Usain Bolt set to light up the A-League
FROM running spikes to football studs, the fastest man in history has set his sights on playing in the A-League.
Advanced negotiations have brought 100m and 200m world record holder Usain Bolt to the brink of a shock trial with the Central Coast Mariners, with the promise of a season-long contract on offer if he proves himself in a six-week audition.
In a move that would focus the sporting world's eyes on the A-League, three months of talks have convinced both Jamaican sprint king Bolt and the Mariners that a deal can be clinched that could transform the competition's profile for next season.
The trial would be similar to the one Jarryd Hayne underwent before earning a NFL contract with the San Francisco 49ers, and would neutralise any claims that Bolt's signature is simply a gimmick.
Though the precise terms of the deal, including its financing, are still being worked through, it's hoped Manchester United fan Bolt would begin a trial in mid-August, as part of the Mariners' pre-season program.
It's understood that the Mariners' new sporting director, Mike Phelan - a former Manchester United coach who played and coached under Sir Alex Ferguson during 19 years in total at Old Trafford - would have a brief to supervise Bolt's trial and maximise his chances of success.
New Mariners boss Mike Mulvey, a Manchester United youth player, has embraced the plan.
Bolt played both football and cricket growing up in his native Jamaica before concentrating on his athletics career to become the fastest man ever.
The eight-time Olympic gold medallist retired from the track last year after rewriting athletics history by shattering records and securing 11 world titles.
Bolt has since set his sights on a professional football stint, and has already trialled with Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund in March and Norwegian side Stromsgodset last month.
The 195cm left-footer wore the number 9.58 shirt in reference to his 100m world record time during his 20-minute stint for Stromsgodset against the Norway under-19s.
Neither trial produced a contract, but Bolt has not given up.
"I want to try to get better, to work as hard as I can, play as much as I can. Maybe a club will see something and decide to give me a chance," Bolt, who turns 32 next month, said after his Norway cameo.
That club looks to be the Mariners. Though the agent who has put the plan together, Tony Rallis, had significant interest from several A-League clubs, the Mariners were the one who entered negotiations seriously, and are increasingly confident of landing a unique marquee signing.
The proposed multi-million-dollar deal would be largely underwritten by the club and a network of several leading Australian companies, though it is currently unclear whether Football Federation Australia would be prepared to contribute to the deal through its marquee marketing fund.
A spokesman said the FFA would not comment on individual cases, but Rallis said the governing body was as aware as anyone of the need to reignite interest in the league.
"We're all stakeholders in the game and there's no doubt the A-League is stagnating," Rallis said. "After the season we had, we need a signing with benefits for the whole competition.
"There's no doubt this unique athlete would give us exposure and a profile that we have lacked recently.
"Crucially, it's not a gimmick, but real trial much like Jarryd Hayne underwent.
"Usain will only do this if he can help a club and can contribute on the pitch."
Mariners CEO Shaun Mielekamp said the club had researched Bolt's suitability before agreeing to pursue the trial.
"Apart from him obviously being extremely fast the feedback we have received from Germany and Norway is that he is a very good learner and shows dramatic improvement after every training session," Mielekamp said.
"This is a very real football opportunity, this is not a stunt or gimmick - we want to know if Usain can play. If he can, let's light up the A-League and bring one of the biggest named athletes in sport to the Central Coast."