Since Usain Bolt retired from athletics he has journeyed to England, Germany, Norway and now Australia to reach his childhood goal of playing the round ball game.
Bolt’s quest to turn himself from a track athlete to a professional footballer while trialling with A-League club Central Coast Mariners has garnered world-wide attention.
His two goals for the Mariners less than two weeks ago were witnessed by millions and led to reports from media outlets such as ESPN, BBC and CNN.
Subsequent to his goal scoring feats, the Jamaican sprint king was offered a two year contract by Maltese club Valetta FC. However, Bolt rejected the deal and this week the Mariners have offered the 32-year-old a professional contract which at the time of printing has yet to be accepted.
The man who has helped facilitate the deal with the Mariners and his overseas based management is Greek Australian football agent Tony Rallis. He told Neos Kosmos that Bolt’s impact on Australian football over the past three months has been mind-blowing.
“Obviously it’s a landmark for me personally,” he says.
“I didn’t expect it to go global to the magnitude that it has. But of course it’s going to go global, you’re talking about Usain Bolt who is in the same company as Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan – he is more than a once-in-a-generation athlete.
“His impact has reached 700 million people who have connected in some way, who were tweeting, commenting, reading about it and watching Usain Bolt play football in Australia.
“I am happy for the fact that our game, and I refer to our game being Australian football, got some recognition world-wide. It got more recognition overseas than it even did in Australia.”
Bolt first made his intention to be a professional footballer known in 2016 and in April this year spent time in Europe with Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund. It was during that period that Rallis spoke to the 100 metre world record holder’s management and offered Australia as a potential destination to achieve his football dream.
The player agent revealed that getting Bolt to come to Australia was no easy feat.
“Everyone thinks it just happened but it took four months of selling the A-League dream to convince him,” he says.
“It wasn’t that Bolt wanted to come to Australia. I proposed to his management and I sold them the dream of the A-League and what that means for someone like him to come to our competition.
“It wasn’t only Bolt pursuing a personal dream of converting himself from an athlete to a professional footballer, but it was also a personal crusade to help the A-League and generate the interest it deserves.”
The A-League has featured big names before in former Manchester United star Dwight Yorke and Juventus legend Alessandro Del Piero, but Rallis believes Bolt’s impact has surpassed those two superstars.
“If you are talking purely marketing, he has overtaken them,” he says.
“How many times did Del Piero and Yorke get on the front page? Since Bolt has been here, he has done it on no less than three occasions, including the highest selling newspapers on a Sunday.
“How many times was he on the back-page smack bang in the middle of AFL and NRL finals not to mention salary cap scandals? When the A-League was launched last week it was on page 12 of the newspaper while Bolt was on the back pages – the answer, marketing-wise, is there for all to see.”
IAN RUSH AND THE RE-GENERATION OF GREEK-AUSTRALIAN FOOTBALLERS
Rallis was born in Sydney and grew up in suburban Kingsgrove, after his parents had earlier migrated to Australia from the Greek island of Lesvos.
His love of football saw him join Greek club Sydney Olympic and in 1999 secure a massive coup when he brought former Liverpool FC legend Ian Rush to the club for a guest stint.
Rush played three games for the former National Soccer League club, scoring what would prove to be his final goal as a footballer. Looking back, Rallis believes that period was a seminal moment in his career.
“Ian Rush is a great humanbeing,” he says. “You could see why he was one of Liverpool’s all-time greatest players. I am indebted to him as many years after he left Sydney Olympic he convinced me to go into player management.”
Since starting his football management business, Rallis now looks after 40 A-League players and four coaches, including current Socceroos coach Graham Arnold. At the 2018 Russia World Cup he had five players that were on his books involved in the Socceroos squad.
Rallis revealed that the most rewarding aspect of his job is being able to nurture players from a young age and seeing them progress to their full potential.
“Every now and then you get the extremity of an Usain Bolt,” he says.
“But for me it’s about seeing the Aussie boys become international names. It’s about picking up the Trent Sainsbury’s who was unknown at the Australian Institute of Sport, or an Andrew Nabbout that was spat out of the A-League.
“Those kids were told different stories about whether they would succeed or not. But to see them reach the highest pinnacle of playing for their country in a World Cup – they are just some of the achievements for me.”
Not every footballer’s career is filled with highs and Rallis admits that it’s during the lows where his greatest challenges as a player agent need come up.
“When Trent Buhagiar (Sydney FC) and Jonathon Aspro (Central Coast Mariners) suffer ACL injuries you have to be there to pick up the pieces,” he says.
“When nobody wants a child prodigy like Andrew Nabbout you have to re-motivate them. Hopefully the players believe what you say and the rest goes from there.”
When it comes to identifying talent Rallis believes that dedication triumphs over talent.
“I look at the three D’s: discipline, desire and dedication which is 70 per cent, while 30 per cent is ability,” he says.
“That comes through mental toughness. I’ll take a less talented player that has those traits as opposed to a highly talented player that doesn’t. I also look at family structures. Most of those guys have loyal and hardworking families, so that is instilled in them. If they have got that, then I put in the time.”
During the 1980s, 12 Greek Australians played for the Socceroos and Rallis believes there is a new crop of players coming through the ranks that could potentially match those halcyon days.
“There is a re-generation occurring,” he says.
“I grew up with Jim Patikas, Chris Kalantzis, Peter Raskopoulos, Peter Katholos, Ange Postecoglou so we are starting to see a similar type of growth with Terry Antonis and Dimi Petratos all coming through.
“But the next generation of young blokes like Kosta Grozos, Apostolos Stamatelopoulos, Tass Mourdoukoutas, the younger Antonis and Grozos they are even better than their older siblings. Provided of course they maintain the momentum and stick to the three Ds of discipline, desire and dedication.”