Model, Agent, Wife, Mother, Firebrand: The Many Faces of Wanda NaraSeptember 12, 2019
It was probably about time something positive came out of Boulogne-sur-Mer for Paris Saint-Germain.
The fishing port on France's northern coast was the birthplace of Jean-Pierre Papin, the explosive striker who was the scourge of PSG during his time at Marseille in the late 1980s and early '90s. Franck Ribery, another Boulogne native, also tormented PSG while wearing the white shirt of Marseille.
This summer, a child of Boulogne finally smiled on the club from the French capital. Albeit in this case, it was the Boulogne Sur Mer in Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, rather than the one three hours up the road in Pas-de-Calais.
Wanda Nara, one of the most high-profile women in football, was born in Boulogne Sur Mer, and it was with her cooperation that PSG pulled off the sensational loan signing of her husband (and client) Mauro Icardi from Inter Milan on transfer deadline day.
Leonardo, PSG's sporting director, may have declared recently that the French champions did not intend to have a "bling-bling season," but that was before Nara and Icardi touched down in the City of Light. Because "bling-bling" is something that Nara does very well.
A former showgirl and presenter on Argentinian television, Nara boasts 5.6 million followers on her Instagram account (200,000 more than Icardi), where highly stylised photographs of her in swimwear and evening dresses sit alongside sightseeing snaps and images of her five children. But as a succession of Inter directors and head coaches can testify, her Instagram image is just one part of the picture.
Her negotiating skills enabled Icardi to increase his annual salary at Inter from €900,000 to €4.5 million over his six seasons at San Siro. The company she set up to manage Icardi's interests, World Marketing Football, reportedly turned over €3.2 million between 2015 and 2017. She also runs her own fashion line, Wan Collection, and makes regular appearances as a football pundit on Italian television (more on that later).
"This is a very macho world, and what I'm doing is revolutionary," she told Italian celebrity magazine Gente in February. "Although there are many relatives who represent players, the role of women in football is more about 'staying at home with the kids and keeping quiet.' That's why I'm a revolutionary."
"She has different profiles," Valerio Clari, who reports on Inter for La Gazzetta dello Sport, told Bleacher Report. "She was a showgirl in Argentina, she's the wife and agent of Mauro Icardi, she's a businesswoman and she's a mother of five children."
Icardi's contract standoff with Inter held Italian football in thrall for much of the past year, and Nara was a central figure. Her revelations about the negotiations on the Tiki Taka football show ultimately saw her husband stripped of the captaincy in February, upon which he removed himself from Luciano Spalletti's squad under the pretext that he was nursing a knee injury. He returned to action in April but was well below his best.
Antonio Conte, Spalletti's successor in the Inter dugout, made it clear from the outset that he had no desire to work with Icardi, and CEO for sport Giuseppe Marotta spent the summer desperately trying to offload him. It explains why PSG were able to secure the services of the prolific 26-year-old Argentina international for a loan fee of just €5 million, to which is attached a €65 million option to buy. Nara's friendship with Leonardo's wife, Anna Billo, was also reportedly a factor in getting the deal over the line.
"She never had a good relationship with [Inter sporting director Piero] Ausilio, and when Marotta arrived [in December 2018], it didn't change," Clari says. "Sometimes they pretended to get on well, but they could never stand each other. I think that's one of the reasons why Icardi ended up leaving. They just wanted somebody to take him away."
Nara, 32, has been doing business from a young age. First spotted by a child modeling scout while playing in a park with her younger sister, Zaira, who is a model and TV presenter, she bought her first car, a Suzuki Vitara, when she was 15 and was soon investing in property. She studied law and business management after leaving secondary school and picked up her studies again during her pregnancies.
Initially uninterested in football, the sport came crashing into her life when she met Maxi Lopez at a fashion show while he was playing for Barcelona. The couple married in May 2008, when Nara was 21, and had three sons together, only to split up in late 2013. Around the same time (versions of the story differ as to the exact dates), Nara started a relationship with Icardi, who had been Lopez's team-mate at Sampdoria and had joined the couple on a yachting holiday around Sicily's Aeolian Islands during the summer of 2013.
When Icardi's Inter faced Lopez's Sampdoria the following April, the Italian sports media dubbed the game the 'Wanda Derby.' Lopez refused to shake Icardi's hand—or even look at him—prior to the game, which Inter won 4-0. Icardi and Nara married a month later, and they have since had two daughters: Francesca in 2015 and Isabella in 2016. Nara became Icardi's agent in 2015 after he lost faith in his previous representative, Abian Morano Santana. She does not represent any other players.
The love triangle with Lopez has made Icardi and Nara deeply divisive figures both in Italy and their native Argentina. Diego Maradona has branded Icardi "a traitor," and it has been suggested that the striker's exile from the national team between 2013 and 2017—a period during which he scored goals left, right and centre for Inter—was a consequence of lobbying by Lopez's former club-mates Lionel Messi and Javier Mascherano.
Nara's notoriety grew after she became a regular guest on Tiki Taka last September. Presented by Pierluigi Pardo and featuring outspoken pundits like Christian Vieri and Antonio Cassano, the show goes out live on Silvio Berlusconi's Mediaset network after the weekend's final Serie A game on Sunday nights. Prizing opinion over analysis, it is a programme designed to set tongues wagging. And in that respect, Nara certainly lived up to expectations.
She used one of her early appearances on the show to divulge that Inter had been attempting to sell Icardi to archrivals Juventus. In January this year, she suggested "personal problems" were behind Croatian winger Ivan Perisic's apparent desire to leave the club. But she reserved her spikiest remarks for Icardi's ongoing contract talks, declaring in February: "More than giving Mauro a new contract, I'd prefer Inter to sign someone capable of giving him five good balls in every game." Days later, Inter announced in a curt Twitter statement that the captaincy had been handed to goalkeeper Samir Handanovic.
Nara immediately found herself in the firing line, with media reports revealing that she had been sent threatening messages and had a rock thrown at the windscreen of her car as she drove her sons to a football match. In comments for which he later apologised, former Italy and AC Milan centre-back Alessandro Costacurta told Sky Italia: "If my wife spoke about my team-mates like that in public, I would kick her out of the house."
Aside from one lengthy Instagram post, Icardi avoided speaking publicly, apparently content for Nara to talk on his behalf. "He never speaks, so you don't really know if it's something he thinks or something she thinks," Clari said. "You never know where Wanda's words end and Mauro's words start."
Although Nara found herself cast in the popular imagination as a loose-lipped motormouth, her words invariably had a purpose: namely, to secure a better contract for a client, Icardi, whose salary was dwarfed by the sums earned at Juve by contemporaries such as Paulo Dybala and Gonzalo Higuain.
"Wanda was doing her job as a manager," says Valentin Pauluzzi, who covers Italian football for L'Equipe and France Football. "She blew hot and cold, and there was a bit of bluffing. That's what agents do—it's just that most agents do it in meetings or in the papers, not in front of millions of TV viewers."
For all the millions they earn and all the column inches they generate, Nara and Icardi lead a quiet life away from the pitch, preferring to spend time with their children at their penthouse apartment overlooking San Siro rather than hitting up exclusive bars. Icardi is a doting father and stepfather, whom Nara describes as a 40-something trapped in the body of a 20-something.
"They're Celebrities 2.0, in the sense that they're celebrities on social media," says Pauluzzi, who interviewed Nara for L'Equipe Magazine earlier this year. "But you can't compare them to David and Victoria Beckham."
Victoria Beckham, another glamorous fashionista and successful entrepreneur, kept one foot in London when her husband played for PSG in 2013, and Nara intends to adopt a similar approach. With her children still attending school in Italy, she will live "between Milan and Paris," as she told her sister Zaira during a telephone interview on Argentinian TV show Morfi Telefe last week.
However she chooses to divide her time or use her talents, the spotlight is sure to find her.