Usain Bolt’s pursuit of an A-League contract could be derailed on Friday night by a young centre-back already touted as being worthy of a professional deal in his own right.
Central Coast Mariners coach Mike Mulvey intends to start world football’s most decorated triallist as a striker in what might be a make-or-break pre-season match for the Jamaican sprint giant against a combined NPL team representing Sydney’s south-west.
Over 5000 Bolt watchers are expected at Campbelltown Stadium to witness the latest installment of the eight-time Olympic champion’s “can he, or can’t he?” journey with the Mariners.
But while Bolt’s round-ball bonafides remain in question, those of young Tom Whiteside - one of the stoppers aiming the leave 32-year-old stuck in the starting blocks - don’t appear to be.
Certainly not in the eyes of former Johnny Warren medalist Nicky Carle, who will coach Macarthur South West United against Mulvey’s men.
Carle, one of the most inventive Australian players of his generation, said that while the spotlight will illuminate every move Bolt makes, it’s Whiteside who's already proved he’s good enough to play in the A-League after a breakout season with Sydney Olympic as they annexed an NPL Premiership-championship double.
“Of course there’s a huge focus on Usain Bolt and whether he can win himself an A-League contract,” said Carle.
“I can only wish him well and there’s no doubt that his presence in the competition would be huge in terms of driving interest.
“But for me, Tom Whiteside has already done more than enough to prove he has what it takes.
“He’s 23 and I’m actually surprised nobody has picked him up yet and given him a chance in the A-League because he has all the qualities to thrive at that level.
“I think anybody who watches him on Friday night will see that. Hopefully an opportunity will come for him sooner rather than later.”
Carle, 36, has selected a team showcasing the talents of players drawn from NPL clubs like Olympic, Sydney United, Apia Leichhardt and the Southern Districts Association, in what effectively is a trial run for the Macurthur Sydney South West A-League bid.
But, on this night, it will be all about Bolt, as he makes his first start in what Mulvey has signaled could be decisive in his intended transition from the track to the football field.
Skeptics claim it can’t happen, but Carle - having played across Europe during a 13-year professional career - is attracted to the romanticism of Bolt’s adventure, insisting every athlete has the right to challenge themselves.
“His mere presence here is generating headlines and interest, and that can only be a good thing,” he added.
“Ultimately, it will come down to whether he’s good enough - and I’m sure that question will be answered soon enough.
“The Mariners are obviously doing all they can to make sure he’s up to scratch, and good luck to him and them.
“I’d love to see him successfully make the switch.
“The publicity that’s been out there already is huge and if he does end up signing - and that won’t happen unless he’s good enough - then I think it will be a massive bonus for the league.”
Carle has only had two sessions with his players but insists they’ll be competitive, and that the game will also be about putting MSWS - the bid backed by billionaire property baron Lang Walker - “on the map”.
He also plans to unleash another player he rates highly, 18-year-old attacking weapon Matthew Barkho, who played over 20 first grade games for Southern Districts this season.
“He’s another who can go much further,” he said. “He’s got bags of talent and just needs to keep developing.
“We want to see a good crowd out there to show we’re serious about having an A-League license, and to get behind these players.
“Hopefully we create something that goes a long way ... we all know that we’re in a massive growth area and how many people play the game out here.
“An A-League club would be massive for the region.”