By Ian Gallagher, Mail on Sunday Chief Reporter
Going for gold: Vanessa Perroncel in a film poster with Ali G in 2002
Looking back, there was always something about Vanessa Perroncel that made her stand apart from the rest of the wannabe WAGs. Maybe it was because she was simply more alluring, said a friend, and possessed a 'hint of danger'.
Another recalled a girl more likely to deliver a sharp put-down rather than a simpering giggle when she cornered her footballing quarry in nightclubs - a tactic that seemed to make them desire her more.
A former flatmate suggested it was her dedication to her craft that put her in a class of her own: the way, for example, she scanned the back pages of newspapers with a practised eye every morning.
Or how on one occasion, in the company of a group of players, she adopted the air of a seasoned pundit while remarking on the implications of a change in Chelsea's formation.
Then there was the informed kick-by-kick commentary Miss Perroncel provided whenever she sat on the brown leather sofa in her council flat (two minutes' walk from Chelsea's stadium) to watch football on TV.
'She wanted to be the most complete WAG - to hold her own with footballers about football, not just shopping,' said a friend.
So, yes, whatever it was about her, Vanessa Perroncel - lingerie model, brazen gold-digger, man-hunter extraordinaire - was indeed different from the rest. And certainly no WAG before her has cut such a devastating trail.
This weekend, one England captain is no more, several marriages are thought to be under considerable strain and the FA is once again in a hopeless spin.
In dressing rooms up and down the land yesterday, the talk centred not so much on tactics as on who might be unmasked next as one of her conquests.
To Miss Perroncel's friends, all this comes as no surprise. In interviews with The Mail on Sunday, more than one likened her to a 'timebomb'.
Former flatmate Linda Wardley, for example, observed at first hand her mesmerising effect on footballers and recalls one occasion in particular that 'made me think she had every single one under her spell'.
Linda said: 'It was Vanessa's birthday and four Chelsea lads came to the door with a massive bouquet of flowers and chocolates.
'They weren't first-team players - they were so fresh-faced and innocent-looking that I assumed they were from the youth team.
'They asked rather sweetly if Vanessa was at home and when I said, "No," they said they'd wait outside. They must have been there a good hour before she arrived back.
'She had a quick word with them and then came in on her own, clutching her flowers, as if it was no big deal.'
It wasn't just Chelsea stars who fell for Miss Perroncel's charms. Friends have told The Mail on Sunday that she dated players from other clubs - though as she was fond of saying: 'Always Premier League, darling' - and that her conquests embraced the wider world of celebrity, possibly even the Hollywood A-list.
'When I first knew her she had a thing about boy bands,' said a former best friend who shared a flat with her for three years.
The mighty fallen: John Terry and Vanessa Perroncel the day after their affair led to his sacking as England captain
'She briefly dated Shane Lynch from Boyzone, Lee Ryan from Blue, had an 18-month relationship with Lee Latchford-Evans from Steps - and there was someone from Westlife.'
And if it wasn't pop stars, it was soap stars. 'She dated a guy who used to be in EastEnders. He was very smitten but she got bored by him and dumped him pretty quickly. And there was a guy from Hollyoaks who used to be in a band.
'She also spent time in Los Angeles and came back boasting about flings with A-list movie stars. I wouldn't doubt it for a minute. She said she could have any man she wanted - and from what I saw, she did.'
Last night, Miss Perroncel's spokesman said she denied dating Shane Lynch and that although she once went on a date with Lee Ryan, they had never had sex.
Underpinning all Miss Perroncel's encounters - brief and not so brief - was a deep-seated yearning for security.
'She wanted to be looked after, to be treated like a princess, to be kept in some style,' said the former best friend. 'If we were in a club talking to two guys, she'd always go for the one with money and status regardless of what he looked like.'
Those closest to Miss Perroncel are convinced that the explanation for her behaviour lies, in part, at least, in the death of her father, Jean-Claude, who gassed himself in his car in France when his only child was just 11 years old.
His suicide was blamed on money troubles and left his daughter devastated.
'He doted on her, spoilt her, gave her everything she wanted,' said the friend. 'She has always been close to her mother, a very glamorous woman herself, but she adored her father.'
Aged 23, Miss Perroncel arrived in Britain on the eve of the new millennium with ambitions to become a model. France, she told friends, was replete with beautiful girls - it would be 'much easier' to make it in London.
She signed up with agencies who told her that while she was too curvy for fashion and, at 5ft 10in, too tall for glamour, she had the perfect figure and looks to model lingerie.
For a while, she became the face of Richard Branson's Virgin lingerie. She also modelled, for £250 a day, on ITV's This Morning, and appeared on posters for an Ali G film.
Arguably her real goal, however, was to gain a toe-hold in the world of celebrity.
'She went out with other models to nightclubs, parties and concerts and because they were beautiful they would get in free and would be ushered into VIP areas where the TV stars and footballers lurked,' said her friend.
Campaign HQ: Vanessa Perroncel's former bedroom in a council flat near Chelsea FC
Backstage at a Steps concert, she was introduced to Lee Latchford-Evans. They were together for 18 months. Friends say Miss Perroncel was frustrated by his 'reluctance to commit'.
By the time they split, she was a well-recognised fixture on the celebrity circuit.
Her friend said: 'I was a close friend of Lee and knew Vanessa vaguely. Then I met her in Chinawhite nightclub in Soho and we hit it off and chatted for three hours.
'Afterwards we became inseparable and moved into a flat in Fulham. We would go out clubbing and she got her wealthy boyfriends to buy her Dolce & Gabbana, her favourite, and Prada and Chanel.
'Vanessa is beautiful. She would often say, "I can have any man in here." She wouldn't launch herself at men - they would come to her.
'She was very confident but could be quite aloof and snooty. She was a great dancer, very sexy, and men loved her.'
Miss Perroncel's interest in footballers began around 2002 when, once again at Chinawhite, she met the then Arsenal stars Ashley Cole and Jermaine Pennant, who both became friends.
According to her friend: 'The penny dropped that some footballers earned a lot more than some of the pop stars she'd been dating. And this seemed to set her on a new path.
'The following year, she fell out with me when I got together with Lee, her old boyfriend from Steps. This infuriated her and I remember her walking past me in a nightclub saying, "I p*** on you. I am so much more beautiful than you."'
Early in 2004, Miss Perroncel moved into Linda Wardley's two-bedroom council flat.
From the outset, said Linda, her lodger was clear about what she wanted in life.
'I remember her sitting on the sofa with a glass of wine saying she was going to get a Chelsea footballer, someone to keep her in the style she deserved,' she said.
'Vanessa had the basement room. It was normally a mess, with her knickers left lying all over the floor.
'She knew all the Chelsea players and her social life revolved around the club, going to parties and nightclubs. With her pal, she went to the European Championships in Portugal and said she'd stayed in the England hotel.
'I remember her being very hot-tempered. She would have her hair done at Toni & Guy on the Fulham Road but would regularly fall out with her hairdresser for not doing it to her liking. She would also have a go at the bloke who did her nails.'
In the middle of 2004, Linda said, Miss Perroncel began a seven-month affair with married Chelsea striker Eidur Gudjohnsen, who 'visited the flat twice to my knowledge'. Gudjohnsen has since denied the allegation.
'She would sneak him out early in the morning,' said Linda. 'But on one occasion he was recognised by some teenage girls across the street.
'Once, Vanessa came round with Frank Lampard, who was just a friend. And of course she became close to Wayne Bridge, who I thought seemed ever so nice. At first she didn't think he was her type, but after a while she was spending all her time with him.
'He came to help her move out and was dragging all her boxes out of the basement. Of course, he managed to do something wrong and she had a go at him. I remember him raising his eyebrows. I thought then that the writing was on the wall.'
Vanessa Perroncel dated pop stars and soap stars... then discovered footballers could earn a lot more
By Ian Gallagher, Mail on Sunday Chief Reporter