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Volume 7 No. 149

International Football

The "Usain Bolt A-League experiment could be over," according to Ray Gatt of THE AUSTRALIAN. Bolt is "reportedly the subject of an unconditional offer to join a club in Europe." Australian agent Tony Rallis, who brokered the deal to bring the eight-time Olympic Gold Medalist to the Central Coast Mariners for trials, confirmed that "an offer is on the table." However, Rallis "would not divulge any more information," except to say that the A-League "would lose one of its best marketing and promotion tools if Bolt decided to leave." The offer is reportedly a "two-years-plus-one deal and carries no conditions." He "does not have to trial and would go straight into the team for his first fully fledged professional match" if he accepts the deal. It is understood the club "is owned by a group of wealthy Arabs" and plays in one of the "lesser European leagues which does not have automatic qualification" to the Champions League. The owners "have huge ambitions and are looking to win the title and earn the right to play in the Champions League qualifiers" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 10/15). In Sydney, Emma Kemp reported Central Coast "may have to move fast" to sign Bolt. It is understood the "in-writing approach, which comes with attached commercial incentives, was made over the weekend" after Bolt scored twice in his "full Mariners debut" on Friday. It "throws into sharp relief the 32-year-old’s situation at the Mariners," as the club awaits confirmation from Football Federation Australia on "how much and in what manner it is willing to contribute" to a prospective A$3M ($2.14M) A-League contract. Bolt’s first goal "quickly went viral" and was viewed more than 6 million times on Central Coast’s Twitter account. Since Bolt arrived two months ago, the Mariners "have reached a global audience of more than 500 million people," bringing the A-League an "unprecedented level" of preseason exposure. Mariners Owner Mike Charlesworth "is willing to front up a large chunk of any contract" but is hoping FFA will "tip in the remaining sum." The "key now" is FFA, which acknowledged the "effervescent sprint star’s powerful marketing power" but emphasized the ultimate responsibility lies with Central Coast. FFA CEO David Gallop said, "The ball's still in the Mariners' and Usain's court. ... Whether they’re ready to take that next step and sign a contract is still very much their call. Having said that, we’ve indicated in the past that if they do take that step we will look to see how we can feasibly help them financially" (DAILY TELEGRAPH, 10/15). ESPN.com's Brantz & Hamilton reported Bolt was offered a two-year contract to play for Maltese club Valletta and "spearhead" its charge to the Champions League. Valletta Managing Dir & CEO Ghasston Slimen said that the club hopes to sign Bolt "in time for him to participate" in its Maltese Super Cup match on Dec. 13 against Balzan. Slimen: "A champion is always welcome and at Valletta FC we believe nothing is impossible." He added that he "hoped Bolt could pave the way for more athletes to switch sports" (ESPN.com, 10/15).

GOOD FOR THE GAME?: ESPN.com's Stuart Randall reported Bolt's performance on Friday was "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." Publicly, many experts are complimentary of Bolt's efforts. Privately, they doubt that a contract will ever materialize (ESPN.com, 10/15).

MUST-SEE TV: The AAP's Matt Encarnacion reported Australia's W-League football marquee player, Sam Kerr, believes Bolt is worth marquee "money and standing." Kerr and Japanese player Keisuke Honda headlined the respective W-League and A-League launches in Sydney on Monday, but it is "hard not to think Bolt should be there with them as he grabs headlines with his audacious code switch." Kerr: "If I wasn't a Nike athlete, I definitely would be rocking a Central Coast jersey with 95 on it. I'm not going to lie: I turned on the Central Coast game the other day just to watch him. So if it's appealing to people like me, I'm sure it is to other people" (AAP, 10/15).

'ELITE ATHLETE': The BBC reported Bolt "questioned why he has received a notice" for a drug test from the Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority, "saying he is not yet a professional footballer." Bolt said that he was told he is being tested as he is an "elite athlete." He posted an image of the drug test notice on Instagram and said in the post, "So guys I've retired from track and field looking to become a footballer but look at this." The notice from ASADA requesting blood and urine "appears to have been issued" by FFA (BBC, 10/15).

Greg O'Rourke has reportedly settled on which two bids he wants to win entry into the A-League.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

A-League Head Greg O’Rourke will recommend to the outgoing Football Federation Australia board "which two teams should join an expanded national competition," but he wants the governing body’s new board to "endorse his decision," according to Marco Monteverde of the Brisbane COURIER-MAIL. The board led by FFA Chair Steven Lowy, which will be replaced next month, will meet on Tuesday, "with expansion on the agenda." O’Rourke "has settled on which two of the eight remaining expansion bids" -- which come from NSW, Victoria, Queensland and Canberra -- he wants, "in what would become a 12-team A-League." However, with the possibility that the new board "could overturn" the departing board's expansion decision, O’Rourke said that it was "common sense" that the choice be made by the new chair and directors, which would mean the "long proposed" Oct. 31 announcement would be delayed. O'Rourke: "Are we ready to make a recommendation? Yes, but the other thing is, do we think that this board should be the one to approve that recommendation? This board is meeting for effectively the last time operationally ... so the question for them will be whether or not they want to make the call, or whether they want the newly-constituted board to make the call, and that’s the thing that I don’t know" (COURIER-MAIL, 10/15). In Sydney, Vince Rugari reported O'Rourke said that he "had no idea what the current FFA board would do, let alone how the next one would feel about expansion." The new board would have the power to "reverse any decisions made before them if they wanted to." O'Rourke: "I clearly don't want expansion delayed. The people I talk to who are involved in the nomination of board members, none of them have said they want expansion delayed." O'Rourke "was hopeful that even if the entry of the two new teams is delayed by a season, the announcement itself is not." He said, "Because that's where the excitement comes. That's where the ability for those clubs to then start recruiting, setting up, employing individuals, going into the community and getting their colors and the name of the club and all those sorts of things -- that momentum, we can't afford to push down the road" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 10/15).

The Bundesliga will open an N.Y. office this week, the latest European football entity to "reach across the Atlantic," according to Ian Thomas of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. It will be the second int'l office for Germany’s top league, which opened a Singapore office in '12. Robert Klein, CEO of Bundesliga Int'l, the league’s subsidiary responsible for int'l sales and marketing, said that the league has been working on opening a U.S.-based office "for more than a year, providing closer access to its partners," U.S. broadcaster Fox Sports and fans. Bayern Munich was one of the first European clubs to have a full-time office and staff in the U.S. when it opened its doors in June '14. Klein: "Bayern has done a great job with its event presence and what it has done with digital and social media, but we need to bring more than just Bayern, we need to bring the other clubs." The Bundesliga U.S. office, which will be located on Park Avenue in the Union Square neighborhood, "is expected to have five or six employees to start," with additional space and desks available to representatives of any of the league’s clubs. The office will be led by Arne Rees, who was named exec VP of strategy, and Head of Bundesliga Americas Melanie Fitzgerald (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 10/15 issue).

Gareth Southgate believes the short break following the World Cup has affected players' freshness.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

England Manager Gareth Southgate suggested players were "put at risk" after the Premier League season "kicked off too soon" following the conclusion of the World Cup, according to Dominic Fifield of the London GUARDIAN. Southgate, whose side played Spain in its latest Nations League fixture on Monday, "expressed sympathy for his counterparts at club level" who had been put in an "impossible situation," picking players "left jaded by their lack of recovery time since Russia." Southgate admitted some of those who were "denied rest" and, subsequently, a proper preseason, have lacked "psychological freshness" as a result, "for all that the likes of Harry Kane have insisted they are fit and ready to represent their country." Southgate: "I think it’s psychological freshness, rather than physical. Everyone adapts their training load appropriately. But I think when you see the league, there are a lot of teams who haven’t started yet at the level when they are at their maximum" (GUARDIAN, 10/14).

Women's football will get 50% more funding from UEFA from '20 to "try to make it Europe's biggest female sport." An extra €2.75M ($3.2M) will be available for women's football projects per year, funded by profits from the men's European Championship. UEFA also plans to increase the number of qualified female coaches (BBC, 10/15).

Two former heads of the German FA (DFB) and two other officials "will not go on trial for suspected tax evasion" over a payment ahead of the 2006 World Cup hosted by Germany, Frankfurt’s regional court said. Former DFB execs Theo Zwanziger and Wolfgang Niersbach as well as former DFB General Secretary Horst Schmidt and a former FIFA official were charged in June. But the regional court said that it had "not seen enough suspicion of wrongdoing" to warrant a trial (REUTERS, 10/15).

Uruguay National Sports Secretary Fernando Cáceres on Friday said that the Argentinian government confirmed it will go ahead with the joint Argentina-Uruguay-Paraguay bid for hosting the 2030 World Cup. In contrast to stories circulating in Argentina that the country may drop out of the bid "due to economic problems," Cáceres said that "Argentina reaffirmed its commitment" (XINHUA, 10/13).