FC Barcelona will re-sign Lionel Messi, Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez to respective new contracts in the coming weeks. Messi had a contract with the club until June 30, 2016, which has now been extended until June 30, 2018. Carles Puyol’s contract expires on June 30, 2013, but he will now be staying at the club until June 30, 2016. Xavi Hernandez’s contract with the club ends on June 30, 2014 but it includes conditions for renewal, which are to be exercised until June 30, 2016 (FC Barcelona). In London, Gratton & Smith noted "it is believed" Messi's new deal will see him earn £250,000 ($405,200) a week, "reflecting his status as the leading player in the world" (LONDON TIMES, 12/18). In Barcelona, Javier Giraldo reported Barcelona spokesperson Toni Freixa revealed the news. Freixa said the club "renewed the three main pillars of the best Barça ever. It is extraordinary news that all Barcelona fans are celebrating." Freixa did not get into details of the new contracts (SPORT, 12/18). BLOOMBERG's Danielle Rossingh noted Messi is "also in running to be named the world’s best player for a fourth consecutive year." He is short-listed for the FIFA Ballon d’Or award with teammate Andres Iniesta and Real Madrid’s Cristiano Ronaldo (BLOOMBERG, 12/18).
TOP FORM: The BBC wrote Messi has been in the "best goal-scoring form of his career" in '12 and surpassed Gerd Müller's 40-year-old record of 85 goals scored in a calendar year with a brace in a 2-1 win over Real Betis on Dec. 9. Messi took his goal scoring total for the year to 90 on Sunday with another two goals as Barcelona defeated Atletico Madrid 4-1. Xavi is the "longest-serving Barcelona player of the three," having made his debut in '98. He holds the record for the most appearances with the club with 651 (BBC, 12/18).
A-League Sydney FC's board confirmed that "it will move to secure Italian superstar Alessandro Del Piero for another season," according to Ray Gatt of THE AUSTRALIAN. Sky Blues Chair Scott Barlow "ended a week of intense speculation" about Del Piero, reaffirming the club was looking at his time in Sydney as "a long-term project." The former Italy and Juventus star "had hinted in an interview last week there might have been a problem." Barlow, however, "went a long way to easing those concerns in a short, but significant statement." Barlow: "We have always viewed Alessandro Del Piero's time here at Sydney FC as a long-term project and this was reaffirmed at our monthly board meeting early this week. We would like for Alessandro to remain at Sydney FC next season and we will also begin talking to him about opportunities beyond 2014" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 12/19).
MARINERS AMBITIONS: In Sydney, Sebastian Hassett reported "the dream" of A-League Central Coast Mariners Owner Peter Turnbull is to pair Del Piero and David Beckham for its Asian Champions League tour. Having seen the interest generated by Del Piero with Sydney, and with Beckham's appeal "unmatched in the world game," the Mariners are "considering signing the duo" for its Asian Champions League campaign. If Turnbull is successful, Beckham would join the Mariners for the second half of the A-League season, and remain there for the ACL campaign. Del Piero would play out the year at Sydney before coming to the Mariners (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 12/19).
A-League club Melbourne Heart "has quashed talk of relocation," confident it can become a powerhouse in its current guise "despite a sluggish start to the season, on and off the field," according to David Davutovic of the HERALD SUN.
Meanwhile, Melbourne's original A-League club, Victory, believes it can reach Australian Football League-type numbers and crack 35,000 members by '16. While "there have been suggestions Heart relocate to Melbourne's southeast or even Geelong," Chair Peter Sidwell said that "the club would not be moving." Sidwell said, "I don't think the geographic divide is the way forward." Victory's membership is just over 18,000 with sponsorship revenue in excess of A$3M ($3.2M), and Managing Dir Richard Wilson said that "if the club continued to improve under coach Ange Postecoglou," its numbers could go through the roof (HERALD SUN, 12/18).
Zenit St. Petersburg Manager Luciano Spalletti "has distanced the club from a group of supporters who have called for 'sexual minorities' and non-Europeans to be excluded from the playing staff," according to the London INDEPENDENT. The Italian issued an official statement in response to an open letter titled "Selection Manifesto 12" published on Zenit fan website Landscrona Tuesday, which detailed its "principles for selection" and preferred criteria for future signings. Without referring directly to the statement, Zenit boss Spalletti Tuesday told fc-zenit.ru: "Tolerance for me is the ability to understand and accept differences. Furthermore, being tolerant means that you fight against any kind of stupidity. I can personally assure you that I will do everything I can to help those who seek to explain what tolerance is, and the need to respect other cultures and traditions" (INDEPENDENT, 12/18).
PLAYER QUALITY: Zenit Dir of Sports Dietmar Beiersdorfer explained that the club makes player quality its only principle when selecting players and stated Zenit's goals for the upcoming winter transfer campaign. Beiersdorfer: "We make our player selections without any limitation regarding origin, religion or skin color. We have absolutely no policy in Zenit of limiting our player selection in any superficial way! Zenit as a big international club has to know all current top-level players and all promising young names who can reach the top level. Therefore it is vital to know all relevant markets where these players show up. The one and only restriction our club sets is the matter of quality" (Zenit St. Petersburg).