In England, the Stink Remains About a Wink

Special to The Times

Signing off into the emotional wilderness of another World Cup bummer summer, England seethed about a wink.

The wink threatened to become the most-analyzed wink in history.

By now, we've seen the wink in real time. We've seen the wink in still photographs. We've seen the wink on the BBC in slow motion, the eyelid descending ever so sloooowly until it covers the entire eyeball, then sloooowly rising to expose the eyeball.

Portuguese pretty boy Cristiano Ronaldo went Betty Boop on the World Cup with his right eye Saturday, in case you missed it, and while millions of earthlings might savor a wink from the midfielder, millions of English recoil.

Ronaldo plays for Manchester United, which entails a widespread loathing right there. He's pretty with a fashionable little gel-aided salon haircut, which compounds that loathing.

And as England tumbled from its 10th straight sigh of a World Cup, Ronaldo tacked onto that loathing the wink, securing his place in England's imaginary Museum of Football Contempt, maybe even an exhibition in the dreaded Maradona Room.

The series of events, in case you aren't obsessed with these things:

First, Wayne Rooney, the roughhousing English scorer beloved for reasons that include not being pretty and not being concerned about it, kicked Portugal's Ricardo Carvalho in the groin during the 62nd minute of the goal-less England-Portugal World Cup quarterfinal.

Then the match halted as Argentine referee Horacio Elizondo assessed injustice. Then Ronaldo sprinted maybe 30 yards to the scene and to the referee and to Rooney, his Manchester United teammate for mercy's sake. Then Ronaldo began loudly advising the referee.

Then Rooney shoved Ronaldo.

Then the referee showed Rooney a melodramatic red card. Then Rooney, 20, grimaced like a petulant teenager and departed the field to go kick a water bottle. Then England had to play with only 10 men, which meant England probably could win only with penalty kicks, which meant England probably couldn't win, owing to some sort of eerie chemical in English obstetrics units that prevents English children from growing up to take successful penalty kicks.

(Only one of four England players made one Saturday, and he was born in Canada.)

Then -- violins, here -- Ronaldo strode away from the melee, peered apparently toward Portugal's bench, and winked.

Did the wink suggest he knew he could coax Rooney's temper into detonation? Did the wink prove some sort of pregame provocation plan? Did Ronaldo wink only at some would-be supermodel in the third row?

Alan Shearer, the English soccer Rushmore figure turned commentator, reviewed the wink and reckoned Rooney might punch Ronaldo at the next Manchester United workout. Steven Gerrard, the English midfielder who missed a penalty kick, thought the wink "sums him up as a person." Frank Lampard, the English midfielder who missed a different penalty kick, said players who ask referees for yellow or red cards for other players should get cards themselves.

TV networks re-replayed the wink. One tabloid called Ronaldo "the world's biggest winker," changing one letter from intent. Another tabloid dug out the adjective "slimy" and the adverb "smugly." The Sun tabloid ran a cover photograph of the wink, but with a dartboard superimposed with the closed eye in the bull's-eye.

Rooney and Ronaldo claimed detente. Ronaldo continued to hint he might leave Manchester for Madrid.

The coming Manchester United season grew quite interesting, especially if the winker returns.

And as the World Cup semifinals continue in Germany, the English and those of us living among them staggered further into an English heat wave, the World Cup gone again, macabre enough to demonize a wink.

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