THREE key Wellington Phoenix players have recommitted to the club, signing contract extensions to stay in Wellington well beyond the current Hyundai A-League season.
Skipper Andrew Durante, winner of the Joe Marston Medal with the championship-winning Newcastle Jets in 2007/08, has extended his deal for another three seasons, while club foundation member Vince Lia and Malta international Manny Muscat will remain in Wellington till at least the end of the 20011/12 campaign.
The three Australians join New Zealand star Leo Bertos in pledging their allegiance to the Phoenix well beyond this season in what is a massive vote of confidence in the future of the New Zealand-based Hyundai A-League club.
Phoenix chief executive Tony Pignata said the club had now locked in a significant core of frontline players for the coming seasons.
“Stability is a key thing for any club in terms of success and we were adamant that we wanted to re-sign the core playing group. We-re delighted that Vinnie, Manny and Andrew have agreed to remain here at the Phoenix for future seasons.
“Andrew-s our captain and he came here from Newcastle on a two-year deal and he-s now agreed to a further three years. That shows that he sees the club going places, that he enjoys the set-up and the city. By keeping these sorts of players we maintain stability and build a core around which we can continue building a competitive squad.”
The club is continuing negotiations with several other current players.
“We-ll keep those discussions going with them and their agents,” said Pignata. “We are focusing on re-signing the players we-ve identified as quickly as we can and locking them away to allow them to concentrate on this season.”
All three players were thrilled to extend their stays in Wellington.
“It-s a fantastic set-up here and it-s improving all the time,” Durante said. “I came to Wellington from a club that probably wasn-t as professionally run as the Phoenix and I-m thriving on that. We-ve got a great owner in Terry Serepisos, who-s done wonders for football, and as players we all see his commitment and ambition. I want to a part of it when this club achieves the success that-s bound to come.”
Muscat, whose stellar rise from injury replacement player to fulltime professional and Malta international came courtesy of the Phoenix, said he was still pinching himself.
“I-m over the moon. Two years back I was playing in a local league with Green Gully now I-m extending my professional career. It-s amazing. The club-s great, the playing group is awesome – I-ve been happy here since day one.”
Phoenix foundation member Lia-s first two seasons in Wellington were disrupted by injury – he only played a handful of games in 2007/08 while 2008/09 was a complete washout. However, he has proven his worth in the current Hyundai A-League campaign, cementing a starting spot in the Phoenix-s midfield.
“I was out for all of last season and the club showed me a lot of support, so I-m happy to repay that faith by re-signing for another two seasons. There are only six foundation members left and I-m stoked that I can keep my career going here in Wellington.”