Sunday, February 25, 2024

Life as a WAG is not all it’s cracked up to be: From the stress of the Premier League, the ’emotional rollercoaster’ of moving abroad and highs and lows of living in Saudi Arabia, wives reveal what it’s REALLY like to be with a top-level footballer

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From luxury holidays and VIP experiences galore to almost unlimited spending power – the life of a WAG might seem like the stuff of dreams. Yet it’s not all it’s cracked up to be… 

That’s at least according to the partners of three top footballers, who have described some of the difficulties that comes with the role – from the stress of matches and the ’emotional rollercoaster’ of moving abroad to having to let their own careers take a back seat. 

Taylor Ward, the husband of Riyad Mahrez, is one of the stars of Married To The Game, a show that focuses on the lives of footballer’s wives and will stream on Prime Video from February.

She appears on the series alongside fellow WAGs Cat Harding, fiancee of Arsenal star Jorginho and Sara Gundogan, wife of Manchester City’s midfielder Ilkay Gundogan

In advance of the documentary, all three spoke to MailOnline to offer an exclusive insight into their lives – from the highs to the lows. Here is what they revealed – 

TAYLOR WARD: ‘People misunderstood my husband Riyad Mahrez’ blunt ”it’s part of the game, innit” comment after he revealed we were moving to Saudi

Taylor Ward defended her husband Riyad Mahrez after he faced backlash for telling his sobbing wife ‘it’s part of the game, innit’ while revealing a move to Saudi Arabia.  

Ward, 25, said people have ‘misunderstood’ the French-Algerian footballer’s tone as he told her about the move from Cheshire to Jeddah in an emotional clip that went viral. 

Setting the record straight, she admitted his response to her being upset was blunt – but said that was down to French people being more ‘to the point’. 

The footballer, who captains the Algerian national team, had been playing for Man City but telephoned her to say he had signed a four year contract with Al-Ahli in the Saudi Arabian pro league. 

Weeping as she recalls the moment in Married To The Game, she tells the Mail: ‘Riyad rang me and basically told me we are moving to Saudi. I’m going to be sat at home on my own.’

Taylor Ward, 25, broke down in tears as she revealed her husband Riyad Mahrez, 32, told her over the phone they were moving to Saudi Arabia

The couple made the move to Saudi Arabia after he finalised a lucrative contract with Saudi Arabian football club Al Ahli

The couple made the move to Saudi Arabia after he finalised a lucrative contract with Saudi Arabian football club Al Ahli

The new six-part series will also follow Taylor as she plans her wedding to her husband (pictured at their second wedding in September) as they reportedly plan to have three in total

The new six-part series will also follow Taylor as she plans her wedding to her husband (pictured at their second wedding in September) as they reportedly plan to have three in total 

Ward has now said: ‘I was shocked that people picked up on that so much. ‘It’s funny because obviously from watching the trailer he has such a blunt response to me being upset but I think that’s our relationship. 

‘He is very blunt – a bit tough love. Riyad is French and French people in general are very to the point. Also he is a man. I think he’s only cried in front of me twice in our relationship and it was not the Saudi move – so that’s just who he is.’

She added: ‘Riyad is very calm, he doesn’t panic under pressure and he’s very to the point and straight talking whereas I’m a bit of a flapper in those situations.

‘I actually think as harsh as it sounds I think that’s why we work because he kind of brings me back down to earth. He’s very much like: ‘It is what it is you need to get on with it.’

‘If I had someone there consoling me patting my back saying ‘oh I know life’s so sad you are moving to Saudi’ I would probably feel worse.

‘We are just married and he is so supportive. Obviously as much as he is straightforward and to the point he is the most loving person ever. 

‘If I was really upset about the Saudi move or if I was really genuinely depressed and upset about it he wouldn’t put us in a position where I would feel like that.

‘I think he just knew it was kind of me panicking in the moment and having a wobbly and that I would be fine the next day. He knows how to deal with me that’s for sure.’

Taylor, Riyad, and the couple's daughter Mila were forced to wave goodbye to their life in Cheshire back in July

Taylor, Riyad, and the couple’s daughter Mila were forced to wave goodbye to their life in Cheshire back in July 

The couple share daughter Mila, 18 months

The couple share daughter Mila, 18 months  

Taylor and daughter Mila have this week flown out to Jeddah to make their move permanent after spending months house-hunting and moving back and forth between Saudi and the UK. 

She said: ‘Originally when I said: ‘If we move we will all be moving together’ I wasn’t thinking that it would be as far as Saudi Arabia. I was thinking maybe down south to London or something like that.

‘Riyad had to go over straight away so we moved into a hotel. It took us a few months to find a house which we have found now.’

She said their house is ‘gorgeous’ and that the main problem they had when house hunting was that some of the houses in Saudi Arabia were like ‘palaces’.  

‘Honestly we were walking around them and I was like: ”I don’t know what we are going to put in these rooms, we are running out of ideas. We can’t live here! This is getting ridiculous. How many rooms there are?”

‘They were genuinely too big. I think we have found something now which is really nice. It’s still really spacious but we are not going to be getting lost on different floors trying to find each other.’

Opening up to the former Manchester City player, 32, Taylor said: 'I'm going to be sat at home on my own,' as Riyad responded: 'It's part of the game innit'

Opening up to the former Manchester City player, 32, Taylor said: ‘I’m going to be sat at home on my own,’ as Riyad responded: ‘It’s part of the game innit’

Ward said the move came as a ‘huge shock’ that she didn’t see coming. She said she has a close group of friends and family in Manchester – though her parents and two sisters live in Dubai. 

‘Recently every time I’ve been in Saudi my mum will turn up as it’s only two hours away,’ she told. 

‘My mum is interior designing our house in Saudi so she has been back and forth non stop and she loves it.

‘She and Riyad get on like a house on fire from the day they met and I think he actually speaks to my mum and dad (former footballer Ashley Ward) than he does to me.

‘Me and Riyad met not long before lockdown and around a week after he first met my parents we went into lockdown and he ended up moving in with me and my family, so from day one they have been inseparable.’

‘We always said that if a move comes up and it’s best for Riyad and best for our family we will take it and go together. A football career is such a short period of time that you just have to make the most of it whilst it lasts.’ 

As for life when he retires – she says that they are thinking of a move to Dubai.

Arsenal WAG Cat Harding avoids her fiancé Jorginho for 24 hours after a defeat and says her life revolves around his schedule.

The mother-of-two, 33, told MailOnline she isn’t a big fan of football and doesn’t know the offside rule – only agreeing to watch the sport when her 32-year-old husband to be is playing. 

In an exclusive interview, the singer gave an insight into being the spouse of a sportsman, saying there’s ‘no way’ she can talk to Jorginho when he loses a game and they even have to postpone dinner plans because of his low mood. 

The Italian midfielder, who earns a reported £110,000 a week, proposed to Cat in December with a love heart rose display and violinist that was captured on camera for the upcoming TV show.  

And now the former Voice UK contestant is planning their elaborate wedding set to be held in Italy, excitedly revealing she has already chosen her dream dress. 

Arsenal WAG Cat Harding avoids fiancé Jorginho for 24 hours after a defeat and says her life revolves around his schedule as she reveals the downsides of dating a footballer

Arsenal WAG Cat Harding avoids fiancé Jorginho for 24 hours after a defeat and says her life revolves around his schedule as she reveals the downsides of dating a footballer

The mother-of-two told MailOnline she isn't a big fan of football and doesn't know the offside rule

The mother-of-two told MailOnline she isn’t a big fan of football and doesn’t know the offside rule

Jorginho, who earns a reported £110,000 a week, proposed to Cat in December with a love heart rose display and violinist that was captured on camera for the upcoming TV show

Jorginho, who earns a reported £110,000 a week, proposed to Cat in December with a love heart rose display and violinist that was captured on camera for the upcoming TV show 

Cat said: ‘I do feel like I am married to the game.

‘It changes a lot of things… your whole life revolves around the schedule of your partner but to another level because it’s not a normal schedule where you can plan. Everything has to be planned around what’s going on with them.

‘You can’t plan anything in advance unless it is in June. I am planning my wedding for next summer because J could possibly be in the Euros this year again so it will be next year. 

‘Even certain things like we have often had dinner planned with friends and if they lose a game, we have to cancel and I feel the worst but there’s no way you can go out with someone… after J has finished a game and they lost, there is no way I can talk to him for 24 hours. He is not in the mood.’

Cat, who is a mum to daughter Ada, eight, from her relationship with Hollywood actor Jude Law, 51, and shares son Jax, three, with Jorginho, says she didn’t win over her fiancé by pretending to like football.

In fact, Cat has only recently learned there are 11 players in a team and admits the rules of the game are still a mystery to her.

She said: ‘I am not crazy into football and I have never pretended that I am. I don’t know anything about it.

‘I love going to the games because it is a completely different atmosphere and it is different when you are at the game, you can feel the energy in the stadium, compared to when you are watching it at home.

In an exclusive interview, the singer gave an insight into being the spouse of a sportsman, saying there's 'no way' she can talk to Jorginho when he loses a game

In an exclusive interview, the singer gave an insight into being the spouse of a sportsman, saying there’s ‘no way’ she can talk to Jorginho when he loses a game 

Cat, who is a mum to daughter Ada from her relationship with Hollywood actor Jude Law, and shares son Jax with Jorginho, is planning their elaborate wedding set to be held in Italy

Cat, who is a mum to daughter Ada from her relationship with Hollywood actor Jude Law, and shares son Jax with Jorginho, is planning their elaborate wedding set to be held in Italy

Married to the Game viewers will have the chance to watch the Euro 2022 winner's romantic proposal, which Cat says has earned Jorginho bragging rights amongst his teammates

Married to the Game viewers will have the chance to watch the Euro 2022 winner’s romantic proposal, which Cat says has earned Jorginho bragging rights amongst his teammates

‘I don’t watch football other than when he is playing. I don’t know any of the rules, I don’t know the offside rule, I don’t know anything… he tries to explain it to me. I honestly just learned there are 11 players.’

Shortly after their engagement, the couple, who originally met on a dating app, moved into a new home in London’s West Hampstead to be closer to Ada’s school and Jorginho’s training ground. 

Despite a hectic start to the year, Cat has already found her wedding dress and is planning to scope out venues in Italy ahead of their big day in the summer of 2025. 

She said: ‘We got engaged on December 6 so right before Christmas.

‘We had family over from Brazil afterwards, we had the kids here, we were so busy and then it was Christmas, then we went away and since we got back, we moved house.

‘But I did say to J last night I think I’m going to go to Italy next month and start looking at venues.

‘I think I have found my wedding dress but it is the second dress I have tried on so I probably need to go to some other shops.’

Cat hopes viewers will see there's more to the wives and girlfriends of Premier League players than luxury holidays, beautifying and designer bags, as she labels 'WAG' a 'stupid term

Cat hopes viewers will see there’s more to the wives and girlfriends of Premier League players than luxury holidays, beautifying and designer bags, as she labels ‘WAG’ a ‘stupid term

Jorginho’s commitment to the game, which has seen him win UEFA men’s player of the year, means he is often apart from his family.

The father-of-three, who also has a son and a daughter from his first marriage to Natalia Leteri, explained the biggest sacrifices are the special moments he misses with his children.

Speaking on the show, he said: ‘Everyone thinks football is happy and you have no problems, but we sacrifice a lot.

‘The biggest one is being away all the time and not being close and missing many important moments… the kids growing up… it’s not as easy as people think and that’s the reality.’

Married to the Game viewers will have the chance to watch the Euro 2022 winner’s romantic proposal, which Cat says has earned Jorginho bragging rights amongst his teammates. 

But making a TV moment of the intimate occasion wasn’t Jorginho’s intention as Cat reveals he’s shy off the pitch and as a performer she’s more outgoing in their relationship.

Cat joins fellow WAGs Taylor Ward, who's married to Riyad Mahrez and Sara Gundogan, wife of Manchester City's midfielder Ilkay Gundogan on the series

Cat joins fellow WAGs Taylor Ward, who’s married to Riyad Mahrez and Sara Gundogan, wife of Manchester City’s midfielder Ilkay Gundogan on the series

She said: ‘J didn’t want to propose on camera, that’s one thing he wanted to hold back on.

‘He’s actually a lot shyer than me especially when he doesn’t know someone. He really takes time to analyse a situation and know what’s going on, he’s not very forward at first.

‘But it felt absolutely amazing. I was expecting it but how he managed to trick me in the moment, it was a whole other thing. He put in so much work and he went above and beyond to make it special. He is quite something.

‘He is now giving tips to other players and friends about how to do proposals.’

Cat hopes watchers will see there’s more to the wives and girlfriends of Premier League players than luxury holidays, beautifying and designer bags, as she labels ‘WAG’ a ‘stupid term.’

She said: ‘It is still used so much. It doesn’t affect me that much, I laugh at it.

‘I don’t like it or think it’s right. We have our own lives and do our own things, other wives and partners of the players are really successful women in their own right so I don’t think it should be a term that is used to label them.

‘But for me personally, I just let it go… it doesn’t affect my life or how I feel about myself it’s just a stupid term.’

SARA GUNDOGAN: ‘I now MISS Manchester despite slamming the ”horrible food” – and struggle with having my achievements reduced to ”zero”’

Sara Gundogan has revealed she misses living in Manchester despite her previous criticism of the city’s ‘horrible’ food.

Gundogan, previously Sara Arfaoui, started dating former Man City star Ilkay Gundogan in 2021 before they tied the knot a year later. They have one son together, Kais, who was born in March 2023.

Sara was a highly-successful TV presenter and model before meeting Ilkay, with the couple relocating to Barcelona this summer after the midfielder joined the Catalan giants upon the expiry of his contract at the Etihad.

He enjoyed a hugely decorated seven-year spell with City, winning 14 trophies, which included captaining Pep Guardiola‘s side to a historic Treble last season.

Sara Gundogan has revealed she misses Manchester despite previously criticising the city

Sara Gundogan has revealed she misses Manchester despite previously criticising the city

Gundogan was by her husband's side for his hugely decorated seven-year spell at the club

Gundogan was by her husband’s side for his hugely decorated seven-year spell at the club

However, things were sometimes tricky off the pitch, with Sara infamously criticising Manchester on occasions, which included one rant about the quality of the food in October 2022.

She posted on her Instagram story: ‘Sorry, I’m sad to be honest but nothing. I tried [sic] so bad to find a good restaurant but horrible food everywhere.

‘Can’t find a real Italian or good sushi or just fresh food… everything frozen. Restaurants here are focus [sic] on making money with drinks and shot [sic] like nightclubs, not quality food. Maybe in London but in Manchester nothing. I’m sorry.’

However, speaking exclusively to Mail Sport, Sara revealed that she grew to love Manchester and actually found it hard to leave in the summer. 

‘When I was in Manchester, my whole life was (originally) around football,’ she said. ‘My friends were football, the people I met through my husband, and then I didn’t have anything that was just my world outside of that. 

‘And I’m a social person. So it took me a bit of time, but I made it friends and it was really nice.

‘After making friends, I was really happy. I had my own life and routine in Manchester and I have one of my best friends there.’ 

Sara infamously said in an Instagram post that she was fed up of 'horrible food' in Manchester

Sara infamously said in an Instagram post that she was fed up of ‘horrible food’ in Manchester

Sara revealed that after a tricky bedding in period, she grew to love her time in Manchester

Sara revealed that after a tricky bedding in period, she grew to love her time in Manchester

When she was told Ilkay would join Barcelona, Sara said she found it tough to leave the city

When she was told Ilkay would join Barcelona, Sara said she found it tough to leave the city

There were several rumours about Ilkay’s future in the summer, with the midfielder linked with clubs across the globe, while there was also a chance he would stay at City.

And Sara went onto explain the difficulty of leaving Manchester behind after finding out her husband would be moving abroad.

She added: ‘Over the years I would see friends moving so it’s something that’s always around in football and you would suddenly just have a phone call from them telling you they’re going to another country.

‘So, it’s always around, it’s always happening but I didn’t imagine that it would be us and when it’s you it’s big a shock.

‘It’s always sad, especially because you make friends, you’re happy somewhere, you build your life and then you have to leave all the people you love.’

Sara also reflected on her initial struggles in Manchester and explained how sticking with things ultimately paid off.

She added : ‘I think it’s really hard to live in England when you are alone in the house and you can’t meet anyone.

‘But when you start to know a bit more about it, how to go around and have friends, I think the place changes completely and you can enjoy it. 

‘I started to enjoy everything and I kind of miss Manchester now.’

Gundogan previously had a highly-successful career in TV back in Italy, where she grew up

Gundogan previously had a highly-successful career in TV back in Italy, where she grew up

Sara also worked as a model, but revealed how these achievements became 'zero' when she married Ilkay, with the 28-year-old subsequently just known as the football star's wife

Sara also worked as a model, but revealed how these achievements became ‘zero’ when she married Ilkay, with the 28-year-old subsequently just known as the football star’s wife

Sara went on to list some of the challenges of being a WAG, including letting her own career take a back seat.  

‘As a wife sometimes you are on the side,’ she exclusively told Mail Sport. ‘But it was hard because despite my work as a TV presenter, the fact I speak six languages and travelled the world as a model, when I was him, everything I did, suddenly it became zero and I just became his wife.

‘The people knew me before as a media star but when I became a wife, there is the tendency of the press to show wives of players in a certain way and it’s like we have to fit this cliche.

‘I lost a bit my spontaneity, my way of speaking without thinking. So yeah, it’s a bit hard, because you have to also rebuild yourself and find your own identity.

‘It’s kind of sad because there is no other sport, there is nothing similar, say in cinema or politics, that will describe a wife of an important politician that way.’

Sara also admitted she was ‘shocked’ at her husband’s move to Barcelona and didn’t initially believe the rumours.  

Sara revealed she told her husband to follow his dreams when asked for advice on the move

Sara revealed she told her husband to follow his dreams when asked for advice on the move

‘I didn’t really believe those (rumours about joining Barcelona),’ she said. ‘Every summer and January, in every transfer market people would always come to me with rumours. 

‘Some people even used to text me to say ‘you’re coming to Italy?’ and I was never taking anything seriously. 

‘I had friends texting me saying I was coming back, and I was like, ‘no’. It just happened. And the funny fact is that I didn’t take it seriously. 

‘I was like, no it cannot be because my husband is many years here in Manchester and I don’t see this happening.

She continued: ‘I was in Italy, it was holiday time. It was my first holiday with my baby and I went to meet all my friends. So I was a bit in my bubble, let’s say baby bubble.

‘And I just got a phone call and it was like ‘we are going there’. I wasn’t taking it seriously. I don’t know if it was a shock. So it took me a bit of time to realise what was happening.’

  • Prime Video’s UK Original Documentary Series, Married to The Game, launching on Friday 23rd January 

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