MELBOURNE • Superstar sprinter Usain Bolt is adamant he can become a professional footballer despite his trial with Australian club Central Coast Mariners ending, insisting yesterday: "I still have it."
The eight-gold Olympian's "indefinite" trial with the A-League side collapsed on Friday after contract talks failed. He was reportedly offered only a fraction of the A$3 million (S$2.97 million) his managers were seeking, and outside sponsors could not be found.
"It's sad that it didn't work out," the Jamaican 100m and 200m world record-holder told the Herald Sun paper at the Derby Day horse races in Melbourne, where he arrived in a suit, sunglasses and with a gold-handled cane.
"But we parted on good terms, and that's a good thing.
"I had a great experience with them. The guys were great. We just couldn't work out things with the contract, but hopefully I get another chance with another team."
The 32-year-old, who retired from athletics last year, has long dreamt of becoming a footballer and had been training with the Mariners since August.
Club chief executive Shaun Mielekamp had stressed that the Jamaican would be treated the same as any other player, although they slowly started to indulge him.
It became the Bolt Show.
A lightning bolt insignia was mowed onto the pitch at Central Coast Stadium. Then came the televised friendlies, fully equipped with "Bolt Cam" that followed the player's movements and reactions even when he was on the bench.
Then he scored twice in a televised pre-season friendly, sparking global interest. But the Manchester United fan's abilities were questioned by pundits and players.
"We'll see what happens," he said, now that he has had trials with clubs in Germany, South Africa, Norway and Australia. "I think people are still contacting my agent about opportunities, so we'll see in which direction it goes.
"For me, I've learnt that I still have it. I figure that I was improving a lot, as you can see from the first game to the last game."
He recently turned down a trial-free contract from cashed-up Malta champions Valletta to focus on trying to make it in Australia.
He will likely move on to another club, with the media circus in hot pursuit, but outside some short-term commercial benefits, has he helped the struggling Mariners?
Early signs suggest it is doubtful. Just over 7,000 people were in attendance for their game against Melbourne City last weekend; 50 fewer than last season's average.
Bolt has been urged by the head of the Jamaican football body to return home and play for a local club, with the prospect that he could be called up for international duty.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE GUARDIAN