Grab yourself a stool, drag it over to Speakers’ Corner and loudly proclaim that ‘Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets are the best midfield trio to grace a football pitch’.
You’ll likely be met with a few quizzical glances from those unfortunate enough never to have witnessed Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets operate in tandem, but little in the way of dissenting views.
As debates go, it’ll be about as one-sided as Stewart Downing trying to get past a right-back.
Now, standing on the same stool, proudly announce that ‘David Beckham was one of the finest midfielders of his generation’.
You’ll notice a small army on the horizon, gradually getting bigger as they make their way towards you, pitchforks aloft and 1998 World Cup effigies ablaze.
For someone whose CV includes representing Man United, Real Madrid, AC Milan and PSG, being capped 115 times by England, finishing as runner-up in the Ballon d’Or and sparking a footballing revolution stateside, Beckham doesn’t half polarise opinion.
If only there was a way to use the best midfield trio in the history of the game to silence Beckham’s naysayers once and for all. Say, Barcelona’s trip to PSG on 2nd April 2013?
The Beckham that took to the Parc de Princes pitch for that Champions League quarter-final first leg was vintage in age rather than ability.
Having joined PSG on a short-term loan deal on the final day of the January transfer window, the 37-year-old had made just five first-team appearances prior to Barcelona’s arrival. His only start had seen the club drop points in a 2-2 draw against a Saint-Etienne side spearheaded by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
While the midfielder wouldn’t announce his official plans to retire until the following month, this was his last dance and everybody knew it.
Barcelona, on the other hand, were seamlessly transitioning from Pep Guardiola to Tito Vilanova, and would go on to amass 100 points to win La Liga at a canter that season.
A 25-year-old Lionel Messi was still the main attraction, but Xavi, 33, Iniesta, 28 and Busquets, 24, were arguably just as dangerous because of their ability to take the game away from the opposition with their mesmerising passing sequences.
Given Beckham’s age and Barcelona’s midfield dominance, there was understandable shock prior to kick-off when Carlo Ancelotti’s decided to start the former England captain ahead of a 20-year-old Marco Verratti. Beckham partnered Blaise Matuidi in midfield, with Lucas Moura and Javier Pastore in more advanced roles behind Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Barcelona’s trademark trio of Xavi, Iniesta and Busquets in midfield, with David Villa, Alexis Sanchez and Messi in attack, Jordi Alba and Dani Alves pushing on from full-back and Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara in reserve was enough to give Mo Farah a stitch, let alone a 37-year-old converted winger on the cusp of retirement.
But Beckham’s sat nav was accurate from the start, with three switches of play from left to right in the first 15 minutes helping to bypass Barcelona’s press and free PSG right-back Christophe Jallet.
Beckham repeatedly picked the ball up between PSG’s centre-back pairing of Thiago Silva and Alex to spray a trademark quarterback pass to the flanks or find the feet of Ibrahimovic, who regularly dropped into midfield.
The only blot on his first-half copybook couldn’t be avoided, with a loose header eventually finding its way to he feet of Alves, who sliced PSG open with the outside of his boot to leave Messi with the type of finish he makes look routine.
The second half started in the same vein, with a raking cross-field pass taking two Barcelona players out of the game and landing perfectly on Jallet’s big toe.
Only when the game went past the hour mark did Beckham begin to tire. An exhausted first touch in the 68th minute led to a foul on Sanchez and a yellow card, and two minutes later he was replaced by Verratti with the score at 1-0.
The 37-year-old walked off with 32 passes to his name, a tally only Ibrahimovic and Maxwell would go on to match from PSG despite there still being 20 minutes left to play.
Of the 27 players involved across the 90 minutes, only Sanchez, Jallet, Silva and Mascherano made more tackles, while only Alves completed more key passes.
The game would end 2-2, with PSG twice equalising through Ibrahimovic and Matuidi either side of a Xavi penalty. Barcelona sneaked through the second leg on away goals eight days later following a 1-1 draw at the Nou Camp, in which Beckham played seven minutes off the bench.
Those cameos continued until the 18th May, when a 38-year-old Beckham started his final professional football game, leaving the pitch to a standing ovation in the 81st minute having assisted Matuidi with a trademark corner.
You can call Beckham many things, from dedicated to diva, but overrated is not one of them.
Thriving against the greatest midfield of all time at the age of 37 is proof enough of that.
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