Usain Bolt finally did it. He’s officially a professional soccer player.
Bolt played the first game of his pro career Friday evening in Australia, taking the pitch as a substitute as his Central Coast Mariners mopped up Central Coast Football’s exhibition squad, 6-1. The eight-time gold medalist entered the game in the 71st minute and got some limited touches, but failed to find the back of the net in his debut.
A moment in sporting history is made. @usainbolt, the footballer, steps onto the pitch in Yellow & Navy. ⚡️ #CCMFC #ALeague pic.twitter.com/3j9ZuEvTsf— Central Coast Mariners (@CCMariners) August 31, 2018
While the 6’4 speedster was tough for CCF defenders to cover, his inexperience on the field shined through. His first touch as a pro saw him mistime a feed near the box, flubbing a scoring opportunity off his back heel — a mistake Bolt was able to laugh off afterward:
Here was his first touch...( :@ALeague) pic.twitter.com/S390fl7DCe— Luis Miguel Echegaray (@lmechegaray) August 31, 2018
“It was good. It was what I expected. The crowd gave me plenty of motivation,” Bolt told reporters after the match. “I think my fitness is much better than the first week since I came here. I’m grateful to the Mariners for giving me the chance.
“Right now I’m just trying to get used to the guys. It’s a wonderful moment, to actually get on the field and play professional football. The players have really accepted me, trying to teach me things at training, encouraging me to push myself.”
Bolt will have other opportunities to prove himself for the Mariners, though he’s not yet an official member of the team’s A-League roster. The showdown with Central Coast Select was a preseason friendly; an exhibition against a roster culled from local club players and budding pros. The actual A-League schedule won’t begin until Oct. 21, when the Mariners host the Brisbane Roar FC. To hear club officials tell it, Bolt will be counted on for those games as well.
“He did himself proud,” Mariners head coach Mike Mulvey commented. He was on there for 20 minutes. The football movements are different from athletic movements but he showed he’s got some skills.
”He’s here for the long haul if necessary. We’ve got seven weeks to go till the start of the A-League season.”
Central Coast could use all the talent it can get. The Mariners finished dead last in Australia’s premier league last winter, going just 4-15 with eight draws. Bolt may be more spectacle than striker right now, but if he can turn his speed and height into new scoring opportunities, he’ll be an asset for reasons that go beyond his ability to garner headlines.