The battle of Sven and Nancy

In the scramble to determine who dumped whom, the England football manager and his partner have rallied teams of supporters. Katy Guest charts a very public breakup
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The Independent Online

He slammed the door of their £2m home in Regent's Park at 2:20pm on Tuesday. She immediately called in the hairdresser and the masseuse. He took only his overnight bag. She took delivery of an outfit from Donna Karan. He flew home to his parents. She went for supper with the Prince of Wales. And war was officially declared. But battle lines were drawn between Sven and Nancy long, long before Tuesday afternoon, and their armies started amassing much further back than last week.

He slammed the door of their £2m home in Regent's Park at 2:20pm on Tuesday. She immediately called in the hairdresser and the masseuse. He took only his overnight bag. She took delivery of an outfit from Donna Karan. He flew home to his parents. She went for supper with the Prince of Wales. And war was officially declared. But battle lines were drawn between Sven and Nancy long, long before Tuesday afternoon, and their armies started amassing much further back than last week.

All this week the he-said/she-said battle has played itself out in the tabloids, with "friends" of the couple trooping grimly up to the front line bearing increasingly heavy weaponry. It officially started on Sunday with a typically on-the-nose tip-off about Sven and a "mystery blonde". On Monday, most papers scoffed at the claim, reporting Sven denying the story and friends of an unconcerned Nancy laughing it off.

By Tuesday it was a different matter. "Devastated Nancy" had flown home for a "furious showdown" in an attempt to salvage her relationship with "love-rat" Sven (said "sources close to" the pair). "Crunch talks", the papers informed us, were under way. "He has asked for a trial separation but she has refused."

On Wednesday, however, Nancy had apparently "grown tired of the arguments" and finally "seen the light". "He wasn't man enough for a woman like Nancy," said one paper after tip-offs from the Dell'Olio camp, adding in sisterly fashion: "Newly single Sven Goran Eriksson doesn't exactly look as though he's a big smorgasbord of high jinks and unbridled passion. In fact, the balding, bespectacled Swede resembles a bank manager in suburban Stockholm." "Friends" claimed that "Nancy hasn't been happy for months" and was finally reclaiming her life after angrily dumping the "scumbag". Only one paper was ahead of the game, prophetically announcing that Sven's alleged affair was "all the fault of Nancy Dell'Olio".

But things changed rapidly after his "friends" belatedly stepped in. "I gave HER the elbow", leaked a suddenly masterful Sven. Male commentators expounded knowledgeably about how he'd obviously been trying to get rid of his "embarrassing" girlfriend for "months". The Daily Mail turned its attention to Nancy's plans to get her grubby Italian paws on Sven's money. The formerly sisterly Daily Mirror wheeled out Sven's ex-girlfriend, the fabulously catty Graziella Mancinelli, who called Nancy "vulgar" and "ambitious" and announced, having not seen either of them for six years, that "Sven and Nancy were only together for the sake of appearances; I knew after six months of them being together there was no future".

While all this has been going on, the couple's central command of PR managers, spokespeople and agents has officially maintained a dignified silence. "In the immediate future, everything is continuing as normal," said Dell'Olio's PR, Julia Constantini, yesterday. "We're continuing with all our plans for [Goran Eriksson and Dell'Olio's charity] Truce International. We're making no further comment." It is lucky for the press that legions of "friends" have shown no such restraint.

All this to-ing and fro-ing across the tabloids has resembled two evenly-matched sumo wrestlers throwing each other sweatily around a very small mat - and has shown about as much dignity. But the pushing and shoving is nothing new for the volatile couple. Since the day they first played footsie under a table at a Lazio team function on the Via Veneto in Rome, Sven and Nancy's relationship has been one long game of manipulating the press.

It has not been easy. When they reputedly fell in love at first sight in 1998, he was the golden-boy, new coach at Lazio; she was the saucy young wife of Giancarlo Mazza, a major shareholder in the team. Nancy had already committed the cardinal sin of being richer, better educated and more of a peacock than most of the men around her. She had a Masters in Law, a successful property law practice and a dazzling designer wardrobe. She had dabbled in politics, helping out with Silvio Berlusconi's 1994 campaign. And she was smart enough to know that ditching her butch Italian husband for a softly-spoken Swede would not endear her to her countrymen. Her next move was a masterstroke. She announced to a stunned public: "My Sven is anything but a Swede. He seems a Sicilian. He's mega-jealous", and arranged for him to take her husband out to lunch and bravely break the news of their affair. Italians cheered the conquering hero and his blushing conquest. "A relationship of this kind is a major undertaking," she explained. "I will do everything I can to defend it." Within months, Nancy was the darling of the Italian press. "Her caresses have succeeded in melting the heart of the icy magician of football," proclaimed Il Messaggero. "If Lazio continues to win, the fans will build a monument to Nancy. Sven, since falling in love, communicates even better with his players."

As long as Lazio's luck held, so did Nancy's popularity - and her relationship. She went to every match, drinking a glass of champagne before each "to calm her nerves". He took to "dedicating" goals to his beloved in the crowd, like a bullfighter does his kill. The fans nicknamed her " La Dama Nera" and said she was a lucky charm. The more she racked up the designer labels and trowelled on the mascara, the more they loved her. And then the couple moved to London.

The British were never going to approve of Nancy. We understood Sven and his legendary Scandinavian reserve; but when he stepped off the plane with a shrieking, orange-faced fashion victim in tow, we were horrified. Everything Nancy said and did, from her shiny, pink lipgloss to her "I give myself 11 out of 10 for looks", was embarrassingly and glaringly unBritish. You just don't go to a No 10 reception in a plunging red catsuit. You just don't tell women's magazines you never have fat days, and expect not to be publicly eviscerated. "Like many Italian women, she is not inhibited by a political correctness which torments many British women," said a friend of Nancy's with a gift for understatement.

In Britain, Sven's fortunes have risen and fallen in direct correlation to his success as a football manager. He takes England to the quarter final of the World Cup and is a hero. He emerges sheepishly from meeting another team owner and is almost hanged as a traitor. He confirms he is staying on as the England manager and his salary is doubled. But Nancy has been less fortunate.

As the wronged partner, she could reasonably have expected a bit of sympathy when Sven's alleged affair with television personality Ulrika Jonsson was smeared across the headlines. But she miscalculated the public mood. Had she wept brokenly all over the tabloids, we might have softened. Had she delivered a steaming pile of manure to his office, as Rachel Royce did to Rod Liddle the week before last, we could have been persuaded she was one of us. But instead, Nancy was icy-cool. "Sven and I are far too busy to read newspapers," she sneered about Ulrika's comments. "Who are we talking about again? I don't even know this woman. She is obviously jealous."

Ostensibly, Nancy kept her man, but, ever since, the pair have been quietly amassing their forces in preparation for the real battle. On her side she has signed up a PR manager, Julia Constantini, and a celebrity agent, Simon Astaire, who also represents Princess Michael of Kent. On his, Sven has the quiet backing of the Football Association, who issued a legal warning to the press this week. He is also backed up by his supposed conquest, the FA secretary Faria Alam, who has been insisting, with something a little too much like transparent disgust, that she never went near him. For the past few weeks, Nancy has been talking betrayal with Victoria Beckham. Sven has had man-to-man chats with Roman Abramovich. The troops were clearly beginning to gather.

This week, while Nancy's court of masseuses and hairdressers and designer shops rallied round ("She's great. She's wonderful," beamed her "top hairdresser" John Hilliard), Sven beat a tactical retreat to Stockholm, where his parents have been his spokespeople. "He is old enough to look after himself," announced his father, somewhat counterintuitively. "What he wants right now is to be left alone." Nancy's mother Antonia, meanwhile, shot herself in the foot. "We think they've been made up - at least we hope so," she beamed on Thursday. "I've spoken to Nancy today and she seemed fine. She didn't mention anything about splitting up from Sven."

But that evening, Nancy wheeled out the big guns. Dressed in an uncharacteristically understated "rust-coloured long skirt" and with a what-can-you-do shrug at the assembled photographers, she tripped off to Gloucestershire and spent an evening with Prince Charles at a private dinner for supporters of the Red Cross. As back-up goes, the heir to the throne and an international charity pack a hefty punch. Back to the drawing board, Sven.

As Nancy chalks up week one to her team, Swedish curses are no doubt reverberating around Stockholm, where Sven is already removing Nancy's furniture form his mansion and replacing it with "tasteful" antiques. But week two is about to begin, and there is some heavy artillery still in reserve. Nancy is reportedly considering a £1.5m offer from Sven to buy her silence, but her publicists have apparently had bids of £1m plus for various "media appearances".

But the killer blow could be her secret diary for which pundits have said she could receive up to £2m. A few-kiss-and-tell stories might blow a hole in Sven's defences, but a tell-all autobiography could really wound him. Particularly since the diaries are said to contain new details of David Beckham's alleged affair, Sven's opinion on England footballers and the truth about that fling with Ulrika.

Make no mistake, this stand-off is temporary. The battle of Sven and Nancy has only just begun.