Mariners, Usain Bolt end radio silence
IT'S the phone call that confirms Usain Bolt means business with the Central Coast.
The Daily Telegraph can reveal Mariners coach Mike Mulvey spoke personally with his likely triallist on Monday night, marking a sizeable step forward in the A-League minnow's pursuit of the fastest man on Earth.
Geographically the private conversation, conducted between Gosford and Europe, was worlds apart.
In terms of negotiations, though, the first direct contact between the Jamaican sprint king and the man in control of his football aspirations is a sign the club is edging closer to locking in the mooted six-week trial, which has already garnered global attention.
The other indicator is the way key figures in the process have gone silent after the Mariners and Bolt's camp signed a confidentiality agreement last Friday night prohibiting all parties involved in negotiations, including Bolt's long-time agent Ricky Simms and Australian intermediary Tony Rallis, from commenting publicly.
The agreement also covers Mariners players and staff.
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"There's a confidentiality agreement in place which we must abide by but that in itself is probably the biggest indicator of where it's at," a club spokesman told The Daily Telegraph.
"They're very serious, they really want this to work, so they want to be very respectful to the Mariners and the A-League and give this the best go.
"That is all that can be said at this time."
Mariners chief executive Shaun Mielekamp is still yet to be summoned to London to finalise the trial and it's believed it could take at least another week to wade through the minutiae.
The whole operation still hinges on several factors, not least a pledge of support from Football Federation Australia towards any potential season-long, multi-million contract should Bolt sufficiently impress the club's new football director Mike Phelan in pre-season.
The buck ultimately stops with Mulvey, and the Mariners have been at pains to point out the 31-year-old will not be unduly favoured just because he holds the men's 100m and 200m world records.
Bolt's speed is undisputed; his skills in other elements of the beautiful game rather less so, as evidenced in his unsuccessful trials with Bundesliga giants Borussia Dortmund and Norwegian side Stromsgodset.
The governing body has made clear it won't get involved before he makes the grade but has somewhat softened its cautious stance on what happens if he does, in recognition of the Manchester United fan's undisputed marketing pull power.
FFA was initially asked to contribute about $900,000, a figure believed to have since been slightly trimmed, with the club and several leading companies set to underwrite a large proportion of any deal.
It has not ruled out drawing from its $3 million marquee chest and would also consider using funds from its marketing budget.
More likely, though, it will help to secure sponsorship, having already received positive feedback from a number of eager high-profile entities.
"If he is good enough FFA would be willing to assist the Central Coast Mariners in financing the deal," A-League boss Greg O'Rourke said.
"While not ruling out using FFA funds, it is more likely that we would be facilitating corporate and commercial partnerships."
It's understood an FFA representative took part in a three-way telephone conversation with Simms and Mielekamp late last week and remains in close contact with the parties involved.
Despite being panned by critics as a brazen publicity stunt, the unprecedented exposure would provide a timely boost to slumping A-League crowds and TV audiences.
While the attention has so far been positive for the Mariners - the hype has attracted some desirable visa-player candidates - it could also prove their biggest hurdle in getting Bolt over the line, with far more wealthy clubs around the world now alert to the cash potential of Bolt's football switch.
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