WELLINGTON Phoenix FC has locked in a core group of players for the coming seasons, with five members of the current squad agreeing to extend their contracts.
New Zealand representatives Tony Lochhead, Tim Brown and Ben Sigmund have signed two-year contracts to remain in Wellington, while fans- favourite Daniel has also committed to the Phoenix for a further two years. Playmaking midfielder Michael Ferrante has signed on for another season in the Hyundai A-League.
The five join currently contracted players Andrew Durante, Jon McKain, Leo Bertos, Vince Lia, Troy Hearfield, David Mulligan and Costa Barbarouses for next season and beyond, while the club is continuing to talk with several other members of the current squad with a view to re-signing them.
Phoenix chief executive Tony Pignata said head coach Ricki Herbert had identified Lochhead, Brown, Sigmund, Daniel and Ferrante as key signings.
“Ricki and the club targeted these players over the last few months. It-s taken a while to agree terms and lock them in, so we-re pleased they-ve made a further commitment to the Phoenix and we-ve been able to secure their services for the seasons to come.
“We-re still speaking with other players in the current squad, so there-s still some work to do there in the coming weeks.”
Having a core group of players locked in would allow the Phoenix to invest time and resources in finding and signing key players in key positions.
“Finding the right players is an important consideration for us and certainly something we want to take our time with. With these players re-signing we can now concentrate on specific needs, particular signing some quality strikers.”
The re-signings were a significant vote of confidence in the Phoenix and the club-s future, Pignata said.
“Although we-ve lost two very good players in Shane Smeltz and Glen Moss, it shows that the club is developing players with huge talent and potential and that other clubs are out to poach them. That-s a positive sign.
“More importantly, we-ve been able to re-sign players identified as important to the club in the coming seasons. The professional environment we have established is attractive to players and indicative of our commitment to excellence and longevity. That reputation will allow us to bring more top players here and we already have the makings of a very, very strong squad for next season.”
Meanwhile, the Phoenix have parted company with Chinese midfielder Leilei Gao.
Pignata said the club had worked hard to help Gao settle in.
“As a club we did everything in our power to accommodate his needs. However, it got to the point where it was clear to us that we could no longer work with him and it was decided to let him go to pursue other opportunities.”