Last week saw the fastest man in the world, nay, history, claim that he harboured ambitions to play for Manchester United upon retirement. The fact that Usain Bolt said this is not completely surprising given his love for the team and penchant for playful braggadocio, but what is a little surprising is that he seemed somewhat sincere in his ultra-ambitious mission statement.
As outlandish as Usain’s words sound, sporting history does include many who have successfully played multiple sports professionally. Many attribute this to the fact that many necessary sporting qualities cross many sports such as fitness, hand-eye co-ordination, special awareness, leadership and, of course, will to win. There are of course several who have ‘switched codes’ in rugby, such as Andy Farrell and Jason Robinson, but these games are comparatively similar.
Some have played multiple sports simultaneously as many Brits did with cricket in the summer and football the rest of the year, particularly in the first half of the 20th century before the forces of commercialism prevailed. Nowadays, such prodigies (including, believe it or not, the Neville brothers) are forced to make a decision between the two, often before their thirteenth birthday. Wikipedia lists over 100 such sportsmen, 12 of which have even played for both national teams. Such dual-sportsmen in this list include Ian Botham (Scunthorpe F.C.), Arnie Sidebottom and Geoff Hurst.
Many others have switched sports, either at a young age or later in their career. Andy Murray, Boris Becker and Roger Federer were all in different football club’s academies as youngsters (also Federer is apparently Switzerland’s best squash player..is there anything the man can’t do?!). Two British competitors have also won Olympics medals at two different sports – rower turned gold-medal-winning cyclist Rebecca Romero and waterpolo player turned swimmer Paulo Radmilovic.
Sporting history abounds with others, particularly basketballers/American footballers from over the pond, but most impressive of all has to be Jim Thorpe. In the early 20th century, he competed at top-flight basketball, baseball, American football and various track and field events, easily winning gold medals in the pentathlon and decathlon.
Having said this, if Usain Bolt were to seriously try to become a United player, I reckon his travails would go a similar way to fellow sprinter Dwayne Chambers’ gallant, but ultimately unsuccessful one-month trial with the Castleford Tigers rugby league team (if that successful). He sees himself as a quick, slightly skilful forward. His assessment of his speed is obviously a fairly watertight assertion, but I very much doubt his skill is anywhere near good enough. Football is too competitive and specialist a sport for one who has dedicated his career to a sport which provides only two mere aspects directly useful for it (speed and strength). He was probably joking anyway, but it got me thinking about some of the most other ill-advised sporting career moves imaginable....
Vinnie Jones and/or Roy Keane to tennis
These two character’s.. characters could only really have worked in football. Both no-nonsense centre midfielders with ‘take-no-prisoners’ approaches, Jones played the game either with a snarl or a smile, for example, holding the records for the quickest booking at a mere 3 seconds and (probably) the only man to have cupped Paul Gascoigne’s testicles. Keane’s face, however, was almost permanently painted with an expression of fearsome intensity. He is probably one of the only sportsmen to have ever intentionally injured a competitor too, as he did against Alfe Inge Haaland in 2001 in revenge for the player mocking him when injured (Keane dedicated a whole chapter to explaining this in his biography). Both players were often similarly blunt in interviews. One could see their characters in boxing (indeed, Keane was a promising boxer), but not in the arguably straight-laced, sportsmanlike, prim and proper world of tennis. It would probably be like the second coming of the young John McEnroe...only with more bitterness and invective.
Danni Alves and Peter Crouch to Rugby
Since Alves falls down and perform histrionics with little more than a touch of a feather, getting up a good 5 minutes later to card-wave/gesticulate wildly to the ref, god knows how he would react to a full-blooded rugby tackle from the likes of Martin Johnson, let alone a sly, illegal fist. Peter Crouch isn’t one to moan or shirk a good challenge, but one fears that his stick-insect frame may break like a breadstick under even a relatively moderately large hit.
Heurelho Gomes and Wayne Rooney to cricket
Heaven only knows how every non-Spurs fan’s second favourite keeper would cope in the slips catching a 7cm ball, seeing as catching a 22cm ball seems tricky enough for him. Messers Rooney’s tempestuousness brings the best (overhead kick against City) and worse (rash challenges and outbursts) out of him in football, but does not bode well for the long, patient, gentlemanly game of cricket.
Peter Ebdon to Formula 1
Peter Ebdon is renowned for his ‘thoughtful, considered’ brand of snooker, otherwise known as ‘slow and boring’. Not least in the opinion of maverick Ronnie O’Sullivan, who chatted with the audience and feigned sleep during one infamous match against Ebdon. In this match, Ebdon took up to three minutes to play individual shots and dithered a whole five minutes over a truly monumental break of 12 – almost as long as took ‘The Rocket’ to complete his infamous 147 break. This approach often works (indeed, it did in this match against O’Sullivan), but one can’t see it paying off in other faster paced sports, not least the super-fast (literally and figuratively) world of F1.
Phil Taylor to any ‘other’ sport
Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor has been a phenomenon in the world of darts and is largely regarded its greatest ever player. In the world of sport, which is increasingly fitness-obsessed, how he would fare in other sports is much more debatable, however. Indeed, I would venture that, despite the immense level of skill required, darts isn’t sufficiently athletic to be appropriately described as a sport. In the words ofHelen Chamberlain says, “it’s not a sport if you can play it wearing shoes”...much less if drinking is allowed, even encouraged (however much I applaud alcohol consumption in competitions).