Sprint king Usain Bolt’s attempt to become a professional footballer with Australia’s Central Coast Mariners collapsed Friday as his trial period was terminated after contract talks failed.
The eight-time Olympic champion had been trying out with the A-League side for an indefinite period since arriving in August, hoping to fulfil a childhood dream to become a soccer player.
The 32-year-old superstar’s quest garnered worldwide attention, which intensified when he scored two goals in a pre-season friendly.
But his abilities were questioned and the club reportedly offered him only a fraction of the Aus$3 million (US$2.1 million) his management were said to be seeking, with outside sponsors needed to make the deal viable.
“As previously stated, the club and (Bolt’s representative) Ricky Simms have been in conversations with external partners to find a commercial solution that suits all parties,” the Mariners said in a statement.
“Despite several promising potential partners, both Bolt and the Central Coast Mariners have amicably concluded that they will not be able to settle on a suitable deal in a timely manner.”
The 100m world record holder, who retired from athletics last year and has previously tried out with clubs in Germany, South Africa and Norway, thanked the Mariners for the opportunity.
“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,” said the Jamaican, who is reportedly in Melbourne and will head to Europe soon for a previously agreed commercial engagement.
“I wish the club success for the season ahead.”
Bolt recently turned down a trial-free contract from cashed-up Maltese champions Valletta to focus on trying to make the grade in Australia.
That offer prompted the Mariners to table their own deal, but they didn’t have the funds to make it work without outside help.
And coach Mike Mulvey made clear that Bolt, who favours playing up front, was unlikely to get much game time in the A-League even if he signed, with the team boosting an experienced front line.
It includes Aston Villa marksmen and Scottish international Ross McCormack, who is on a season-long loan deal, and Tommy Oar, who has played 28 times for the Socceroos.
– Jamaica calling –
Bolt’s abilities were also questioned by pundits and some players, including former Ireland striker Andy Keogh who last month said he had a “touch like a trampoline”.
Keogh, who used to play for Wolves and Cardiff, added: “He’s shown a bit (of potential) but it’s a little bit of a kick in the teeth to the professionals that are in the league.”
The breakdown in his Australian quest coincided with Jamaican FA chief Michael Ricketts urging him to sign for a club in his homeland, dangling the prospect of being picked for the national team.
“If he can make the transition from being a superstar on the track to being a good enough football player, then we will certainly call him up,” he told ESPN.
Despite the failure to agree terms, Bolt’s presence at the Mariners has garnered huge publicity for a club that finished bottom of the A-League last season.
Owner Mike Charlesworth acknowledged Bolt’s massive pulling power and said it had been a pleasure to have him on the Central Coast, around an hour’s drive north of Sydney.
“This has been a mutually beneficial partnership that brought an increased level of excitement and attention to both the Mariners and the A-League,” he 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.”