You’ll have read many pieces about how exciting Usain Bolt’s “indefinite training period” will be for the Central Coast Mariners. People have dedicated hundreds of words to how Bolt will put the Central Coast on the map and how he may just be the magical shot in the arm the A-League needs to drag it out of its malaise.
It appears the A-League’s obsession with big names as a solution to any and all problems has now moved beyond footballers to eight-time Olympic sprinting champions who want to be footballers.
Surely even the optimists who believe this will be a good move for the Mariners – and can have positive consequences for the league more broadly – can’t ignore the gimmick-y nature of the whole situation.
The expectation that the publicity generated from Bolt’s celebrity will trickle down and transform itself into increased exposure for the Mariners and the A-League is one that Australian football has seen disproven before.
It was believed that Luis Garcia would put the Central Coast on the map and that his vast experience could benefit a young Mariners squad. Whether that eventuated is difficult to say.
Tim Cahill was meant to be the bridge between Australian sports fan and the A-League, but his stint did little to nothing to improve Melbourne City’s metrics.
The Mariners have put themselves in an interesting situation. By giving Bolt an indefinite amount of time, they are allowing themselves plenty of room to legitimise the move, come hell or high water.
If he is in fact good enough, one can only assume that once the initial intrigue dies (much like it did with Garcia and Cahill), all this time and effort could be for very little in the short term and even less in the long term.
If he isn’t good enough to go beyond the indefinite training period, then Central Coast has created a circus for nothing.
The Mariners haven’t played finals in 1,577 days, have mustered 18 wins out of 108 league games in the last four seasons and haven’t finished above eighth in that time.
Perhaps the club’s focus should be less on trying to turn athletes into footballers and more on how they can return to finals football.