Usain Bolt’s Australian soccer dream comes to an end

Former Olympic champion sprinter had been on trial with Central Coast Mariners

Former Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt has ended his trial with Australian club Central Coast Mariners. Photo: Peter Parks/Getty Images

Former Olympic champion sprinter Usain Bolt has ended his trial with Australian club Central Coast Mariners. Photo: Peter Parks/Getty Images

 

It began as a seemingly impossible dream – a change of sporting career for the world’s fastest man at the unlikely age of 32 – and, having somehow got to within touching distance of a deal, so it will remain for the foreseeable future. Usain Bolt’s quest to become a professional footballer in Australia ended on Friday when the Olympic sprint champion officially turned down Central Coast Mariners’ offer of an A-League contract.

The Mariners announced that, despite having been in discussions with several “promising” potential commercial partners, the club and Bolt had amicably concluded a deal would not be struck.

“Despite the fact that we could not come to an agreement that would continue Usain Bolt’s football journey with the Central Coast Mariners, we’ve been thrilled to have the Olympic champion sprinter and world record holder as part of our club for these past eight weeks,” Central Coast Mariners owner, Mike Charlesworth, said. “For the Mariners, it’s been a pleasure to work with Usain as he pursued his desire to become a professional football player.”

Having trained with the club since mid-August, the eight-times Olympic sprint champion had been excluded from team sessions for the past two weeks as the Mariners sought to escape any distraction caused by speculation over the Jamaican’s future. Bolt, meanwhile, was weighing up an offer of a reported $150,000 deal – some way short of the $3m he was said to be expecting.

“I would like to thank the Central Coast Mariners owners, management, staff, players and fans for making me feel so welcome during my time there,” Bolt said. “I wish the club success for the season ahead.”

Bolt debuted for the Mariners over two months ago and in his second trial match scored twice. Despite the goals – one well-taken, one a tap into an empty net – and a clear improvement in his level of football fitness between those two games, serious questions remained over his general play and ability to turn into an elite athlete in a second sport.

The Mariners insisted from the outset that Bolt would be given every opportunity to prove himself – he was promised an indefinite training period that could have lasted up to a year – but for all the clear commercial benefits that investment could potentially bring, there were doubts from the outset about his chances of success on the pitch.

Marcus Babbel voiced his concern – not in “100 years” would he make it as a pro, said the Western Sydney Wanderers coach – while former Socceroos boss Ange Postecoglou asserted it would be “very, very difficult” to change careers at such a late stage.

Regardless, Central Coast tabled an offer, although as reports filtered through of the contract, Mariners coach Mike Mulvey was seemingly caught unaware when asked to comment on live television. Mulvey bristled and fired back a question at the reporter: “You have a look at our front line today and you wonder whether he could get into any of those positions, wouldn’t you?”

The incident lifted the lid on the conflict of interest between the football department and the commercial side of the club. Bolt’s value to the latter in the end trumped his ability as a footballer, although somewhat ironically, finances appear to have been the undoing of any deal.

Football Federation Australia had been adamant it would not dip into the marquee player fund to finance the Bolt deal and with what was effectively a training contract offered – and no third-party sponsor willing to top that up to a level the Jamaican’s camp were happy with – the deal was doomed.

“This has been a mutually beneficial partnership that brought an increased level of excitement and attention to both the Mariners and the Hyundai A-League,” Charlesworth said. “From day one, Usain dedicated himself to being part of the Mariners. He integrated very well into the team and made great strides as a footballer.”

Having failed to realise his dream on the Central Coast, Bolt will depart – and with him the media circus that has followed his every move in Gosford – but Charlesworth left the door ajar for the Jamaican to return in a non-playing capacity.

“Whilst we understand that Usain will not be part of the club going forward, the Central Coast Mariners wish him all the best in his future endeavours and we hope that opportunities arise to collaborate in other capacities in the future,” he said. – Guardian service

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