Wellington Phoenix coach Ernie Merrick has already made one of his most important signings for the 2016-17 Hyundai A-League season with captain Andrew Durante, who on Friday will make his 200th appearance for the club, signing a new two-year contract.
Merrick is all too aware that he needs to make new signings looking to next season but he is delighted that Durante will still be his leader both on and off the field.
For Durante’s part he is just as pleased that he has signed a new deal that will take his Phoenix career up to 10 years, a far cry from the two years he planned on.
“It has been pretty well publicised that when I came to Wellington I said it would be for two years and then I would go back to Australia to continue my career,” Durante said.
“That all changed once we settled in and I’ve enjoyed my time here so much that I’ve never come off contract, always signing a new one before the current one ran out.
“It wouldn’t have been possible had the family not settled but (wife) Sara feels this is her home.
“We bought a house here and our three daughters, Adelyn, Milana and Evita were born and raised here.
“My decision on each contract was made easier in that Sara has always fully supported me.”
Durante is just as enthusiastic about the atmosphere at the club, despite the current season being a challenging one through injuries and suspensions.
“In my eyes the culture at the Phoenix is unique,” he says.
“A lot of the players have been here a long time and I think nine or 10 players have played more than 100 games for the club which I’m sure is unique in the A-League.
“It is a group that really enjoy coming to training every day and playing football together.
“When you wake up nearly every day and get up and go to play football with your mates you are a fortunate man.
“Since Ernie has come to the club and introduced a new brand of football it was a no-brainer to sign a new contract.”
The only thing missing from Durante’s time at the Phoenix is a trophy and he hopes to rectify that next season.
“I want to win the league and want to help drive the club to achieve that goal,” he says.
“Now the licence issue has been settled hopefully Ernie can go out there and get the guys he thinks he needs to win the league.
“We have the core group that can do it but need to add a couple of players who can help us take the next step.”