Does Usain Bolt have what it takes to not be all that much as a footballer – while earning even less?
With a $A150,000 contract in front of him to join a football club – the Central Coast Mariners – where the coach openly rates him as perhaps the seventh best player in his position at the club, that’s what we’re about to find out.
For those requiring a quick catch-up, the world’s fastest man has always dreamed of being a pro footballer. He’s been on trial at the Mariners for two months, scoring two goals, missing a bunch more, and doing enough to suggest that, with a couple more years’ intensive development, he might just become a below average A-League player.
Complicating a decision that shouldn’t be all that complicated is that nearly 10,000 fans turned up to see the Jamaican sprint superstar play in an otherwise meaningless pre-season kick-about in Gosford. And, when he did finally find the back of the old onion bag with a decent angled left-footed drive from 16 metres, 6.24 million people checked it out on Twitter.
Fair to say that number will eclipse the number of views of goals scored by Mariners players not named Bolt throughout the entirety of the A-League season.
The rate card value of that kind of exposure is in the millions of dollars. Which, presumably, is why Bolt wants three of those millions to continue his remarkably far-fetched dream of using the Central Coast as a stepping stone towards a contract with Manchester United.
Suffice to say that the club and the player are a little ways apart with their expectations. Initial hopes that the club’s owner, Mike Charlesworth – a man who has otherwise screwed the club’s wage bill down to the minimum allowed – would tip in $A1.5 million, with the rest to come from the A-League’s marquee player fund, have been shredded.
“There’s no funding from the marquee fund, as we said from day one,” A League boss Greg O’Rourke has reiterated.
“The marquee fund has secured people like Keisuke Honda and Sam Kerr with football pedigree, and Usain Bolt has yet to become a professional footballer anywhere in the world.
“If Usain wants to join the club and become a footballer, he should follow a journey pretty similar to any triallist.”
If he doesn’t, there would be no shortage of people – this column included – willing to accept $A150k to train with the Mariners, ride the pine and make the odd five-minute cameo once they are firmly out of the A-League running by round six.
In fairness to Bolt, it probably isn’t about the money – mainly because he’s got shitloads of it. A 2016 report reckoned he’d earned $US60 million, and that was before he signed a promotional deal with Optus reportedly worth up to $A30 million.
Still, for a professional athlete of Bolt’s stature, it would be hard to accept getting out of bed for the amount you’ll be expected to tip the carpark attendant.
Bolt’s football dream has strong parallels with that of Michael Jordan, who in 1994 turned his back on basketball to have a crack at professional baseball.
Jordan signed with the Chicago White Sox and was assigned to minor league team the Birmingham Barons at AA level.
Thousands flocked to watch the greatest athlete of all time play below average ball. Jordan struck out 114 times in 436 at-bats for the Barons, but did steal 30 bases.
His biggest contribution to the team was the provision of a $US337,500 luxury bus complete with reclining seats, televisions and a wet bar, allowing the team to tour southern America’s baseball outposts in style.
Although he steadily improved throughout the year to the point where he was not a total liability, Jordan’s baseball career would be fleeting. When a baseball players’ strike hit in 1995, he flipped back to basketball and solidified his legacy as the sport’s greatest-ever player.
Jordan’s baseball adventure, incidentally, is brilliantly captured in the ESPN documentary Jordan Rides The Bus. A similar Bolt themed documentary would doubtless be called: Bolt Rides the Pine. With eight Olympic gold medals and the 100m world record to his credit, Bolt’s athletic legacy is well and truly secure. He’s free to pursue his footballing dream. The question is, should he?
“I do appreciate how important this story is for the rest of the world,” Mariners coach Mike Mulvey offered when told of the club’s offer by a Sydney Morning Herald journalist.
“But you have a look at our frontline today and you wonder if he could get into any of those positions, wouldn’t you?”
The good news for Bolt is that, if he doesn’t see a future at the Mariners, he still has the offer of a two-year contract on the table from Maltese Valletta FC.
Geographically, at least, that is a big step closer to Old Trafford.