Retired sprint king 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-time Olympic gold medallist is set to 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,” the 31-year-old 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.
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 and he could play his first match on 31 August against a Central Coast representative side made up of the region’s top amateurs.
Despite Bolt’s thin pedigree in football, 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.
And the Jamaican great couldn’t be happier with the turn of events.
“As you all know I love Australia, so I’m happy to call Australia home for now,” he said.
The Mariners can only hope for a fraction of the success he had on the tracks, and even that may be too much.