SYDNEY, Australia — It appears that lightning can strike twice. Having failed to find the net in his previous outing for Central Coast Mariners, on a rainy Friday night in the South West Sydney suburb of Campbelltown celebrity trialist Usain Bolt scored the first two goals of his fledgling football career.
In his maiden start for the Mariners, the Olympic legend looked nervous early on and, by his own admission, panicked when his first goal-scoring opportunity arrived in the opening minutes.
Since his underwhelming first appearance in late August, Bolt has undertaken intensive training sessions in a bid to work on both skills and fitness, yet for the first 45 minutes the improvement looked to be minimal.
Despite having the experience of Tommy Oar and Ross McCormack alongside him in attack, heavy first touches saw Bolt give up possession easily as he struggled to make any real impact. A first-half header was wide of the mark and poor timing continued to plague the eight-time Olympic sprint champion as he battled to keep his football dream alive.
Manager Mike Mulvey had indicated Bolt would have at least 70 minutes to prove his worth and just short of the hour mark the Jamaican finally gave the fans something to cheer about.
Taking the ball on the left and shrugging off his defender, his low strike beat the goalkeeper at the near post. Cue hysteria in Campbelltown as the trademark “Lightning Bolt” celebration was beamed around the world.
“You’ve got to be happy for him,” Mulvey told FOX Sports. “It’s one of those moments he’ll treasure forever but it was just good football, he shielded the ball well and hit the target.”
In the 69th minute, a defensive mix up from the home side presented Bolt with a second and all he had to do this time was simply tap the ball into the net for his brace.
Showing that he is not just any trialist, Bolt signalled to the bench that he wanted five more minutes, but his hat trick was not forthcoming and he left the field to a standing ovation.
The headlines will naturally be all about the goals and he should certainly be given credit where it’s due — the first one was a tidy finish that any footballer would be proud of. However, it should not be forgotten that the opposition in this match was not the same standard as Bolt will face should he secure a contract to play in the A-League.
His fitness has certainly improved and in time he may well be the fittest and fastest player Down Under, yet what is missing are the innate skills and awareness that all footballers have by this stage of their careers. For him to learn those skills at 32 years of age is a huge challenge, though he is clearly confident.
“Scoring a goal in your first proper match, the first start and scoring two goals, it was a good feeling,” Bolt told FOX Sports after the game. “Because this is what I’ve worked for. I’ve tried to prove myself, I’ve tried to get better. I think I’ve improved in every area. I think my touch is that little bit better; my vision needs to improve a little bit more.”
As you would expect from a sprinter, Bolt has very fast feet, yet he can only play football with his left. His touch on the ball and ability to evade defenders is still very much a work in progress, as is his positioning and vision.
“It’s the most important thing for a footballer, his touch, [and it was] was poor,” FOX Sports commentator Mark Bosnich said. “He’s playing in a different position than he was in the first game.
“His speed endurance is a little bit better but he still looked tired after 15-20 minutes. He just looks a little bit sharper, not a great deal to be honest. There’s a slight improvement but not very much.”
Still, Bolt’s goals have bought him some time and the lengthy period spent signing autographs and taking selfies with the fans after the final whistle show that there is another side to the debate over whether he can make it as a pro.
Bolt’s value to last season’s bottom side is in his off-field appeal and with A-League starting in just seven days’ time, the Central Coast Mariners will need to calculate just how much that outweighs his performance on the pitch. He’s finally shown the world what he is capable of, but he clearly still has a long way to go yet.