The eyes of the world are on the Central Coast right now. Wondering… Could it really be so? Could he actually play professional football? Could we really love a lad Usain?
Dortmund (Germany) and Stromsgodset (Norway) decided no. So did Newcastle Jets, apparently.
Plenty of clubs around the world (we’re told) were interested, but it was the Mariners who won the race (ahem) for his signature. As a triallist.
It’s Usain’s dream, after all, to play for Manchester United so the journey begins, on his 32nd birthday, at Tuggerah.
But seriously, he knows how to play football, and wouldn’t be here if he wasn’t 100 percent committed to taking the journey seriously.
It’s one thing to kick a ball about as a kid – he is a truly gifted athlete after all, and might even have some touch. But becoming a professional footballer is all about getting on the escalator as a kid and staying there as the pressure intensifies over the years and the places get fewer and fewer.
You learn a lot along the way – especially as you make the transition from boy to man. How to take a knock and how to fall. How to go in for, or avoid, a challenge.
How to play in accordance with different shapes and strategies.
Most importantly, how to know automatically where to be on a football field at any one time. There is always a right place for every player to be in accordance with team shape and strategy, and game context. This takes years to learn (to do it as second nature) and there’s no way Usain will have that.
The 20 years he missed – including that critical period of going from boy to man – can never truly be regained.
What he does have is pace.
Pace is one of the most important commodities in modern football and pretty much the only thing you can’t coach into a player.
Thing is, you have to know how to use it (and when not to use it).
Football is a game of short sprints – very few long ones – so while it’s likely Usain will beat anyone over 10 metres, will he know when to take off? A seasoned pro who does know when to take off will always get there first if Bolt is just one second slower to start.
And what will he do if he does get there first? How good is his first touch under pressure? How good is his vision – knowing where his team mates are before he even gets the ball?
How good is his passing – short and long? (Under pressure)
How good is his heading and shooting at goal? (Under pressure)
Can he stay onside?
Usain Bolt is the best there ever was at running in a straight line – with no need to change direction, avoid other bodies, control a football and do something useful with it while a bunch of players far more experienced try to stop him.
I am a Mariners fan and wish him very, very well, but I will run naked around Bluetongue if Usain Bolt gets onto the pitch (as a player) in an A-League match.
Adrian’s latest book The Fighting Man is in the shops right now or available through Booktopia. Adrian also wrote Mr Cleansheets.