Messi, Puyol, Xavi extend contract at Barcelona
MADRID, Spain - Barcelona's star Argentinian striker Lionel Messi has pledged to stay with the Spanish giants until June 2018 by renewing his contract, the club said Tuesday, December 18.
Currently leading the league by a huge nine points, Barcelona also said that they had agreed contract renewals with Spain internationals and longtime club stalwarts Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez.
A statement from the club said that an agreement had been agreed with Messi, 25, whose current contract expires in 2016, and that he would sign his new deal "in the coming weeks".
Veteran defender and captain Puyol, 34, and midfielder Xavi, 32 - one of the heroes of Spain's Euro victory this year - have each signed up to stay until 2016. Puyol's current contract expires next year and Xavi's in 2014.
"This news means that FC Barcelona has secured its ties with three of its most important players," the club said in its statement.
'3 basic pillars'
Barcelona are 13 points clear of their fierce rivals, title holders Real Madrid, at the top of the Spanish league, and nine points ahead of second-placed Atletico Madrid, whom they beat 4-1 last weekend.
The Catalan giants are unbeaten in the league this season with 15 wins and one draw.
"It is very satisfying for the board to extend a successful project by renewing Xavi, Puyol and Messi," a spokesman for the club's management Toni Freixa told a news conference.
"They are three basic pillars of the best Barcelona team in history. It was very necessary to keep our main elements tied to the club."
Puyol - who like Messi and Xavi is a graduate of Barca's cherished youth training academy - has soldiered on despite injuries that have forced him to spend weeks on the bench this year.
He missed taking part in Spain's Euro 2012 victory for treatment to his right knee and later fractured his cheekbone at the start of this league season.
Messi - who has been at the club since 2004 - is the top scorer in the league with 25 goals so far this season, ahead of Atletico's Radamel Falcao who has 17 and Real's Cristiano Ronaldo on 14.
The Argentine recently broke Gerd Mueller's 40-year record for the most goals in a calendar year.
Mueller scored 85 in 1972 and Messi has scored 90 so far this year, though there are claims that Godfrey Chitalu of Zambia and Zico of Brazil netted more.
Messi is also Barca's highest ever scorer, having broken Cesar Rodriquez's record from the 1950s.
The Argentinian is in the running for a fourth Ballon D'Or, world player-of-the-year award this year, alongside his Barcelona team mate Andres Iniesta and his La Liga rival Ronaldo. The winner will be announced on January 7.
If Messi carries it off, he will be the only player to win four Ballon D'Ors, exceeding the triples of Barcelona's Dutch hero Johann Cruyff, France's Michel Platini and another Dutchman, Marco Van Basten. - Agence France-Presse