PARIS — Never a stranger to the big stage, David Beckham was finally overwhelmed and reduced to tears as he went out in a burst of fireworks and cheers Saturday in his final home game for Paris Saint-Germain before retirement.
Fans chanted his name before the game, and they chanted some more when he was finished. There was an outpouring of hugs, cheers, song, and congratulations.
There also was some soccer to be played. And Beckham, appointed captain for the game, was involved in two of his team’s goals in a 3-1 victory over Brest.
He drew a roaring standing ovation and wiped away tears when he left in the 81st minute.
‘‘I want to say thank you to everybody in Paris. To my teammates, to the staff, to the fans,’’ Beckham told the fans after the game. ‘‘It’s been very special to finish my career here.’’
As Beckham, 38, walked off slowly, applauding the fans, his hair uncharacteristically bedraggled, his mother, Sandra, wiped away a tear in the stands.
Beckham’s pecs are at least as much a part of his brand as his kick; his brand of shoes ultimately more lucrative than the game he’s giving up. Listed as the world’s highest-earning athlete for 2013, Beckham’s retirement from play still leaves him with valuable endorsements and unparalleled celebrity. The question is whether he can maintain it.
Only a few athletes, once their job is preceded by “ex,” manage to maintain a connection with fans: Those who have carefully built up their image beforehand.
Michael Jordan retired from basketball for the third time in 2003 and turned 50 this year. His eponymous Nike brand — a partnership that dates to the first days after he left the University of North Carolina — is going strong. The Jordan brand makes up nearly 60 percent of the American basketball shoe market, and a significant part of the estimated $80 million that Jordan reportedly earns each year from ventures that also include deals with Hanes and Gatorade, according to Forbes magazine.
Beckham topped this year’s Sports Illustrated list of 20 highest-earning international athletes (his estimated $48 million in earnings — most from sponsorship — would rank third on the magazine’s list if American athletes were also included). He has deals with Adidas, Samsung, and H&M, and also has his own cologne.
The question is whether his celebrity will last once he’s no longer on the field.
Thanks to his years with the LA Galaxy, Beckham’s popularity is high even in the United States, according to Henry Schafer, executive vice president of the Q Scores Company, which measures celebrity awareness and popularity.
But he’ll have a hard time matching the endurance of Jordan who — a decade after retirement — tops the Q Score list of all athletes, Schafer said. Tiger Woods was the only athlete to come close, Schafer said, and that’s no longer even a remote possibility.
As for Beckham, ‘‘I would put him in the category as having the right qualities to extend his playing days,’’ said Schafer, who said Magic Johnson, Wayne Gretzky, and Muhammad Ali are among the other top retired athletes who’ve kept up their images.
Jean-Noel Kapferer, a marketing analyst at HEC, warned Beckham’s glow could fade unless he shows he’s putting in an effort.
‘‘Up to now, the image of David Beckham balanced between the tangible — the presence on the field of an exceptional player with a magic touch — and the intangible — the handsome guy who imprints his style on modern man,’’ he told the French newspaper l’Equipe. ‘‘The risk for him is that he’s not doing anything but making money.’’