Bolt challenged with take it or leave it ultimatum
THE fault lines in the Mariners' negotiations with Usain Bolt are widening, with the club signalling it will not offer any more money to the Olympic sprinter and agreeing he stay away from training until his future is clarified.
Some 48 hours after offering Bolt a $100,000 A-League contract, funded entirely by a marketing agreement with Football Federation Australia, Central Coast firmed up its position by warning that external funding would be needed to make the contract figure any more lucrative.
The club expects the deal to be rejected, based on previous conversations with Bolt's management, a development that would almost certainly bring to an end his footballing experiment in Australia.
It's understood that Bolt's management had been pressing for a deal since he scored twice in a trial game at Campbelltown earlier this month, but the club has seemingly taken a more hardball stance.
"Without the financial contribution of an external third party, it is unlikely that Usain Bolt and the Central Coast Mariners will agree to terms," the Mariners said in a statement issued on Tuesday morning.
"To ensure that there is no distraction to the A-League squad in preparing for this weekend's match vs. Melbourne City; Usain Bolt will not attend team training this week, until and if, the club and Usain Bolt can agree to terms and formalise an arrangement."
Though the club stressed that "both parties are eager to explore all options and ensure that if there is a suitable way forward for both player and club," Bolt is effectively being challenged to take a deal for a fraction of his brand value and prove himself as a player.
Coach Mike Mulvey has also made clear that Bolt does not figure in his immediate first-team plans, a situation the club underlined in its statement.
In effect Bolt is being warned that if he does accept the deal he will get no special dispensation in terms of game time and is likely to struggle to play at all beyond as an over-age player in the National Youth League from next month.
"We feel that he will improve further with more individual intensive training and competitive game time," the club said.
"We are looking at ways to do this as the club does not have the luxury to be able to do this in the A-League."
It came hours after the club clarified management was on the same page as Mulvey, who had asked not to be involved in negotiations leading into his new side's season-opener against Brisbane, which the Mariners drew 1-1 away.
In a move sure to have tested the sincerity of Bolt's desire to play professional football, the eight-time Olympic sprint champion was on Sunday tabled an offer involving a fraction of the $3 million originally discussed.
It's believed Mariners chief executive Shaun Mielekamp was due to touch base with his camp on Monday night, though the club said it would not comment further.
Should the 32-year-old accept the comparatively paltry sum he could feasibly begin playing in the A-League straight away, though Mulvey's remarks on Sunday suggest he'd have little hope of making a match-day squad.
A rejection would almost certainly end Bolt's indefinite trial in Gosford, more than two months before the point in January at which Mulvey said Bolt's genuine football merits could be judged.
But Mielekamp clarified the situation on Monday, saying Mulvey had requested to be told nothing Bolt-related on match day so he could focus on his team's clash with the Roar.
"The coach and I are on the same page on this, and until there are some changes there is nothing to report apart from focusing on our first home game," Mielekamp said.
"It's been about getting that balance - it's not that Mike wasn't updated, it was about making sure he wasn't distracted as things were progressing quickly."