Jamaica legend laps up transition from sprinter to footballer
Usain Bolt struck a brace in his maiden role as a striker to help guide Australian A-League’s Central Coast Mariners to a thumping 4-0 triumph over Macarthur South West on Friday.
And the 32-year-old Jamaican icon, an eight-time Olympic champion, celebrated both of his goals inside the host’s Campbelltown Stadium with his trademark Lightning Bolt celebration pose.
The former sprinter acknowledged before kick-off that Friday’s friendly was a make-or-break scenario, as he had not been match fit on joining the Mariners in August.
And because of his limited technical ability, new coach Mike Mulvey had previously restricted the gangly Bolt to just an 18-minute substitute appearance.
Because of his natural speed Mulvey unleashed Bolt in a new role as striker, rewarded with Friday’s fireworks from the wannabe footballer in front of 6,000 spectators.
But Bolt put in a modest display early on. His first touch was clumsy and although he was eager to impress only made it to the 18-yard box with his initial chance before being tackled.
Bolt admitted he fluffed his first goalscoring opportunity: “I just panicked a little bit. But the more you play, the more you learn and get accustomed to the game.”
Although he popped up with a handful of neat touches he was often left floating around the pitch so produced an indifferent first-half display.
Just before the interval Tommy Oar whisked a telling cross that Bolt timed his athletic jump to perfect, except head the ball wide of the gaping goalmouth.
But his most memorable part of the opening half had come earlier, being on the receiving end of a boot to the groin from defender Tom Whiteside – and being flagged offside at the same time.
Bolt, who is on trial with the Mariners with a decision to be made in December or January as to whether he will earn a contract, was quick off the mark once his side were cruising at 2-0.
Scotland striker Ross McCormack, playing slightly deeper behind Bolt, opened the scoring on seven minutes by putting away Oar’s cross from the right wing. And Jordan Murray headed home from McCormack’s corner on the cusp of half-time.
Bolt looked out of sorts straight after the interval, unable to capitalise on the chances that were coming thick and fast.
But once he found his rhythm and his nerves settled then Bolt’s hunger to show what he can do on the field shone through, rewarded with two goals before being substituted.
McCormack sent a through ball for Bolt to chase, and he showed his athleticism to fend off defender Josh Symons before firing a left-footed rocket past stunned keeper Eze Consoni on 54 minutes.
And needing to impress Mulvey, it was unfortunate that the coach was being interviewed on the sideline when Bolt notched his second goal.
A mix-up saw defender and keeper comically collide, with Bolt on hand to tap into an empty net from close range.
His reward for adding to the tally was to be substituted. Despite begging Mulvey for another five more minutes in a bid to chase his hat-trick Bolt was replaced on 74 minutes – the crowd booing the decision.
Bolt said: “It was a big deal scoring in your first proper match, it’s a good feeling.”
And on his social media Instagram page was clearly elated.
With the A-League season kicking off next week then Bolt will be hoping to get his first 90 minutes under his belt.
Although he scored a cracker and nicked a second goal against a lowly side in a meaningless friendly, he still has his work cut out to impress Mulvey enough to earn a contract. But after this display his dream continues.
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