MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Usain Bolt will be granted all the time he needs to prove himself worthy of a contract at the Central Coast Mariners but the retired athletics superstar will have to prove himself like any other player, officials at the struggling Australian soccer club have said.
The Mariners confirmed on Tuesday the Olympic sprint champion would train “indefinitely” with the club, which finished bottom of the 10-team A-League last season and operates in one of the country’s smallest soccer markets.
The open-ended arrangement has proved polarising in Australia, with critics dismissing it as a publicity stunt to boost the profile of a team that has failed to make the playoffs for the last four seasons.
The Mariners, however, defended the move on Wednesday, saying it had the potential to reap huge long-term benefits should Bolt make the grade.
“This may take three weeks, this may take three months, this may take six months. It may take longer, who knows?” club CEO Shaun Mielekamp told reporters at their home base in Gosford.
“Only time will tell but it’s exciting to see what this will do for our region.”
Jamaican Bolt, who won eight Olympic golds before retiring at the world championships in London last year, has trained with Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns and Norway’s Stromsgodset.
Scepticism abounds as to whether 31-year-old can make it Down Under.
Mariners coach Mike Mulvey admitted he had not seen footage of Bolt’s stints at other clubs but expected him to give “a good account of himself”.
The sprinter would not be treated any differently to any other player trying out, however.
“It just happens to be that this is Usain Bolt,” Mulvey told Australian Associated Press.
“I’ve spoken to him once. His attitude towards this was deadly serious.
“If it was up to him he’d be coming in without any hoopla but that’s impossible for a person of his stature.”
The Central Coast, a magnet for domestic holidaymakers and retirees in Australia’s eastern state of New South Wales, seems an unlikely destination for a global athletics icon to reboot his sporting career but Bolt had already agreed to reside in the sleepy region north of Sydney during the trial, said Mielekamp.
“It’s a big part of our club and we spoke to him very early doors about living and residing here in the Central Coast and he’s agreed to that which is great.
“We’ve spoken to him about our club, what our beliefs are, we spoke to him about going down to the local school and doing school appearances and those sort of things and he’s bought right into that which has been fantastic.”
National governing body Football Federation Australia had also endorsed the “commercial arrangement” with Bolt and would back the player’s A-League adventure if he won a contract, added Mielekamp.
Apart from boosting match-day crowds, which averaged about 8,000 last season, Bolt’s presence could put the Central Coast on the map for other global talents.
“We’ve been inundated with sponsors’ calls this morning which has been exciting,” said Mielekamp.
“And for us that long-term effect is something we’ve got to be mindful of. How can we use this moment to improve the club for the long term?
“But it’s still very early days.”
Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Peter Rutherford