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FOOTBALL

Play Usain Bolt in defence, says Spain’s World Cup-winning coach

World Cup-winning coach Vicente del Bosque has some advice for sprint king Usain Bolt's new Australian club -- play him in defence.

Play Usain Bolt in defence, says Spain's World Cup-winning coach
Olympic champion Usain Bolt heads the ball as he trains with A-League football club Central Coast Mariners in Gosford, Australia. Photo: AFP

The Jamaican superstar has been handed the chance to train with the Central Coast Mariners for an indefinite period in a bid to prove he has what it takes to earn a professional playing contract.

The eight-time Olympic champion made his debut late last month in a 20-minute cameo as a substitute during a friendly, starting in his favoured left wing position. 

He nearly scored but tired quickly and admitted he was not match-fit, with Australian pundits saying he had plenty of work ahead to make the grade.   

Del Bosque, whose eight-year reign as Spain coach ended after their last-16 exit at Euro 2016, said it was possible Bolt could fulfil his dream of becoming a footballer, despite being 32.   

“For a team that counter-attacks hard and transitions quickly into open space, sure (he would fit in). It would be possible, of course,” de Bosque, who guided Spain to the 2010 World Cup title, told the Olympic Channel.

 But he suggested the 100m world record holder would be better in defence than up front.

“With space, he could be a very good footballer,” said del Bosque, who also steered Real Madrid to Champions League success.   

“He could be a full-back that covers a lot of space, but it depends, because it's not just about covering 100, or 60 or 70 metres of the pitch.   

“It's about doing it many times over and that requires stamina which I don't know whether he has or not — although I'm sure he has prepared.   

“Without a doubt as a full-back, with his back towards the crowd and the touchline, that's where he would be most useful.”   

Bolt, who retired from athletics last year, has previously tried out with clubs in Germany, South Africa and Norway, to no avail.   

He has acknowledged the pace and rhythm of football is completely different to the athletics track and said it will take time to adjust.   

Del Bosque believes that if Bolt makes it as a footballer, it will rank alongside his greatest achievements.

“To start playing professional football at the age of 32 isn't normal,” he said.

“But he has won a lot during his 32 years of life and, he has earned the right to say: 'Hey, I want to be a footballer.'”

FOOTBALL

Putellas becomes second Spanish footballer in history to win Ballon d’Or

Alexia Putellas of Barcelona and Spain won the women's Ballon d'Or prize on Monday, becoming only the second Spanish-born footballer in history to be considered the best in the world, and claiming a win for Spain after a 61-year wait.

FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award.
FC Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas poses after being awarded thewomen's Ballon d'Or award. Photo: FRANCK FIFE / AFP

Putellas is the third winner of the prize, following in the footsteps of Ada Hegerberg, who won the inaugural women’s Ballon d’Or in 2018, and United States World Cup star Megan Rapinoe, winner in 2019.

Putellas captained Barcelona to victory in this year’s Champions League, scoring a penalty in the final as her side hammered Chelsea 4-0 in Gothenburg.

She also won a Spanish league and cup double with Barca, the club she joined as a teenager in 2012, and helped her country qualify for the upcoming Women’s Euro in England.

Her Barcelona and Spain teammate Jennifer Hermoso finished second in the voting, with Sam Kerr of Chelsea and Australia coming in third.

It completes an awards double for Putellas, who in August was named player of the year by European football’s governing body UEFA.

But it’s also a huge win for Spain as it’s the first time in 61 years that a Spanish footballer – male or female – is crowned the world’s best footballer of the year, and only the second time in history a Spaniard wins the Ballon d’Or. 

Former Spanish midfielder Luis Suárez (not the ex Liverpool and Barça player now at Atlético) was the only Spanish-born footballer to win the award in 1960 while at Inter Milan. Argentinian-born Alfredo Di Stefano, the Real Madrid star who took up Spanish citizenship, also won it in 1959.

Who is Alexia Putellas?

Alexia Putellas grew up dreaming of playing for Barcelona and after clinching the treble of league, cup and Champions League last season, her status as a women’s footballing icon was underlined as she claimed the Ballon d’Or on Monday.

Unlike the men’s side, Barca’s women swept the board last term with the 27-year-old, who wears “Alexia” on the back of her shirt, at the forefront, months before Lionel Messi’s emotional departure.

Attacker Putellas, who turns 28 in February, spent her childhood less than an hour’s car journey from the Camp Nou and she made her first trip to the ground from her hometown of Mollet del Valles, for the Barcelona derby on January 6, 2000.

Barcelona's Spanish midfielder Alexia Putellas (R) vies with VfL Wolfsburg's German defender Kathrin Hendrich
Putellas plays as a striker for Barça and Spain. GABRIEL BOUYS / POOL / AFP

Exactly 21 years later she became the first woman in the modern era to score in the stadium, against Espanyol. Her name was engraved in the club’s history from that day forward, but her story started much earlier.

She started playing the sport in school, against boys.

“My mum had enough of me coming home with bruises on my legs, so she signed me up at a club so that I stopped playing during break-time,” Putellas said last year.

So, with her parent’s insistence, she joined Sabadell before being signed by Barca’s academy.

“That’s where things got serious… But you couldn’t envisage, with all one’s power, to make a living from football,” she said.

After less than a year with “her” outfit, she moved across town to Espanyol and made her first-team debut in 2010 before losing to Barca in the final of the Copa de la Reina.

She then headed south for a season at Valencia-based club Levante before returning “home” in July 2012, signing for Barcelona just two months after her father’s death.

In her first term there she helped Barca win the league and cup double, winning the award for player of the match in the final of the latter competition.

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