At first glance, the press would appear to be in love with the wives and girlfriends of the England team, judging by the number of photo stories about them. There's Carly out shopping, there's Michaela by the pool, there's Nancy being glamorous. Even the sight of Cheryl Tweedy twatting a jigaboo would only slightly detract from their overall loveliness.
But there's a dark subtext to the endless shots of the not-terribly-interesting Germanic adventures of Carly, Melanie, Michaela, et al, and it is 'Just look at these trashy, working-class spendthrifts!' Several papers took an interest in the shopping habits of the women, particularly a shopping trip by four of the women in Baden-Baden during which they managed to spend £1,000 apiece in the space of an hour on a rather predictable series of purchases: Gucci and Prada gear and a £500 pair of sunglasses each.
Of course, it's hardly news that lots of young women like shopping, and what does the press actually expect from the England team's partners? Pictures of Carly Zucker trawling round antiquarian bookshops to stock up on collectable editions of Goethe? But even so, there's something a bit depressing about the spectacle of the wives'n'girlfriends in Germany, and it's the fact that the England squad and their partners are basically what a large part of the population would like to be: shoppers with unlimited cash.
The shopping habits of the England partners in Germany aren't really that different to what you can see in any shopping centre on a Saturday, just with more money i.e. people reaching the point where shopping becomes simply pointless acquisition. Despite the disparity in actual spending, it's hard to imagine that Nancy Dell'Olio derives any more pleasure from her 500th pair of £1,000 boots than John and Jane Thickpenny derive from their 10th John Lewis table lamp.
It's worth noting that the frivolous and expensive shopping habits of the England ladies are dwarfed by those of their menfolk. David Beckham owns at least seven cars, including a custom-built Ferrari, a Porsche 911, a Range Rover, and a Jaguar. David must really like driving - which is odd, for those of us who find it merely boring. It's a passion he obviously intends to pass on to his progeny: he got his son Brooklyn a £22,000 Humvee car one Christmas.
It's not just Beckham with a passion for the open road. Wayne Rooney owns a variety of cars, including a a £50,000 Cadillac Escalade, a type of ginormous 4x4 beloved of US rap stars, a BMW X5 and other vehicles too numerous to list. Other England players, such as Rio Ferdinand, are similar in their sheer volume of top-range car shopping, but you've got to wonder what the point of it is, considering most people can get all the driving thrills they need by occasionally overtaking at 90mph on the motorway.
If anything, we should pity, not admire, our England team and its wives and girlfriends. Most of us can find stuff to do if we're at a loose end. Whether constructive (start writing the novel *this time*) or trivially amusing (tying a bunch of rubber bands together and having a tug-of-war with the cat - no, really, try it) but never just going out and buying a load more overpriced irrelevant crap.
With the England team, it's the sheer unimaginativeness of it all. Got £1,500 spare? Buy another Gucci bag. Got £250,000 to spare? Well, I suppose another Lamborghini Countach might be handy. You don't have to be a hardcore anti-materialist to realise that spending money in this way doesn't actually purchase happiness.
And considering the amounts of cash you can get for playing in a (frankly lacklustre) national football team, most of us could have sooooooooo much fun with footballers' salaries. You could do something worthwhile for charity, of course, but what would be much more fun would simply be to splash cash on amusing whims. A few suggestions:
* Hire a Sloaney PA for every homeless person, ensuring, at worst, swifter access to alcohol/crack/support services, and, at best, someone to pass on their novel about life on the street to a friend at Simon & Schuster;
* Turn every horrible 'Cash Converters' pawn shop in the UK into a place where people can turn up and just be given £2,000 on the spot to solve their personal debts.
* Give beleaguered OAPs who are constantly humiliated by having to trundle along at 3mph on their disabled scooters a 150 metre high, 'Steel Legions'-style robot carapace. With lasers.
Would you ever get bored? Unlikely. Meanwhile the empty Bentley Coupes of Beckham and friends mount up in the spare garage, unused but regularly polished. Bloody wealth. It's wasted on the rich.