro worth $1.30, but you need to keep things in perspective.

The French capital is expensive, and in more ways than one. First of all, kids in the French hood endure unemployment rates of up to 40 percent, so they may not buy many of your pricey PSG jerseys. And then there are les impots. Fear of the tax bite spurred the people managing the fortune of France’s wealthiest woman, L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt, to hide tens of millions abroad.

In case you are wondering how much of your gross salary you might hold on to in Paris, the news website 20 Minutes has helpfully calculated that your various tax bills could surpass €10 million if you earn all of your bonuses. (But at a minimum, you can expect to support the French Social Security system to the tune of €2 million annually, with another €3 million-plus going to pay your normal income taxes. On a side note, the value added tax on sales of Becks merchandising could add another €4.5 million annually to state coffers.) This means that your guaranteed net salary could be as little as €4.3 million in 2012. (Amid belt-tightening in Europe and fears of economic apocalypse, the €17 million in potential bonuses might not be as certain as you would like.)

Still, I can understand the temptations—Paris’ stylish boutiques, its metrosexual chic (of a kind you singlehandedly helped popularize among many once-shleppy Anglo-Saxons), the old-school glamour, and the spreading of your global brand—with the official reason being to play soccer for PSG, at least between injuries.

But you need to consider the harsh realities of the moment: Can you, Vicky, and the kids squeak by at the chain boutiques on Faubourg St. Honoré, the jewelry shops at the Place Vendôme, and in the various Michelin-star restaurants on that sort of chump change? You’ll be facing a financial comedown from your five-year deal in Los Angeles: $10 million guaranteed annually with up to $50 million total each year, thanks to merchandising bonuses.

Anyway, that’s all just money talk. There’s another thing you should know: Most French people don’t really like rich people. And some of those French people are prominent politicians. And most people in France believe that rich people should pay a higher percentage of taxes than the other 99.99 percent. And those same people are often devout soccer fans.

LA is right for you because Angelenos care more about Brand Beckham—that sheer, shiny celebrity—than the Los Angeles Galaxy, whatever it is that they do.

Take Socialist parliamentarian Jean-Christophe Cambadélis, who chimed in on his blog that you are an “aging star”. He suggested that you just aren’t worth the money, and commented—and I’m sure this is going to hit you hard—that your epic soccer salary “won’t be seen in the best light” in working-class neighborhoods in France in these times of crisis.

He’s right. France’s favorite soccer player, Zinedine Zidane, somehow managed to make tens of millions and continue to enjoy adulation in French ghettos, but he had to go to extremes to do so. He retained his street cred by going out with a bang; you surely remember that gratuitous headbutt of a defender who was talking smack about his mother, that ended France’s chance at a World Cup championship. (That ultimately made him more popular here.)

Already your offer has become a political issue here. Jean-Marc Ayrault, a top adviser to the Socialist presidential candidate—yes, a real Socialist (they barely even exist back in England any more, let alone LA)—responded to reports about your still-unsigned contract on a TV news show by saying that he’s “fed up with these enormous salaries.” Forget that the Qatari owners of Paris PSG were never going to spread that money around to France’s proletariat or use it to pay off the debt, or that a percentage of it will go toward the greater good if France becomes your tax residence.

But a part of me feels like you should stay in Los Angeles to schmooze with A-grade celebrities and pee alongside Jack Nicholson. Like many celebrity transplants to Los Angeles, you and Posh have clearly found your people, whether Scientologists or movie stars, or both. Your arrival there always felt right, like the perfect last phase of your soccer career, so forget about this French epilogue. LA is right for you because Angelenos care more about Brand Beckham—that sheer, shiny celebrity—than the Los Angeles Galaxy, whatever it is that they do.

So forget seasoned European soccer fans’ questions about your late-career physical endurance, or how you might turn brittle in the more physical European game played during the cold and damp winter season. And forget the fact that some critics believe that you were never as good as you were good looking. Re-opt with Los Angeles in the hopes that your celebrity—and the fact that you were desired in Paris—will help get out that word that the Galaxy recently won a title… whatever title it was.