Late on a Monday night, the Central Coast Mariners’ grand plans for 2018 were plastered all over social media.
In turn, an A-League season that had failed to garner any momentum from a surprisingly captivating World Cup was hoisted onto the front page of one of most noticed print publications in Australia.
But what does the news that the man who was at one time one of the most recognised and marketable athletes on the planet – for running real fast over a short distance – is being courted by a professional football team, just to trial, do?
No word on whether Usain Bolt will ever play an A-League or FFA Cup match for the league’s smallest team, just an initial six-week trial.
This, seemingly the only football-specific decision made in this entire process, is the Mariners’ way of covering their bases if a 31-year-old who has never played professionally is actually no good at this football caper.
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But the motivation behind this move will be over-analysed and critiqued with misguided derision. Yes, if the Central Coast were to spend the money and resources on building up from local talent and established footballers, that would help them avoid losing local derbies in embarrassing fashion.
But the world will barely notice if they were to beat the Jets 2-0 with those players.
For years, the Mariners have been responsible for the production of many a great Australian player. Tom Rogic, Mile Jedinak, Matt Ryan, Trent Sainsbury and, just last year, Danny De Silva (formerly Perth) all played with the palm trees.
However, with the A-League now out of the initial set-up phase and entering into further growth – with expansion coming in 2019-20 and the potential for a second division – is it up to the squads to become quasi youth-set-ups? Or should they be more focused on ensuring they have the best XI, no matter who or how old they are, and allow the Y-League to develop the game?
So how does an ex-sprinter fit into that second category? As far as we know, he doesn’t yet, but what it does do is allow a league, and a team that has consistently scored own goals with off-field decisions this decade, try salvage something back commercially and grow as a whole.
The A-League is viewed in one way or another in 116 countries. Whether they get a highlights package or a sprinkling of games, our game is viewable in every major footballing nation. But if Bolt were to walk out on to Central Coast Stadium in Round 9 against the Jets just before Christmas, the whole world would tune in to see the league’s most historic and long-standing local derby.
It would be on news bulletins around the world, especially if he were to be involved in a major flashpoint, and people would stop across the world to watch.
Sorry Kenny Athiu, but you won’t do that for the Mariners.
Jersey sales for the club would increase beyond their wildest dreams. People would be walking around the world with the yellow and blue of the Central Coast, like they do Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The net profit the Mariners would make, let alone the league as a whole, would far outweigh any negativity.
This money could then set the sport up for decades to come.
The Y-League could be properly invested into and have a season actually worth playing (currently 11 games with ten teams split in to two conferences and a single playoff game), which would mean more of our young footballers would be ready to make the step up to professional football.
Registration fees would naturally start falling. Some clubs this season were charging close to four figures for junior football. The game is not broke, but the people who are charging those exorbitant prices are. If the money from the Bolt venture was to naturally flow, like it should, the days of out-of-reach registration fees would be over.
The money would then allow for better training of the people entrusted with coaching and leading those children. While it’s nice when Little Jonny’s old man coaches the team, if we are to take junior development seriously, then the current conversation around junior development would surely change.
What’s more, if the Bolt trial is a success, then dissenting NPL clubs would be able to show their wears as potential second-division and A-League clubs. The chance of Heidelberg United versus Queensland Lions as an A-League game is not far away if you believe in what is possible.
Most importantly, if Bolt is actually half decent, we might entice even better players.
In an article I wrote earlier this year, I spoke about how the quality of A-League imports has exponentially improved from the likes of Mateo Corbo and Andre Gumprecht, and more of the likes of Adrian, Bobo, Leroy George, and Ronald Vargas. Someone like Bolt would encourage quality players to come Down Under and improve everyone involved.
The Mariners, and in conjunction the FFA, are playing the long game. The future of the league is not dependent on the success of this trial, just as the league and the game will grow once more people underneath it stop fighting and start working with it.
However, if Usain Bolt and the Mariners are a success story, then the sky is the limit for the A-League.