At half time of Usain Bolt’s second match for the Central Coast Mariners, this writer was penning an obituary for the Olympic champion’s chances of a professional football career in Australia.
While he was involved in a few ‘moments’ during the first 45, he looked like a tall, quick Sunday league footballer running around trying to make an impact.
In only the second minute, the sprinter was presented a golden chance to use his speed when a defensive slip up allowed him to be one-on-one with the Macarthur South West United goalkeeper.
When Bolt burst clear, you felt as if this was the moment whether he would announce himself as a potential professional footballer or not.
But the 32-year-old’s touch was too heavy and because he lacks perception of his surroundings, a defender closed him down from the blind side.
It wasn’t until the 11th minute that Bolt completed his first pass. He then got kicked in the mid-section four minutes later, gave away a clumsy foul and slipped over trying to change direction.
He did manage to have a header on goal bounce just wide of the post after a pinpoint cross from Ross McCormack, but his first half was a comedy of errors that suggested he had absolutely no chance of making the grade as a professional Down Under.
Cue a half time chat with Mariners coach Mike Mulvey. And while it hasn’t been revealed what the English-born tactician said to Bolt, it’s clear he told the 195cm athlete to use his massive frame to his advantage.
Only two minutes after half time, Bolt won a free kick in the attacking midfield area by putting his body in between the defender and the ball.
And it was this advantage – plus McCormack’s deft through ball – that helped set up his first goal for a senior team
After running on to McCormack’s pass, Bolt smartly pushed off the defender, creating enough space for him to advance forward and get a shot off.
The finish was actually quite decent, spearing into the near post after a low, hard shot off Bolt’s left boot.
It was a quality move by the Central Coast attack and Bolt should be commended for how well he set up and took his chance.
But this was the only passage of play in Bolt’s 72 minutes where he looked like a footballer – forget his second goal, which was a horrible defensive mix-up.
The Mariners’ opponent Macarthur South West United was a team of A-League hopefuls cobbled together for the purpose of this friendly, and it showed as they lacked cohesion and organisation in the 4-0 defeat.
Imagine if Bolt was coming up against Melbourne City, with the A-League’s best centre half in Bart Schenkeveld marking him, and the big frame of Rostyn Griffiths dropping back from midfield.
It’s very difficult to teach someone how to move off the ball and the nuances of a game they have never fully focused on throughout their life.
The eight-time gold medallist should be commended for having a crack at becoming a footballer, and the Mariners have been smart to cash in on his marketability in the short term.
While Bolt believes he can make it in Gosford, he is still incredible long odds to be a success on the Australian domestic stage, even in the 12 months he says it will take to develop.
And Friday night doesn’t change anything, despite the single bolt from the blue.