SYDNEY, Australia — Usain Bolt, an eight-time Olympic champion and the world's fastest man, could soon fulfill his dream of becoming a professional soccer player after reaching a deal with Australia's smallest team, an agent said Tuesday. Bolt, 31 ...
SYDNEY, Australia — Usain Bolt, an eight-time Olympic champion and the world’s fastest man, could soon fulfill his dream of becoming a professional soccer player after reaching a deal with Australia’s smallest team, an agent said Tuesday.
Bolt, 31, will participate in a six-week trial starting next month with the Central Coast Mariners, a club outside Sydney. If all goes well, the Jamaican track star is expected to start a season-long deal with the Mariners in October.
“After 12 weeks of to-ing and fro-ing we’ve got a club, we’ve got a commercial agreement, we just need our football federation to come to the party and we’ve got a deal,” said Tony Rallis, the sports agent who facilitated the deal.
Australia’s A-League has longed for a superstar talent that could draw into stadiums the large crowds more commonly seen at rugby and Australian rules football matches.
Nevertheless, many Australian fans of the game greeted news of Bolt’s turn to soccer with skepticism, labeling it a “disaster,” “ridiculous” and “just farcical.”
Some called Bolt’s recruitment a publicity stunt by a league struggling for legitimacy after an underwhelming season. But Bolt is serious about his ambition.
“For me, it’s a big deal,” he told the Herald Sun in April. “Everyone feels like I’m just kidding around, just joking, but I’m serious.”
Bolt grew up playing soccer before taking his talents to the track. He holds the world records for the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints and the 4x100-meter relay.
Since retiring from track last year, he has tried out with several European soccer clubs, including Borussia Dortmund in Germany and Stromsgodset in Norway. After the trial in Dortmund, the club’s head coach said the sprinter had more work to do.
But soccer executives in Australia believed the A-League, a young organization that has struggled with flagging attendance and financial problems, was the perfect place for Bolt to launch his new career.
“Usain’s got a direct affiliation with Australia,” said Shaun Mielekamp, chief executive of the Central Coast Mariners. “He’s been here many times and loves the country.”
“We also believe that the A-League is at the right level where he can best show his qualities as a footballer,” he said.
Mielekamp fended off accusations that the deal was a gimmick, saying his club wanted to give Bolt every opportunity to prove he was ready for a professional soccer contract.
Rallis, the agent, declined to say how much Bolt would be paid if the deal with the Mariners went through, though he said it was “nowhere near as high as one would expect.” The Football Federation Australia, which is expected to pay part of his salary, must agree to the deal, in addition to Bolt passing his trial.
Located in Gosford, the Mariners finished at the bottom of the league last season. The team is undergoing a major overhaul, appointing a new coach and recruiting more than a dozen new players.
The club also this week announced the appointment of a new sporting director, Mike Phelan, a coach and former player who spent a large part of his career with Manchester United. Mr. Phelan will oversee Bolt’s trial next month.
“There’s a real revolution happening,” Mielekamp said of the club’s transformation.
The A-League has lured well-known athletes before, including the European soccer players Alessandro Del Piero, David Villa and Robbie Fowler. But Bolt would by far be the league’s biggest name, and his start would be a seminal moment in its history.
“It’ll be exciting if he’s able to get to the level that we need,” Mielekamp said of Bolt.
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