Usain Bolt to Central Coast Mariners is a gimmick but it’s exactly what the Chinese Super League needs – sign him up
The Jamaican sprint star is pulling on his football boots to live out the dream of many a young man and become a professional footballer
If you had 11 world championships, eight Olympic gold medals and were the fastest man in the world over 100 and 200 metres you’d be within your rights to put your feet up when you retired.
Not Usain Bolt.
The Jamaican sprint star is pulling on his football boots to live out the dream of many a young man and become a professional footballer.
Australian A-League side Central Coast Mariners have been in talks with the 31-year-old regarding a six-week trial at the Gosford-based club.
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) 16 July 2018
“This is not a stunt or a gimmick,” was the quote from Bolt’s agent Tony Rallis on negotiations between the sprint star and the struggling A-League side.
Well, it is a gimmick.
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Bolt gets a six-week trial with the offer of a season-long contract if he impresses and the team that finished dead last in the season just finished gets a much-needed bump in its profile.
You can be sure that no one was Googling the Central Coast Mariners yesterday but the idea of Bolt tuning out for them has changed that.
It has been dismissed by many as a move that would defame the A-League but it’s clear that the presence of Bolt would generate interest in a league that needs the numbers in an ultra-competitive sports market where the established forms of football and cricket dominate.
The A-League is often criticised by those who watch it but it has a bigger problem, no matter the quality of the football the one thing that is missing are the fans.
Bolt would change that.
It’s a similar story in China. The Chinese Super League has made headlines and generated more interest than ever since the clubs started splashing the cash at the start of 2017.
Big names got people overseas interested but they are not tuning in in any great numbers. In fairness, if the people of China aren’t then why should anyone else?
Now it seems that the only interest in Chinese football is as a potential destination for the transfer rumourmongers and player agents looking to renegotiate deals or as a place where crazy CFA bans and club fines add an “Only in China” element for your media outlet.
The transfer tax changed everything when it comes to mega-spending on transfer fees and the calibre of overseas imports has arguably suffered while free transfer Carlos Tevez became an unwelcome sideshow during his time at Shanghai Shenhua.
Bolt would present an interesting experiment for a Chinese Super League side willing to take the chance – and a six-week trial is no commitment to offering a permanent deal.
He has been to China before and as long as there’s a McDonalds then the Chicken McNugget man will be happy enough.
It would certainly get people tuning in and fill the stadium for any games he played, something you’d expect to carry on if he did sign on full-time.
The truth is we do not know how good or bad Bolt is.
He trained with Borussia Dortmund earlier this year and depending on which quotes you want to cherry pick from the BVB coach Peter Stoeger, there’s either potential in the 31-year-old or a pro career is a lost cause.
“He is talented, but if he wants to make it at the top level, there are still a few things to do,” the Austrian told the media after the March training session.
“You can see that he understands the game. He’s talented. What he’s missing is the teamwork and how to move.’’
The Dortmund training took place in an international break and that meant there were only a few first teamers in a session that included many of the club’s youth teamers and reserves.
Nevertheless Bolt impressed, nutmegging Italy under-19 fullback Dario Scuderi – and then immediately losing the ball – and scoring a header in a half-pitch game from a pass supplied by German World Cup winner Mario Gotze.
Usain Bolt had his world record 100m sprint time as his shirt number at Soccer Aid last night!
If your 100m sprint time was your shirt number, what would it be? ⚡ pic.twitter.com/ImBjt8HHqP
— Soccer AM (@SoccerAM) 11 June 2018
The main point is that over 1,400 people watched him do these things at the open training session and over 1.2 million tuned in for the broadcast on Facebook Live.
This was a gimmick.
It was organised by sportswear giant Puma, the German company that sponsors Bolt and part-owns the Bundesliga club.
The German top flight, who are very media-savvy, were on board too and they are still dining out on it.
Only last month did they publish an article titled “Relive Usain Bolt’s trial with Borussia Dortmund!” on their English language website.
If everyone involved knows it’s a gimmick, does it matter? No one’s getting hurt, and if you argue that the credibility of the league is tarnished then think of the growth in viewers. |
— Bundesliga English (@Bundesliga_EN) 23 March 2018
Bolt also trained with Norwegian top-tier side Stromsgodset ahead of Soccer Aid, a charity game for Unicef at Manchester United’s Old Trafford played by celebrities and former footballers.
His appearance at the charity game was a gimmick, too.
Puma made the kits and his had the number 9.58 on the back in reference to his world record time for the 100 metres.
Nascent sports and struggling sides need gimmicks. The North American Soccer League of the 1970s brought over ageing stars such as Pele, George Best and Franz Beckenbauer to try to kick-start the sport in the US. When the MLS had another try in the mid-90s, they did so with the barmy penalty concept that the NASL had tried. English League side Doncaster Rovers saw crowds swell when One Direction’s Louis Tomlinson played for their reserves – admittedly he is the club’s chairman and it was for charity.
It would get people watching, at least and one other thing besides – if Bolt did realise his dream of going pro in the CSL then it ends accusations of being a retirement league once and for all.