Friday, March 13, 2009

John Dykes: WAG brought to tears

(This John Dykes column is courtesy of ESPN Star Sports.  Go to www.espnstar.com for more of Dykes' column.)

As Europe echoed to triumphant roars and anguished howls during this week's epic Champions League clashes, a smaller but no-less-poignant footballing drama was being played out on stage at a Liverpool nightclub.

Sixteen-year-old Melissa Reeves joined six other young "Glamour Gals" clad in skimpy costumes at the trendy Kingdom bar as part of a "Miss Motors" search for a pit lane representative at this year's Monaco Grand Prix. But pretty, blonde-haired Mel's smile was a forced one. As the Daily Star newspaper put it, "Mel put on a brave face last night as she wowed revellers". Several hours earlier she had been weeping.

The previous weekend, the same paper had shown her "sizzling in a racy outfit" at another Formula One event. It dubbed her "Britain's hottest WAG" because of her relationship with the exciting 17-year-old Everton midfielder Jack Rodwell.

Similar frenzied tabloid reports labeled the couple "the new Wayne and Coleen (Rooney)" and listed the similarities in terms of both couples' backgrounds and achievements. One paper revealed that young Jack was nicknamed "Roo Two" by teammates who had seen the stories.

Then came the bombshell that left Melissa -- the reigning Miss Teen Cheshire no less -- fighting back the tears.

Rodwell reportedly broke up with Melissa last Sunday after seeing the newspapers. The Star quoted a "mate" of the former England under-16 captain as saying: "Jack’s desperate to make it in the top-flight and doesn’t want anything getting in the way. All those pictures and stories of him with Melissa and comparisons to Wayne and Coleen are not what he wanted. He found himself on the front of newspapers instead of on the back page – where he should be."

Devastated Melissa reportedly told "pals": “He’s finished me for his football. I’m stunned. I’m not bothered about the WAG thing – it’s not my fault I was photographed. I love my modelling but I didn’t want anything to come between us. Just when I thought things were going so well he’s gone and done this. I’m gutted. I feel like my world has ended.”

Rodwell's, it seems, is just beginning. While no one could reasonably expect him to emulate Wayne Rooney's achievements, the 17-year-old is off to a good start, and recently committed to Everton until 2014. That contract represents a coup for David Moyes as it is common knowledge that Arsene Wenger and Sir Alex Ferguson have been keenly tracking the lad's progress.

Rodwell's impact has been eye-catching. He looked every inch a top-flight midfielder in both FA Cup derbies with Liverpool and scored in the win over Aston Villa. David Moyes has suggested the tall, powerful, technically-skilled player could follow Rio Ferdinand's lead and become a classy defender one day.

So where does this leave Melissa? Have those advising Jack Rodwell decided that he is too young to be distracted from his apprenticeship in football by a girlfriend? Or is she the victim of a broader anti-WAG backlash.

For those who have made it this far without understanding the acronym, WAGs are "wives and girlfriends" (the term gained popularity when used to describe the women who accompanied England's World Cup to team to Germany in 2006 and performed more impressively in the shops and wine bars of Baden-Baden than their partners did on the pitch).

Today, as Melissa is discovering, "WAG" is a loaded phrase, describing a particular sort of predatory young woman whose sole purpose in life is to bag a rich footballer and live to excess off the back of his income. The BPL attracts a parade of fake-tanned conspicuous consumers who live their lives through the pages of the newspapers and Hello! or Heat magazine.

Time was when a football manager's sole concern when it came to wives and girlfriends was one of, er, fitness. Liverpool’s legendary Bill Shankly would phone player's wives the night before a big game, tell them their husband was the most important player in his team and request they keep their distance in the bedroom. Manchester United manager Wilf McGuinness would look in on George Best's hotel room even on the afternoon of a game to ensure he hadn't kicked off early as it were.

Then along came Victoria Beckham. Sir Alex Ferguson could handle wives and girlfriends until he was confronted by one who posed a confusing new set of problems for a manager who wanted to get the best out of his star player. Sex was no longer the problem. It was more to do with the distracting impact on David Beckham of photo shoots, endless fashion shows and a lifestyle that valued image and appearance as highly as it did goals and trophies.

A flying boot in the Old Trafford dressing room helped end Beckham’s association with English club football but the damage had been done: the TV show “Footballers Wives” simultaneously repulsed and inspired different sectors of British society and tabloid newspapers mined a rich new vein of material supplied by an army of wannabe Posh and Becks

Hence the recent tabloid frenzy over Ashley Cole’s arrest for drunken and disorderly behavior while his glamorous wife Cheryl was off climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro for charity.  Hence the News of the World’s gleeful recent report on Wayne and Coleen using a half-price voucher to pay for a meal at an Italian restaurant.

Hold on, though. That story offers some encouragement for poor Melissa Reeves. Sir Alex Ferguson regularly voices his approval of Mrs Rooney - “clever girl. Down-to-earth.” - and he will have been delighted the couple heeded his advice to United’s players that they should be less flash with their cash during the current recession.

Coleen left school with decent results (she passed 10 GCSEs) and has forged a lucrative career in the media, admittedly as a result of her association with Wayne. The path of young love isn’t always smooth but Melissa could do a lot worse than giving Coleen a phone call if she wants to get hers back on track.

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