Usain Bolt's professional soccer debut delivered on the hype, but not technique
GOSFORD, Australia -- Usain Bolt's debut as a professional footballer came and went in a flash, but will still be remembered for some time to come.
Were it not for his reputation, Bolt's performance as a trialist in Friday's clash between the Central Coast Mariners and a local Select XI -- which ended in a 6-1 win to the A-League side -- would be seen as underwhelming.
Often caught out of position, and rarely looking physically able to meet the demands of the professional game, the 32-year-old was predominantly a passenger in his 20-minute debut.
However, the world's fastest man brought more to this otherwise bland contest than his ability with the ball at feet.
A crowd of 9,958 -- around 2,500 higher than the Mariners' average home attendance last season -- turned up to a preseason friendly in a regional town nearly 100 kilometers north of Sydney to see a match between the A-League's lowest-ranked team and a side comprising amateur players.
That, surely, is an achievement worth celebrating.
Whether those spectators were converted into long-term A-League fans off the back of what they saw remains to be seen, but there can be no denying that Bolt's trial has succeeded in drawing unprecedented attention to the Central Coast.
Fans and media alike, from all parts of the globe, tuned in to see if the greatest sprinter in history could translate his skills to the football pitch. As with Michael Jordan and Manny Pacquiao, the chance to see a legend of one sport cross over and try their hand at a completely new discipline will always be a spectacle and, ultimately, that's how Bolt's debut will be remembered.
A frenzy descended upon Central Coast Stadium once Bolt entered the fray with 20 minutes left to play, but those expecting the sprinter to silence his critics immediately were left disappointed. Bolt's first touch of the ball was wildly miscontrolled -- even if the pass to him was overhit.
Still, hope springs eternal and the crowd would have been sent into dreamland had Bolt netted an unlikely goal in the dying minutes of the game. Andrija Majdevac -- a 21-year-old who, like Bolt, is a trialist and trying to realise his dream of becoming a professional footballer -- created an opportunity with a low cross from the right, which sailed agonisingly past the Jamaican's outstretched boot.
Alas, a Bolt strike was not forthcoming, though, much to the disappointment of the masses at the ground and those watching from home.
"I think the big fellow did OK," Mariners coach Mike Mulvey said of Bolt after the game.
"He was ... a little bit nervous, but I'm quite happy with him."
In the stands, fans did not share Mulvey's optimism, but seemed satisfied with seeing seven goals in the game and trying to get a photo of the sprint legend as the team conducted a lap of honour after the final whistle.
Will it be the last chance they have to get up close to Bolt?
To put it bluntly, for any other trialist, Friday's game would have surely been the end of the road. There was simply not enough movement or involvement in the play to justify keeping Bolt on at the club for any longer -- especially at the age of 32.
But, of course, Bolt is not just any trialist.