For the first time since Georgie Best's heyday, footballers are sexy again
This is a story about football and studs. Not the screw-in kind, mind, but a new breed of player. Until recently, footballers were the country cousins of pop culture, destined to have bad hair, worse clothes, and nothing to say for themselves except possibly that they were over the moon. But these new studs are slick and smart. Guys want to look like them because girls want to shag them. For the first time since Georgie Best's heyday, footballers are sexy again.

It started in September when Arena Homme Plus featured Liverpool goalie David James on its cover, complete with peroxide crop. Inside were more photos of this beautiful black athlete, and 1,200 words about life between the posts. But that was just the beginning: James's poise in front of the camera so impressed designer Giorgio Armani that he signed the pounds 6 million-rated, six-foot-five hunk - to model his new collection.

Two months into the season, you can hardly open a style magazine without a pouting Premiership lovely gazing back at you. This month's Esquire, for example, has a topless Eric Cantona on its cover and - shades of Hello! magazine - an extensive interview with brother Joel. Further in, there is an eight-page fashion story modelled by Teddy Sheringham, Andy Cole, Les Ferdinand, Lee Sharpe, Stan Collymore, John Scales, Ian Walker and David Ginola. That's roughly pounds 50 million of footballing talent, give or take a Highbury-sized bung.

The language used tells you all about this transition. "Can the Ruud boy return Chelsea to their winning ways?" asks the latest issue of Arena (neatly sidestepping the fact that 33-year-old Ruud Gullit hardly qualifies as a "boy"). Then there's the December issue of Sky magazine, again paying homage to "nice balls" in the form of six-foot-three Collymore and the Adonis-like Ginola. It also features an exclusive article on the modelling industry's rush to sign these Golden Studs, as fashion clamours for football's glamour. Did you realise, for example, that the Top Man chain of clothes shops now only uses footballers to advertise its menswear?

If footballers are the new supermodels, then Roy Evans, manager of Liverpool, seems bent on turning his team into the Select agency of the Premiership. Just look at the babe magnets currently filling out a pair of scarlet shorts: as well as David James, there's baby-faced Jaimie Redknapp; the soulful, doleful features of Phill Babb; and John Scales, whose WASP-ish looks seem certain to land him a contract with Ralph Lauren.

And these boys aren't backward in coming forward, either: James, Babb and Redknapp are all on the books of London's Boss agency, while defender Scales is signed to Respect in Manchester. Indeed, such is the buzz surrounding the new Anfield aces that Collymore, Babb and Redknapp were recently filmed drinking champagne in Cream, Liverpool's top dance club, for Passengers - probably the hippest magazine show on terrestrial TV.

But while Collymore, the most expensive British footballer at pounds 8.5 million, has no problems getting into exclusive clubs, or finding space in Sky magazine, he still can't get into the Liverpool first team. Roy Evans and his Boot Room cohorts are blooding Colly in the reserves, making him understand that the team comes first, no matter how big your designer price tag.

Collymore's selection problems aside, not since the late Sixties have domestic footballers enjoyed such public approbation. This sudden switch owes much to the rise of New Lad culture, as epitomised by its tribal magazine, Loaded. Another influence is the Sixties revivalism, with its attendant class scrutiny, that permeates so much of today's fashion and pop music and has led, for the first time in years, to football and pop music becoming entwined again - only this time the players are more glamorous than the pop stars. Even Oasis, by far the country's best-selling band, feel obliged to admit they support Manchester City, currently the saddest team in Britain.

As you read this, Arena is planning its Christmas party, as which Newcastle's star midfielder David Ginola will be guest of honour. Ginola signed an exclusive modelling contract with Italian designer Nino Cerutti 18 months ago, while he was still playing for Paris St Germain. Perhaps, then, it's only a matter of time before a new type of talent scout starts turning out to watch junior teams play on Sunday mornings. The kind that takes Polaroids