The big story over the A-League offseason has been Usain Bolt’s trial at the Central Coast Mariners. Last season’s bottom club have managed to somehow lure the Jamaican sprinter to Gosford, and are allegedly offering a contract. It’s a pretty hefty fee they’re paying, too, for someone who’s never played professional football. And at 32, it’s not like they’ll get much use out of him. To be fair, however, he has got huge marketing appeal. Really, the whole situation’s a mess.
The first thing that needs to be established is that Bolt is a competent footballer. He’s trained with Borussia Dortmund, he’s trialled with Stromsgodset in Norway and there was an offer from Valletta FC, based in European footballing hotbed Malta. He scored two goals in a friendly match in preseason. To write him off as a poor footballer isn’t needed.
But what is he going to bring to the Mariners? Bolt’s played as a forward or winger in the friendly matches so far. Imagine if he’s given a contract and starts playing A-League football. How’s Connor Pain going to feel about that? What about Matt Simon? Or Tommy Oar? The three of them have a combined 31 years of professional footballing experience. Bolt has none.
And just look at the contract offer. It’s enough for the A-League to need FFA to step in and fund it. It’s been rumoured at $3 million a year. That’s not a bad contract for the Premier League, and we’re meant to expect that giving this kind of money to a fairly unproven non-footballer makes sense? It doesn’t. Not at all. That’s a huge amount of their salary cap, gone.
Yes, Bolt will bring in crowds. And yes, people will buy merchandise. They’ll make some money out of it. But if we’re at a point where the finances are more important than on-field action, then I’m worried for the future of the A-League. The Mariners might be overlooking what gets people to go to the football. When I go to a Phoenix game, I’m not going because I wanna see this player or that player. I go to see the team, my team, play a game of football.
There have been successful crossovers in sport before, I’m not going to deny that. There are players that excel at two similar sports – think Brad Thorn in both rugby union and rugby league, or Jarryd Hayne in just about everything. And there are players who play two very different sports – rugby and cricket have nothing to do with each other but Jeff Wilson still did well in both. Bolt’s effectively doing the second one of those two, and pretending it’s the first. Barack Obama’s apparently a pretty handy basketball player, but the Phoenix Suns aren’t trying to sign him up, no matter how desperate they may be.
Ultimately, Bolt’s move to the Central Coast Mariners is a farce. It’s not going to be any good for the club, it makes the rest of the league look like a joke, it’s a kick in the teeth to all of the players who have worked for this – and, as Andy Keogh said, he’s got a first touch like a trampoline.