Usain Bolt’s football future could be decided in a matter of days with Football Federation Australia holding the key to whether the Jamaican sprint king remains with Central Coast Mariners, or possibly jets off to try his luck elsewhere.
The club’s hierarchy want the governing body to lavish $1 million from their marquee fund to help finance an A-League contract for Bolt, whose two goals in a 4-0 pre-season win against Macarthur South West United on Friday brought headlines across the world.
The ball is now in FFA’s court, as they weigh the marketing value the 32-year-old might bring to the competition.
It’s a value - in terms of potential spikes in attendances and TV ratings - the Mariners feel could be worth more to the league in purely commercial terms than Melbourne Victory marquee Keisuke Honda, whose acquisition was backed by FFA to the tune of $1 million plus.
It’s understood that FFA will provide the Mariners with a final call on Bolt imminently.
Should they opt not to back the experiment of unleashing him on the A-League, then it’s likely Mariners owner Mike Charlesworth - who has already spent over $500,000 on the project - might struggle to prolong the relationship with Bolt.
His Mariners dalliance has generated over 700 million online hits, and an estimated $24 million worth of media coverage.
Talks between the Mariners and Bolt’s management are expected to commence this week, in a subplot to the story of a would-be footballer whose quest for a professional contract has been greeted by all shades of opinion, from supportive to dismissive and derisory.
There appear to be three scenarios. Firstly, FFA dig deep and back the venture, thus thrusting Bolt onto the A-League stage - albeit as a likely bit-part player - with the Mariners’ season kicking off against Brisbane Roar next Sunday at Suncorp Stadium.
Secondly, FFA refuse to come to the party but Bolt decides to ignore other potential offers, scales back his financial expectations, and remains anyway in an arrangement which would likely see him featuring off the bench on occasion whilst continuing his football education under the Mariners coaching team of Mike Mulvey and Mike Phelan.
In that case, a final decision could be adjourned by all parties until January, as previously indicated when he arrived in August.
Thirdly, FFA remain on the sidelines and Bolt’s manager Ricky Simms, who may have plan B's assigned in jurisdictions elsewhere, activates those options. This is effectively the bail out clause.
Bolt’s stop-start performance on Friday strengthened the conviction of many that a football transition is beyond him, whilst convincing others of exactly the opposite.
The man himself took only positives from his first start for the club, making all the right noises over an evolving relationship with the club.
“I’m here to prove to the world that, as I said, I can be a footballer, and I can push myself and see how far I can go. That’s what I’m here for,” Bolt said after his 75 minutes on the field.
“I always give thanks to Mariners for giving me the opportunity to prove myself. So I’m just excited to take it step by step, and move forward.
“The more you play with the players, the more you get to know what they want; where they want the ball; where you should be when they have the ball.
“So I think with more time, if I continue on this journey, we’ll get better.”