MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt has finished his football trial at Central Coast Mariners and will leave the club after failing to agree commercial terms, the A-League side said on Friday.
The Jamaican’s mission to secure a professional contract in Australia at the age of 32 dominated pre-season and proved a marketing boost for the sleepy Central Coast region north of Sydney.
However, his performances in training and trial matches over the last two months did little to remove doubts about the eight-time Olympic gold medallist’s chances of making the grade.
Mariners owner Mike Charlesworth said the Mariners had been “thrilled” to have worked with the popular athlete.
“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,” he said in a joint statement with Bolt.
The Mariners said they had worked with Bolt and his agent Ricky Simms to engage with external partners in a bid to strike a commercial deal.
“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 statement added.
Bolt thanked the club and wished them well for the new season.
“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. I wish the club success for the season ahead,” he said.
Bolt drew thousands of fans to Mariners’ pre-season games that would normally struggle to draw a few hundred, and his two goals in a match against a local amateur side generated headlines worldwide.
However, it was not enough for the Mike Mulvey-coached club to produce a contract before the season started last month.
With the league’s next registration period not opening until Jan. 3, that left Bolt as little more than a high-profile cheerleader.
Football Federation Australia CEO David Gallop also said he would not dig into the A-League’s marquee fund to secure a contract with Bolt.
Mariners CEO Shaun Mielekamp was diplomatic when asked whether Bolt’s departure was a matter of financial terms or his quality as a footballer.
“It’s more of a timing issue in all fairness,” he told reporters on Friday, speaking of Bolt as a “fast” learner.
“I suppose there is an air of regret that this huge opportunity wasn’t able to be maximised.
“It was such a crazy moment that everyone got a brilliant chance to enjoy the ride that happened... To have our club on the world stage and world media was something that we will forever be grateful for.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Editing by Peter Rutherford/John O'Brien