SYDNEY (Reuters) - Olympic sprint champion and aspiring footballer Usain Bolt touched down in Sydney on Saturday, declaring himself ready to prove to the world that his Australian soccer adventure is “real”.
The eight-times Olympic gold medallist will train with Central Coast Mariners for the first time on Tuesday after being granted an open-ended trial with the struggling A-League club.
Draped in a Mariners scarf, Bolt arrived on a red-eye flight from Los Angeles and was greeted by a few dozen fans and a huge media pack.
“This is real, I’ve said it since my last season of track and field I want to play football, I know what I’m capable of, I know what I can do, so I’m thankful to the Mariners for giving me this opportunity to show what I’m capable of,” Bolt told reporters.
“I always put my best foot forward and I’m just going to show the world what I’m made of.”
The Mariners’ tie-up with Bolt 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 finished bottom of the 10-team league last season and operate in one of the country’s smallest soccer markets about an hour north of Sydney in eastern New South Wales state.
Jamaican Bolt, who retired from athletics at the world championships in London last year, has previously trained with Germany’s Borussia Dortmund, South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns and Norway’s Stromsgodset in his bid to win a professional football contract.
His first Mariners training session will coincide with his 32nd birthday on Tuesday.
Despite Bolt’s thin soccer pedigree, he has been welcomed with open arms by the Mariners, who have carved a huge lightning bolt on the turf of their home Central Coast stadium.
Bolt could play his first match on Aug. 31 against a Central Coast representative side made up of the region’s top amateurs.
The Mike Mulvey-coached Mariners are in talks to have the trial broadcast on TV, pending Bolt’s selection, local media reported.
Mariners CEO Shaun Mielekamp said last week that Bolt had already bought into the low-profile club’s community ethos, including agreeing to live in the sleepy coastal region like his team mates, rather than in more vibrant Sydney.
“As you all know I love Australia, so I’m happy to call Australia home for now,” said Bolt.
Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly