Rhiannon Harries: South Africa won't be fun without Posh et al to set tongues wagging

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His players may not yet have set foot on a South African pitch, but England manager Fabio Capello (see How We Met, page 54) has already proved himself quite the tactician. Since his initial "WAGs Not Wanted" World Cup policy met with defiance, Fab switched to classic reverse psychology: "All right gals, if you want to sit in a hotel room in rainy Rustenburg..." A few are said to be planning to fly out should England reach the final, but let's just say they're not dusting off the Louis Vuitton trunks quite yet.

Besides the nifty strategising, Capello's decision to go easy on a group of women he only recently referred to as a "virus" marks a softening in attitudes more generally. After a heady ascent to the top of the trash-mag pile, the WAGs have been absorbing a slow-mo backlash ever since Baden-Baden, when they put the boys off their game with all that over-accessorising.

Back on home turf, they have been held responsible for every social ill going – mindless consumerism, binge drinking, the sexualisation of young girls. "Terrible role models!", commentators howled, to the extent you'd be forgiven for believing that women from across the country have been refusing university places and Cabinet seats in favour of lolling artfully on the banquettes at Whisky Mist in the hope of snagging a Premiership player.

Now, the mood has shifted again and there's a little more love going around. Partly this is due to the shabby behaviour of the WAGs' spouses – Ashley Cole did a great job of turning Cheryl into a latter-day saint. But the WAGs have had to toe the line themselves.

Mrs Beckham threw herself into her range of demure frocks and miraculously emerged with a smidgen of credibility, and most WAGs have toned down the Tango tan and porn-star chic. Coleen Rooney is now regularly snapped in ultra-sophisticated Parisian label Lanvin (pictured) and, as one fashion journalist noted meaningfully, some of them even wear trousers now.

Last week, for a BBC documentary, a group of WAGs visited South Africa to highlight the poverty the festivities will obscure. A worthy gesture – but I suspect, like the posh frocks, partly motivated by the wish to be taken seriously.

But the only problem the WAGs have ever had is being taken far too seriously – as symbols of our epoch, symptom of this or cause of that. Treated as a frothy sideshow for people not that interested in the game, they – like their Ronseal tans – did what they said on the tin. Now, most of them have bowed to pressure and Pygmalion-ed themselves. My World Cup will be all the poorer. Still, we'll always have Baden-Baden, I suppose.

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