A leading Aussie football commentator says the A-League’s pursuit of Usain Bolt could ‘reduce the league to a sideshow’.
Bolt, 31, retired from sprinting last year but has long harboured ambitions of a career in football.
Australian football agent Tony Rallis says an “in-principle” deal has been reached to bring the eight-time Olympic gold medallist to the Central Coast Mariners for a six-week trial.
“We’ve got a club that’s willing to allow him to trial and offer him the contract,” Rallis told AAP.
“We’ve got an athlete that’s prepared to meet the trial criteria and benchmarks.
“We just need some funding from the FFA to top it up.”
The Mariners, who finished bottom of the table last season, confirmed they were “committed to discussions” with Bolt and his management team.
“It is crucial to note that all discussions between the Central Coast Mariners and Bolt require an initial six-week-trial period and no contract is guaranteed,” a club statement read.
Many fans were laughing at the ‘publicity stunt’ on Tuesday, but renown Australian commentator Simon Hill didn’t see the funny side.
“If it’s a marketing stunt then great, it’s got people talking about the A-League, I don’t mind that,” Hill told SEN Breakfast.
“If they’re being serious, no. Please. The guy, as brilliant an athlete as he was and is, he isn’t a professional footballer.
“He might be quite handy, I don’t know, but for me, if we are going to go down that road, we are reducing the A-League to a sideshow, a circus freak show, a gimmick.
“We don’t need it. The league is a serious competition.
“If we are going to bring in big stars, then let’s get proper marquee players, for which you have to pay.”
At least Usain Bolt will give the Central Coast Mariners a chance to try out their new 10-0-0-1 formation.
— Adam Liaw (@adamliaw) July 17, 2018
Ah, Usain Bolt playing in the A-League. What better way to prove that it is a serious professional football league with high standards?
— Ben Pobjie (@benpobjie) July 16, 2018
If he does get a contract I feel for the poor up-and-coming player who misses out on a full-time spot in the squad for a marketing push. Just like I did for the spot Andrew Johns took at NSW Cricket T20 in games, and the girl who lost out to Ash Barty at the Brisbane Heat. https://t.co/l7Xly7EmXc
— Scott Bailey (@ScottBaileyAAP) July 16, 2018
I never said bringing him is good for the league. I said it’s a sugar hit and good publicity. But that’s all. At 31yo He isn’t going to cut it as a player. I prefer CCM went for a big name marquee
— Ray Gatt (@Gatty54) July 17, 2018
FFA has a pot of $3 million, provided by Fox Sports, to spend on marquee players for the upcoming season.
FFA is believed to be deep in talks with former Japanese international Keisuke Honda, who is interested in joining Melbourne Victory and would command the majority of the fund if he reaches an agreement with the A-League champions.
Conceivably, the rest could be allocated to Bolt in the event of a successful trial in Gosford.
Bolt played in a charity match for Unicef last month in London, captaining a “Soccer Aid World XI” team that featured Robbie Williams, Kevin Pietersen and Yaya Toure.
The team was co-coached by Eric Cantona and Harry Redknapp, who previously served as an ‘advisor’ to the Mariners in 2016.
Bolt reportedly had a goal chalked off for offside and hit the crossbar but scored in a penalty shootout, having warmed up for the match with a 20-minute spell for Norweigian side Stromsgodset in a friendly against Norway’s under-19s.
He has previously trained with clubs including Germany’s Borussia Dortmund and South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns and also played a practice match with Melbourne Heart’s youth team during a 2012 visit to Australia.