May 09, 1994 12:00 PM

The last American to hear such roars of approval in Wembley Stadium was Bruce Springsteen,” enthused one London soccer columnist about John Harkes, who is giving Britons a real kick in the grass, on the field and off. In 1990 the Kearny, N.J., native became the first American skilled enough to play on a top European team. (A U.S. professional outdoor league is in the works for next year.) His nickname: Hollywood Harkes.

The 27-year-old midfielder for Derby County, who earns some $200,000 a year, is a fast hit with fans too. His poster sells briskly, and Britain’s teen magazine Mizz named him one of the “10 most gorgeous” players. Says one Derby coach, Richie Williams: “He must have been at the head of the queue when the good looks were handed out.” One thing bothers the dark-haired, brown-eyed affable hunk, though. “I’ve got these bowlegs,” he complains. But U.S.-born wife Cindi, 25, doesn’t mind. “All good soccer players are bowlegged,” she says, “but his walk is real sexy.” Americans can judge Harkes’s skills—and stems—when he plays for the U.S. National Team in this summer’s World Cup tournament, to be held in the U.S. for the first time. (Like most athletes, pro soccer players usually compete for their home country in international matches.) Wherever he is, Harkes practices one inflexible beauty ritual: a daily slathering of Oil of Olay. “I’m, like, flakes everywhere,” he complains of his dry skin. Sensing skepticism, he quickly adds, “Okay, okay, maybe it does keep the wrinkles at bay.”

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