It could be a picture of any happy family having fun in the holiday sun. Look a little closer, though, and it becomes so much more: a carefully choreographed and pre-packaged confection, sealed and shipped to meet a schedule agreed in backroom deals. Yesterday the snaps hit the front pages of almost every newspaper. By this morning, the deposed England captain John Terry's well-rehearsed marital troubles are fading fast from public consciousness, leaving behind just a hint of nasty aftertaste and the nagging feeling that we've all been had.
We should have been on our mettle last Monday, when Toni Terry chose to tell her story through her T-shirt. "I love the chaos," she said in sky-blue sequins woven across her chest. This was followed up with: "I hate the confusion," across her back. We know what her T-shirt said because of the ranks of photographers arranged around her "£300-per-night" hotel, who have drip-fed us every detail – including this weekend's poolside smooching with Terry – since she touched down in Dubai two weeks ago.
Monday's pictures heralded the start of another busy week for the army of PR firefighters, spin doctors and picture agencies who thrive on the "chaos" that surrounds the charmed but charmless lives of a portion of the Premier League. Last week's deluge essayed sex-texts, stag weeks, infidelity, lavish hotels, money, violence and forgiveness. In the PR war, truth was a casualty more than once.
Terry had borne the brunt of the previous week's frenzy, with the threat that his lover, Vanessa Perroncel, would sell her story to the Sundays taking up most of his time, and, in the event, much of his bank balance. So it was in the team spirit of the beautiful game that, in the past few days, his colleagues Ashley Cole, Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Bridge and Wayne Rooney took some of the heat by occupying a few headlines with their own foibles.
Ashley Cole played out of his skin, relegating Terry to old news when The Sun splashed a story about "X-rated images" of the married defender being sent to a busty glamour model. Now what was Ashley up to, pinging pictures of himself "in all his glory" to 28-year-old Sonia Wild, only days after the Terry scandal? Well, he wasn't. At least, he wasn't last week, and it wasn't him who sent them, or so we were asked to believe. According to Cole, the pictures were taken last June on an unregistered pay-as-you-go phone, which he lent to a mate who lent it on to somebody else, which is how the pics emerged. Got that?
All very fishy, not least the timing. How did this red-hot story, which has left Ashley's wife, Cheryl, ashen-faced, and been a major new blow to the red-faced Football Association, stay under wraps for eight months, only to emerge last week? When the Perroncel scandal broke, the England manager, Fabio Capello, feared further sex revelations about John Terry; he hadn't imagined sleazy stories about other major players in his team.
But footballers aren't only interested in sex: there's money too. Take Rooney, who has barely had time to send Coleen a text, picture or otherwise, appearing in court to fight a multimillion-pound lawsuit brought by his former agents, Proactive, who say the Man Utd striker breached his contract when he took his custom away. They are demanding £4.3m in commission they say is owed to them, which, even if you do earn £90,000 per week, is worth a few days in court to fight against. Not the juiciest story for the tabs, so it was just as well Coleen took their three-month-old son, Kai, on an outing to Old Trafford, giving The Sun a picture exclusive for Wednesday.
Money, not sex, has been Wayne Bridge's main preoccupation too, since the aggrieved Man City player hit on the idea of asking a court to reduce the amount of maintenance he must pay his ex-girlfriend because she is now allegedly considerably richer than she was. If reports that John Terry paid her £800,000 to keep quiet are true – and Max Clifford told the Evening Standard they are not – he may have saved Bridge a fair whack in maintenance. We'll soon find out, as Perroncel will be asked to declare the details of her income publicly in court, unless she can obtain a privacy order first.
Now Rio Ferdinand (or should that be especially Rio Ferdinand?) is getting his share of controversial coverage, having assumed the role of England figurehead after replacing Terry as captain. His tabloid shame came yesterday with claims by an Israeli model that she enjoyed a dalliance with him during his stag week last June. Newspapers were being offered 22-year-old Tslil Sela's account of what happened for about £20,000. Questions about Ferdinand's supposedly shiny image were already being asked over his three-match ban, imposed by the FA after he elbowed Craig Fagan in the face during Man Utd's 4-0 victory over Hull City last month.
Terry must have been relieved to get away to Dubai. His sex life is all-too-public knowledge, his financial affairs a mess, and this Valentine's Day he's busy fixing his marriage. But happily, for him and thanks to some adept picture placement, his value as a media commodity is receding fast. A much trailed interview in yesterday's Times turned out to have taken place before the scandal broke. Its choicest revelation? That Terry's wife thinks he watches too much football?
Oh yes, football. A world away from the doings of Terry, Cole, Ferdinand, Bridge, Premier League fans pay their money loyally. In the real world, yesterday, a shamefully mishandled Portsmouth side fought for a scrap of pride ahead of a court case this week that could see the club close.