MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt eased into his first training session with Australia's Central Coast Mariners on Tuesday as he kicked off his bid to win a professional soccer contract on the day of his 32nd birthday.
Monitored by a big media pack, Bolt emerged at Central Coast stadium with his new team mates on a sunny morning, appearing relaxed and flashing a big grin as he kicked the ball around at the start of the light session in the sleepy town of Gosford.
The eight-times Olympic gold medallist has been given an open-ended trial with the Mariners, who finished bottom of the 10-team A-league last season and operate in one of the country's smallest soccer markets.
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.
Bolt, who retired from athletics at the world championships in London last year, has already trained with Germany's Borussia Dortmund, South Africa's Mamelodi Sundowns and Norway's Stromsgodset.
There is plenty of scepticism as to whether the fastest man on earth can reinvent himself as a top-flight footballer but the Mike Mulvey-coached Mariners have been emphatic that they will give him as much time as he needs to prove himself.
"Players who people maybe don’t think are going to make it professionally, a lot of times they prove people wrong, because they’re the ones who’ve got the desire and the determination," assistant coach Nick Montgomery told Australian Associated Press.
"For me, that always outweighs talent in naturally gifted players. I’ve seen it numerous times.
"For the modern-day footballer, number one, you have to be an athlete. So he ticks that box; he’s a mountain of a man. But it’s a different type of athlete to be a footballer. Only time will tell."
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Frank Pingue)