Joan Smith: Tagging along behind a man is not a valid career

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If you're a footballer's wife or girlfriend, the worst thing that can happen to you is suddenly finding yourself outside the Wag club. That's the fate of Elen Rives, former partner of Chelsea and England star Frank Lampard, who revealed her anguish to journalists – never a good idea, but standard Wag operating procedure after a break-up – during a night out last week. With her black dress slipping down to expose a classic Wag cleavage, the "devastated" Spanish beau

ty described the father of her two daughters as "heartless" and accused him of already "seeing other girls". The player was so incensed that he called a radio phone-in on Friday, angrily denying that he was seeing anyone else or that he had treated his ex badly.

What's fascinating about Ms Rives's emotional outburst is what it says about the anachronistic world she inhabits. The Wag phenomenon isn't confined to Premiership footballers: South Africa's newly-elected president, 67-year-old Jacob Zuma, likes Wags so much that he's still finding new ones. He married the first in the 1970s and now she has to put up with being compared unfavourably with wife number four, a glamorous woman half his age; the leader of the supposedly progressive ANC is a boastful polygamist. Number four is tipped to be South Africa's First Lady – keep up at the back! - while number two, whom Zuma divorced, is currently South Africa's foreign affairs minister.

Wife number three was from Mozambique and committed suicide. There are conflicting reports about a fifth marriage in January but that's not counting the "fiancées", a modest three to date. I'm not sure how many children Zuma has (the figure cited most often is 18) but he hasn't struggled with the disadvantages of Fernando Lugo, 57, the former Roman Catholic bishop who gave up holy orders last year to become president of Paraguay.

You might think the so-called "bishop of the poor" was somewhat handicapped in the Wag stakes, but not a bit of it. Lugo cancelled a trip to Washington last week as a third woman claimed he had fathered a child with her while he was supposedly celibate.

He has admitted paternity in one case and has a young boy with the mother, a former parishioner who claims the bishop seduced her when she was 16. A second woman claims that the monsignor took advantage of her and has demanded DNA tests to prove that Lugo is the father of her six-year-old son. The third is so convinced of his paternity that she has called her 16-month-old son Juan Pablo after the late Pope John Paul II, Lugo's old boss. The president's ratings have fallen, but his behaviour hasn't been universally condemned in a country where displays of virility are widely admired. Nor do Zuma's voracious sexual appetite or his fatuous admission that he showered to avoid infection after sex with a woman who was HIV-positive seem to have deterred South African voters.

Why do so many women aspire to be Wags? If they're lucky, they get reflected glory from powerful men and a share of their lifestyle, but it lasts only as long as the relationship. Last week Ms Rives publicly lamented that she is "old" at 34 and "not like Coleen who is 23 with a great career". The poor woman is under the illusion that being a Wag is a career when it's exactly the opposite; giving up your independence to be with men who are rich, famous and often quite spoilt isn't a sensible choice for any modern woman. Oh, and I'd better just warn any aspiring Wags out there: when it comes to boyfriends, those bishops are the worst.

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