BEIJING – Legend David Beckham raised the prospect of one last stop on his global soccer journey Wednesday, refusing to rule out playing in China after his contract with Paris Saint-Germain ends.
Speaking at a news conference unveiling him as an ambassador for the Chinese Super League (CSL), the former England captain left open the possibility.
“I am continuing to play now. So if I continue to stay fit, if I continue to progress as a player because I still feel that I can learn from playing the game, who knows?” he said, after being asked whether he might play in China.
“People keep saying it will be my last club and my last season but I continue to play and I love playing, so we’ll see.”
Beckham, now 37 and nearing the end of his career, joined Paris Saint-Germain in January on a short-term deal until the end of the season after leaving Los Angeles Galaxy in December.
As his time in the U.S. drew to a close, Beckham said he wanted “one more challenge” before retiring, sparking a clamor for his signature from teams across Europe and Australia.
Chinese media reports at the time suggesting he could join the domestic league proved unfounded, but the country’s cash-rich clubs commonly make their star signings in the summer, when top overseas players become available.
He is scheduled to pay two more visits to China during the season from March to November to promote the Chinese League, whose image has been battered by corruption scandals.
A three-year inquiry resulted last month in 33 people receiving lifetime bans and Shanghai Shenhua being stripped of its 2003 league title.
The former England international’s new role has been widely seen as an ambitious attempt by the league to improve its image.
But Beckham said his focus would be on developing the sport in China at grassroots level. “What has gone on in the past? I am not a politician so I have nothing to do with it,” he said.
“I am helping in the education for young kids and young aspiring footballers. It’s as simple as that. I am not here to clear up anything. I am here to educate the children and give them a chance of becoming professional footballers.”
Beckham, who is known as “Little Becks” in China, also said he was not being paid for his new role.
Chinese media have quoted Chinese Super League officials as saying he would receive a salary of €2 million ($2.6 million) from one of the world’s biggest sports agencies.
But he said: “There are no figures attached. I am here as an ambassador, simple as that. There is always figures thrown about what I am doing with my life, but right now I am playing football for free in Paris and I am here as an ambassador.”
He was again asked if he was being paid, and responded: “Right here, right now? No!”
Chinese football fans have been eagerly anticipating Beckham’s arrival.
He looked relaxed and smartly-dressed in a tailored grey suit as he took questions from Chinese school pupils, telling the young audience his favorite Chinese food was noodles and his favourite singer was “Posh Spice” — his wife Victoria.
Beckham will be visiting sport schools and youth soccer projects in Beijing, the eastern city of Qingdao and the central city of Wuhan before returning to Paris on Monday, officials said.
He immediately launched into his duties after meeting journalists, joining in a six-a-side game at Beijing’s Number 2 primary school, still wearing his suit trousers and shiny black shoes.
Beckham was mobbed after the game by schoolchildren, with many of the boys wearing soccer tops from his previous clubs, while screaming girls clutched placards reading “I love you” or with his face imprinted on.
As well as the corruption issues, Chinese soccer has endured a torrid time on the pitch, with the national team crashing out of qualifying for the 2014 World Cup.
Beckham has visited China several times in the past, mainly on soccer tours with his previous clubs which include Real Madrid and Manchester United. He also featured at the closing ceremony of the 2008 Olympics.