Mariners or Malta? Bolt must weigh up future
IT'S perhaps just an amusing coincidence that Valletta's entire population could squeeze into Campbelltown Stadium three times over.
And that the number of people living in Malta's capital, the prospective next destination of Usain Bolt's football pilgrimage, happens to be more or less the same as last Friday night's actual crowd figure of around 6000.
Because when Bolt's brace went global, it was the minute Mediterranean archipelago which sat up and took the most notice, and one of its clubs that emerged as a new protagonist in the Bolt-Central Coast-Football Federation Australia triangle.
The unconditional offer from Maltese Premier League side Valletta FC, known by The Daily Telegraph and since confirmed by the club itself, could significantly fast-track Bolt's football dream.
Now it's down to Bolt to decide which road will be more fruitful in his bid to play professionally.
Certainly it will be quicker at Valletta FC, where he can skip the trial for a two-year unconditional deal under ambitious new Dubai investors intent on qualifying the domestic heavyweights for the Champions League group stages.
But there are also positives to staying with the Mariners, where he's been receiving a valuable football education in a professional environment.
As the club stuck to coach Mike Mulvey's script that Bolt's A-League merits would be judged on merit come January, speculation continued to swirl over whether the 32-year-old will still be in Gosford come next week, let alone next year.
Mulvey and his staff have worked hard to get the track world record-holder up to speed in both fitness and form.
Bolt trained with the squad on Monday, when he also obliged - irritated though he was - with his drug test notice from FFA.
The players had the day off yesterday but, unless decisions are made in the interim, he is expected to return to training on Wednesday.
But Bolt said himself after his maiden goals, you can train all you like but it doesn't stand up to match experience.
And without a contract, minutes are next to impossible once the season starts this weekend.
In terms of money, the Mariners are waiting on word from FFA on whether it will contribute financially to a multi-million deal largely funded by club owner Mike Charlesworth.
The governing body, on the other hand, has placed responsibility firmly back with the club, agreeing to consider assisting but ruling out drawing from the same marquee player fund utilised for Keisuke Honda and Sam Kerr.
Either way Central Coast don't really lose - the community club has already reached an audience of more than 600 million and generated $26 million in media coverage.
On another front, the whole affair has allowed the squad's preparation for Sunday's away season-opener against Brisbane Roar to fly largely under the radar.
Even big acquisitions Ross McCormack and Tommy Oar have escaped the burden of expectation despite of their own eye-catching performances against Macarthur South West United.
The consensus at the Mariners is that the mere presence of such a legendary sporting superstar has been both refreshing and instructive for the players and culture.
Soon we might find out where the experience leaves him.
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