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A-League Grand Final: 50-50 challenge

Australian A-League
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Usain Bolt's quest for a professional contract has A-League community divided

SYDNEY -- They were the goals seen around the globe. Usain Bolt's brace against the part-timers of MacArthur South West United on Friday sent social media into a frenzy and caught the attention of editors from Columbus to Colombo -- all of whom suddenly became aware of Campbelltown and a team called Central Coast.

Closer to home, though, Bolt's display has been greeted with mixed reactions, with many people within the Australian game viewing the Jamaican's attempts at gaining a professional deal with the Gosford-based side as nothing more than a sideshow, distracting from the real business of a new A-League season.

The battle lines are seemingly drawn between those perceived as "purists" who scoff at Bolt's attempts to make it as a pro, and those who see any publicity as good publicity. Publically, many experts are complimentary of Bolt's efforts. Privately, they doubt that a contract will ever materialise.

Like most things in Australian soccer ... it's complicated.

Coupled with the ongoing governance issues within the sport, and the prospect of the league's impending expansion being shelved as a result, there's a strange feeling heading into Week 1 of the A-League's 14th season.

At Monday's official launch in Sydney, the "B word" was barely uttered in official proceedings, as the new names of the league such as Japan international Keisuke Honda, English striker Adam Le Fondre and former Newcastle United captain Steven Taylor were paraded in front of the nation's media.

There's no doubt the league and the Mariners themselves are enjoying the sudden surge in global recognition, but until such a time that Bolt puts pen to paper, there's an understandable reluctance to trumpet the Olympic champion's presence in the country.

Socceroo Tommy Oar is back in the A-League after spells in the Netherlands and Cyprus. He is experiencing the Bolt experiment firsthand at his new side, Central Coast.

"It's been fascinating to see the work he is doing, and to have him around has been great," Oar told ESPN. "He's such a driven guy and has a real point to prove.

"He's a winner, and you can see that in the way he trains and to see how he deals with the pressure has been fascinating."

Oar has already seen the world's fastest man grow as a football player.

"You can see that his fitness and technical ability has already improved," he said. "And [the goals] will give him more drive and motivation.

"All the boys would be happy to see him stay."

Former Mariners striker Daniel McBreen won the A-League title with Central Coast in 2013, scoring in the Grand Final. He's less confident of Bolt making the grade.

"He is improving, but in my opinion, he has an awful lot of work to do to get to the level of a professional footballer," McBreen said.

"If he does sign, it might bring more eyes and attention to the club, but of course you can never make everyone happy."

Reports in the Australian media over the weekend indicated the Mariners would be seeking $1 million from the governing body as a contribution to Bolt's salary, should a deal eventuate. However, FFA Chief Executive David Gallop seemingly ruled that out on Monday, saying that the marquee fund set aside for use on such salaries "would not be part of the conversation" with the Mariners.

Gallop also conceded that the recent boardroom turmoil that saw the FFA lose their year-long battle on the terms of constitutional reforms, could see next season's planned A-League expansion shelved.

"Things off the pitch have complicated things, and we need to consider those complications," Gallop said.

"It [expansion] could be pushed out. Careful thinking and a lot of hard will be required for expansion."

Back on the field, there is huge anticipation for the debut of Honda, Melbourne Victory's marquee signing. The former AC Milan playmaker admitted that retirement was on his mind before the Victory came calling.

"I was supposed to quit after the World Cup, but Melbourne called, and their ambition made me change my mind," Honda said. "I also want to try and play in the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, so I need to train hard and work every day."

Honda is expected to make his A-League debut in Saturday night's Melbourne derby against crosstown rivals Melbourne City.

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