How does Bolt's arrival impact young Australian players?

Two years ago this weekend, Usain Bolt was a picture of cool, striking a pose as he cruised past the next seven fastest men in the world to clinch his place in sporting immortality in Rio de Janeiro.

In the pantheon of great Olympians, Bolt stands on the shoulders of giants. The Jamaican icon became the first person in history to take 100m gold in three straight Olympic Games – doing what was thought to be the impossible in his own unique, effortless style.

Fast forward two years, and few would have predicted what was to come next. The 31-year-old is used to having the sporting world at his feet. Now he has a football at his feet.

Whether he is capable of switching the golden running spikes for goal-scoring boots is yet to be revealed.

Bolt tackles German midfielder Mario Gotze while training with Borussia Dortmund
Usain Bolt tackles German midfielder Mario Gotze while training with Borussia Dortmund

Since announcing his ambitions to play for the Central Coast Mariners in the Hyundai A-League, Bolt's supporters have rigorously endorsed the man’s determination, drive, dedication, professionalism and enthusiasm needed to become a professional football player.

His critics say he’s an unwanted distraction, holding back young Australian talent and set to take up a valuable roster place.

Whichever side of the fence you fall, you cannot deny the man is turning heads and writing headlines. But first let’s address the burning question...

Would signing Bolt be taking the place of a young Australian player?

In a word: No.

If the Mariners coaching staff determine Bolt is playing at a high enough standard to make the grade in the Hyundai A-League, he would be signed as a foreign visa player.

Each Hyundai A-League team is allocated a maximum of five places on their rosters to accommodate overseas players.

This season, Adelaide United and Western Sydney Wanderers have already locked in five. The Central Coast Mariners so far have three – Kalifa Cissé, Tom Hiariej and Michael McGlinchey.

Even if Bolt was not handed a jersey, Mike Mulvey’s team have every right to sign another two foreign visa players within their 23-man squad for the 2018-19 campaign.

Bolt takes on former England defender Phil Neville
Bolt takes on former England defender Phil Neville in a charity match

But isn’t Bolt-mania harming the Mariners?

Since Bolt announced his ambition to realise his professional football dreams at the Gosford-based club – the world has taken notice.

The news has travelled to a global audience of almost 200 million people, according to Mariners media reports. That exposure holds a value to the tune of $9 million – and that was before the man with a stash of eight Olympic gold medals even stepped foot on Aussie soil.

Once Bolt laces up his boots for the first time, that figure is expected to sky rocket. People in all corners of the earth now know about the Central Coast Mariners and the Hyundai A-League.

Bolt trains with former Premier League striker Robbie Keane
Bolt trains with former Premier League striker Robbie Keane

What about focusing on developing young Australian players?

Already this pre-season, the Mariners have signed more players from youth and NPL backgrounds than any other Hyundai A-League outfit.

APIA Leichhardt Tigers’ Jordan Murray, who last season broke the NPL NSW goal-scoring record, and Josh Macdonald, who has already made an impression with two goals on his debut after signing from Wollongong Wolves, were signed to sharpen up the Mariners' attack.

Teenage goalkeeper Joe Gauci was recruited from SA NPL side Birkalla to add competition to the squad, and young flyer Peter Kekeris was promoted from the Mariners academy.

Most recently, Victoria NPL prospect Matthew Millar inked a one-year deal after shining in a series of trials which saw 50 NPL players try out for a spot on the Mariners squad.

The club that first discovered a youthful NPL talent named Mile Jedinak in 2006 have not forgotten their roots, and are willing to cast the net wide and far to discover the stars of the future.

If the world's fastest man is to make the Mariners roster, it will not be without competition. And perhaps these promising youngsters can learn a thing or two from Bolt about what it takes to become one of sport’s all-time greatest competitors.