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Saturday, June 19, 2010
What's the matter with Rooney?

By Chris Jones
Special to ESPN.com

CAPE TOWN -- The day after England's lackluster scoreless draw with Algeria on Friday, much of the postgame analysis has centered on striker Wayne Rooney and his seeming invisibility. Contrary to popular opinion, he did play Thursday night. Here's documentary evidence:

One minute to kickoff: Rooney sprints onto the field with his strange gait, his right arm bent and his left arm straight. He really moves. Nobody knows that this is the fastest he will run today.

7th minute: Completes a pass.

20th minute: Almost gets off a shot, but it's partially blocked by a defender and easily picked up by the Algerian keeper.

27th minute: Gets tangled up in the box and enjoys his first animated chat with the Uzbekistani referee. They don't appear to come to an agreement.

28th minute: Stands in the middle of the field with his hands on his hips.

29th minute: After nearly a half-hour of walking, trotting, jogging and extended fits of lethargy, starts to look down. Shoulders are slumped. Seems uninterested.

30th minute: Recovers to combine for a nice give-and-go with Steven Gerrard, who shoots it straight into the Algerian keeper.

31st minute: Connects on another pass to Frank Lampard, who botches the return.

33rd minute: Shows a flash of brilliance when he chases down an Algerian forward in English territory, steals the ball and begins an English attack that ends with a Lampard shot, saved by a diving Algerian keeper. It will be the best English chance all game, and it starts with Rooney's speed and hustle. This is what he's capable of.

34th-38th minute: Apparently also capable of doing absolutely nothing.

39th minute: Shouts in frustration after ducking another Gerrard shot, easily saved by the Algerian keeper. Famous temper has been lit.

43rd minute: Gets first purposeful shot on goal, a looping one-hopper from 25 yards out. Surprisingly, it doesn't go in.

45th minute: Loses the ball deep in Algerian territory and begins a long stroll back to half with a look of disgust.

Halftime: Disappears down tunnel as quickly as humanly possible.

One minute to kickoff: Receives a high-five from Gerrard. Nice to see them finally connect.

48th minute: Blocks a hard Algerian free kick with his chest. Walks around for a minute like a man with a third-degree sunburn.

49th minute: Knocks down a ball in the Algerian box with his sore chest, and then attempts a deft little flick over to Gerrard. It has the makings of something meaningful, but it doesn't quite work -- much like the idea of watching Rooney for an entire game. This game, anyway. Coach Fabio Capello has covered more ground yelling at his team from the sidelines.

55th minute: Lampard makes a mess of a cross, leaving Rooney standing unmarked in the box with his hands out. Has made more passes than he has received, which is not exactly the textbook definition of "striker."

57th minute: Takes his turn losing the ball in the box. Has no energy or confidence.

63rd minute: Cross from Aaron Lennon sails just over his head.

73rd minute: Takes a shot from 30 yards out that runs well left of the Algerian goal. Hands return to his hips.

82nd minute: Stumbles over the ball outside the Algerian box. Comes up limping and grabs the troublesome ankle that has bothered him for weeks.

87th minute: Keeps his feet despite getting tangled up with an Algerian at midfield but begins limping again. His ankle is clearly not right.

90th minute: Tries to lift an Algerian player who is feigning injury to wind down the clock. Snags him by his armpits. Not what the English fans mean by "heavy lifting."

92nd minute: Knocks down an Algerian, who remains grounded. Kicks ball at him in vain attempt to shame him into standing. Enjoys second conversation with the referee, holding up two fingers. Might be saying that's twice an Algerian has faked injury to waste time; might be counting his number of shots.

One minute after game: Shakes hands, mostly with Algerians.

Two minutes after game: Stalks off field to jeers from the English crowd. Finds a camera. Says, "Nice to see your own fans booing you. If that's what loyal support is, for f---'s sake."

Saturday: Hopefully understands that English fans who've traveled thousands of miles and paid thousands of pounds to watch him go for an evening stroll that's occasionally interrupted by soccer might feel aggrieved. Hopefully understands, too, that loyalty runs two ways.

Wednesday: Hopefully.

Chris Jones is a contributing editor to ESPN The Magazine and a writer-at-large for Esquire.