Former Man United coach ready to help Bolt make A-League
FIVE years ago, as Mike Phelan was helping Sir Alex Ferguson lift the last of his many Premier League trophies, the legendary manager's right-hand man never once considered he might one day find himself in Gosford, Australia, coaching Usain Bolt.
Of course he'd seen the Jamaican sprint king, a Manchester United fan since childhood, around the traps at Old Trafford and at the odd game.
The Central Coast Mariners' new sporting director even chatted with the "out there, effervescent" character about his future aspirations to play football professionally just like the stars Phelan coached.
Now the man who worked day to day with the likes of Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo is just as enthusiastic about the prospect of turning the world-famous "six foot-plus unit that can run" into somebody who could be good enough to play in the A-League.
"I never dreamt it in a million years," Phelan told The Daily Telegraph.
"But I've been in the game long enough to know every day is a different day and it brings a different challenge and experience.
"Part of the challenge is to get people excited, get them interested in football and enjoy this moment in time.
"How often do you get the world's best sprinter on the Central Coast? How often do you get one that wants to be a footballer? Let's get excited about that and see where it takes us.
"He's six foot plus, he's a unit, and he can run. He's got to turn that into a football unit. But that's the great journey."
Phelan has seen Bolt, who has unsuccessfully trialled at Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund and Norwegian outfit Stromsgodset, play in charity matches and felt he'd held his own and "enjoyed himself extremely".
There were signs of the eight-time Olympic gold medallist's decades-long education as a fan.
He also observed a decent left foot.
"He's got two good feet - he's the world's best sprinter," Phelan said.
"We ain't going to tamper with that, that's what he's got.
"He's a champion in sport ... that takes a lot of hard work and determination, and he's got bags of that. He has to apply that in a different environment, and that's his challenge.
"He's got to get used to the Central Coast, the dressing room and football-minded people. He's got to be thinking football, sleeping football.
"We're not here to dampen his dream, we're here to exercise his dream.
"We're giving him an opportunity to put a pair of boots on those two feet - the fastest feet in the world - and put a football in front of them."
Phelan was appointed last month by Mike Charlesworth, the Mariners owner who it's believed made a significant investment to get Bolt to the club for his indefinite training stint.
Part of the 55-year-old's brief is to use his vast experience at the top of the game to reboot last season's wooden-spooners, in particular the academies.
And the one-time Hull City manager sees no reason why Bolt's presence in the dressing room would get in the way.
One of the central criticisms of Bolt's imminent arrival is that, should he be given a contract, a young Australian player would be robbed of a rare professional opportunity.
The club has pointed to this week's signings of NPL youngsters Jordan Murray and Josh MacDonald as evidence against, while chief executive Shaun Mielekamp said Bolt would only take a foreign spot if signed.
Instead, Phelan felt an athlete of Bolt's stature would provide a source of motivation for the squad's younger members.
Assistant coach and former Mariners skipper Nick Montgomery agreed.
"It'll be beneficial for the young players to learn from good habits and someone who's reached the top like he has," Montgomery said.
"We're talking about one of the greatest athletes of all time.
"He's big, he's strong. He's left-footed, which is always a positive. Speed is one thing I won't be able to teach him - I don't think I've run fast in 20 years.
"If I was a fullback I don't think I'd want to track him."
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