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Usain Bolt, nervous, plays first match for Australian soccer club

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Usain Bolt debuted for his Australian professional soccer team, playing the last 20 minutes of a preseason exhibition against an amateur team Friday night.

Bolt, displacing Richard Dent as the most famous No. 95 in sports history and wearing black gloves, jogged into the midfield for the Central Coast Mariners of Australia’s top division amid a smoke-and-lights show and the club leading 6-0.

Central Coast won 6-1, watched by an announced attendance of 9,958 for last season’s last-place club.

“It was what I expected,” Bolt said in a TV interview. “I was a little bit nervous, but as soon as I got onto the field, the nerves kind of went [away]. I wish I had more touches, but I’m not fit yet.”

Bolt, an eight-time Olympic champion who retired from track and field last year, joined the club on a trial basis last week. He has long harbored professional soccer ambitions and this year trained with teams in Jamaica, South Africa, Norway and Germany.

Bolt said after the match that he needs another two months to reach full fitness.

“Then to get used to the touches, the passes, understand how my teammates play, understand the game, four months I’ll be playing like one of the guys,” he said.

The A-League regular season starts in mid-October. Bolt, 32, is not guaranteed to be on the roster in two months’ time.

“He is looking forward to the next nine months here,” Bolt’s agent said, according to ABC News.

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Usain Bolt sets debut match with Australian soccer team

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GOSFORD, Australia (AP) — Usain Bolt will make his debut for the Central Coast Mariners in an Australian A-League preseason exhibition game against an amateur team.

The eight-time Olympic sprinting gold medalist from Jamaica is on trial with the Mariners, hoping to win a professional contract.

He has been practicing this week on the left wing and expects to play about 15 to 20 minutes in that position during Friday’s exhibition match.

Club officials are predicting a crowd of 12,000 for the home game in Gosford, north of Sydney.

Bolt, who is at home on a much larger stage, expected to be nervous on his debut.

“There definitely will be nerves, it’s not like it’s a charity game anymore,” Bolt said. “I expect to make mistakes but I also expect to go out there, make myself proud and to push myself.

“I know I’m not going to have a perfect game.”

Bolt had his first full practice session with the Mariners on Tuesday after taking time to ease into his new role during his first week with the club. He appeared at times to struggle with the pace and demands of training.

Some critics have said Bolt’s bid to turn professional is little more than a gimmick, but staff at the club say they’re giving the world’s fastest runner a chance to prove himself.

“The thing he’s struggling with more than anything else right now is getting used to the football fitness,” Mariners coach Mike Mulvey said. He said in terms of skills, Bolt is “doing OK.”

“He’s got rudimentary skills, there’s no problem about that,” Mulvey said. “It’s about being able to do it at the speed that we do it.”

Bolt said he’s finding the nature of football training different and demanding but felt he had made some improvement in his first week.

“For me, it’s the stop and go’s, the tick-tacks. Because I’m not used to picking up speed, going back down, up and down, up and down, back and forth, that’s the most challenging,” he said. “The season doesn’t start until the end of October, so I have time.”

The 32-year-old Bolt, who holds the world records for the 100m and 200m sprints and was the undisputed track and field star of three Olympics, thinks he isn’t far from full fitness.

“It’s just time,” he said. “I don’t know how my body is going to feel. I know when I’m on the field I’m always going to push myself.”

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Usain Bolt eager to prove doubters wrong as soccer trial starts

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Usain Bolt began his indefinite trial with an Australian professional soccer team on his 32nd birthday on Tuesday. And that, he insists, is proof that his new career is legitimate.

“People always gonna say what they want to say,” Bolt said when asked about those who call it “a gimmick.” “Just like when I was in track and field, people say a lot of things about me, but I always prove them wrong. It’s just another moment for me to prove them wrong. … I don’t care what people say.”

Bolt is training with the Central Coast Mariners, the last-place team in Australia’s top division.

His goal is to earn a contract with the club, whose league season begins in two months. His dream is to one day play for Manchester United.

“For me it’s just like track and field,” Bolt said. “The first day of training is always the roughest one. You can tell how much work you need to put in, what you need to do. But it felt OK. I know it’s going to take time and work, and I’m ready to work.”

Bolt said he turned down offers from teams in France and Spain, but not in the top division. He prefers Australia, where he doesn’t have to learn a language.

“The coach has explained to me that there won’t be any special treatment,” said Bolt, who fancies himself a winger or center forward and has to work on “the basic skills. “They will treat me just like a footballer should be treated. … I don’t want to be treated like I’m the world’s fastest man.”

Central Coast Mariners coach Mike Mulvey said Bolt should be ready to play in a preseason match against local players on Aug. 31, but he doesn’t want to rush.

“If it takes 12 months, I’m happy for him to be here,” Mulvey said. “He’s already brought the biggest throng of media to this area. The highlight, the spotlight is on Central Coast.”

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