This arena's third Classique of the campaign had entered its latter stages, Paris St-Germain so assured and their opponents distinctly rattled, when Jordan Ayew ploughed into French football's latest star attraction and finally left him rattled.
David Beckham picked himself out of the tangle of bodies on the byline and eye-balled the Marseille substitute as players, Joey Barton principal among them, squared up all around. The flash of yellow shown to the victim of the lunge felt harsh but Beckham will hardly care. Whether plying your trade in Manchester or Madrid, being booked against bitter rivals can serve as a badge of honour.
Four weeks into his latest eye-catching career move and the former England captain is already cherished. He revelled for 86 minutes in an Andrea Pirlo brief here on his first start for one of the richest clubs in the world, his name boomed into the night sky in appreciation by a giddy home support, celebrating victory and a French Cup quarter-final at Evian to come, when he eventually retreated to the bench shortly after that show of temper. "His experience, his passing, his aggression," enthused the manager, Carlo Ancelotti. "He will help us this season. I don't think he played like a 37-year-old tonight."
In some ways he had. His was a masterclass in clever, calm distribution from the base of midfield, all that experience accrued at Manchester United, Real Madrid and Milan demonstrated in his positioning, movement and delivery. It had been his pass that opened up the left side of Marseille's defence for Kévin Gameiro to chase and cross for Zlatan Ibrahimovic on the quarter-hour mark, the Swede fluffing the first clear opportunity of the evening. It was also Le Spice Boy's quickly taken free-kick moments later that sent Jérémy Ménez through on goal while visiting players still disputed the award. The miss that followed was wasteful, but Beckham's involvement in the buildup all night was tidy, reassuring, even metronomic.
"I felt good," he said. "I have been working hard for the last few weeks on my fitness, and it helps to have players around me who work the way they do and play the way they do. To have been involved in these last two games has been encouraging. I came to the club wanting to be part of the team, but knowing I wouldn't always be in the starting lineup, and I understand that. I just wanted to try and add to the side and help the team be successful. If that means starting, then great. If that means coming off the bench, then fine. But to play 86 minutes was good. I enjoyed it, and felt good. It's always nice not having freezing cold feet when you start, after all."
That was a reference to his cameo in Sunday's league fixture between the sides, a 16-minute appearance that had whetted the appetite. He had played a part in setting up Ibrahimovic's goal in stoppage time that night with Marseille having, rather mystifyingly, stood off the debutant and allowed him to exert his influence. The same criticism of Elie Baup's side might have been made here. Surely the temptation must have been there for Barton or Jacques-Alaixys Romao to snap into a challenge and stifle his supply line, yet it took 25 minutes for the Englishman to crunch his compatriot.
By the time Romao did likewise shortly afterwards, prompting the first melee of a typically fractious occasion, the Paris club led courtesy of Ibrahimovic's neatly taken goal. The Swede, who has been banned for PSG's next two Champions League games following his dismissal in the last-16 tie at Valencia, added the second-half penalty to seal the victory before Marseille's frustrations overcame them.
Romao leapt into an illegal challenge on Beckham, Barton caught him with a flailing elbow. The reaction to Ayew was perhaps more understandable given the rat-a-tat of similar bruising fouls that had preceded the offence.
"It was spiky the whole game," added Beckham. "It was like that at the weekend and it will be like that every PSG against Marseille game. Joey caught me with an elbow, but he 'explained' it just after. He does well for them and is a talented player. Good luck to him." That was said with a smile though, in truth, Barton was rather bypassed here with his side off the pace against the outstanding team in French football, one that has been constructed to the tune of £250m by Qatari owners who can idly consider bidding £40m for Wayne Rooney without giving a second thought to such an outlay.
Beckham is the free transfer amid the astronomical fees, the veteran enjoying another European swansong to a glittering career. And yet, a month in, he has already been christened "La Bonne Pioche" in Paris, loosely speaking a "bargain" who is reaping rewards. His name was chorused around this arena upon his departure. His has been an encouraging start.
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image: © nasmac