Messi, Xavi, Puyol to Sign New Deals: What It Means for Barcelona Players
The news the rest of La Liga didn't want to hear has been broken by Barcelona: Leo Messi is staying a Barça player for the next six years. The world's best football player has agreed to sign a new contract with his club to remain at the Nou Camp until 2018, the club have announced.
In fact Barcelona made it a triple celebration as they announced veteran duo Xavi Hernandez and Carles Puyol were also getting new deals, both running until 2016, at the same time.
Messi's contract renewal in particular will delight fans as he has been in scintillating form this year, having scored 90 goals since the beginning of 2012.
The news of all three players committing their futures to the Catalan club puts a sparkling end to what has been a mixed year for Barcelona.
After years of dominance they finally lost out to Real Madrid in the title race in May and were defeated in the Champions League semifinals by Chelsea. However they also won the Copa del Rey—before legendary coach Pep Guardiola departed the club.
Tito Vilanova's appointment has gone well so far though, with Barcelona sitting nine points clear at the top of La Liga at almost the halfway stage of his debut campaign.
Here's what the next few years could mean for the players and the club now that Messi, Xavi and Puyol are ready to pen their long-term contracts.
Carles Puyol, Central Defender
With Carles Puyol being 35 at the end of this season, it is some surprise to see him handed such a long-term contract.
By the time his new deal expires in 2016, he will be aged 38. Of course Puyol is a fit and dedicated professional and there is no reason why he couldn't continue for another year or two, but perhaps it would be expected that his role will be reduced to that of a squad player over that period.
No further details have yet emerged and it could be that the final year of his deal might be an option to extend, or perhaps based on how many appearances he makes in the preceding year.
He remains a rugged and committed defender and important to the Barcelona cause.
The signing of Alex Song in the summer and attempts to bed him into a central defensive role at times this year hints at Vilanova knowing that Puyol cannot play every game, but the new deal is clearly a sign of faith that he has what it takes to remain at a high level for some time to come.
Puyol suffered an elbow injury in the Champions League earlier this season so he has missed part of the current campaign, as he has figured in only seven of his team's league games so far.
In those seven, Barcelona have conceded an average of 0.86 goals per game. In the remaining nine fixtures without him, they conceded at a rate of 1.33 goals per game, highlighting his continued importance to the organisation of the team.
Despite the inclusion of Puyol in the players who have re-signed with Barcelona, it is entirely possible that they continue to look for a new centre-back in the transfer market if Alex Song continues to fail to impress and none of the younger players are deemed as capable enough.
Xavi, Central Midfielder
The man in the middle is Xavi Hernandez, the player who has appeared the most times in the history of FC Barcelona and still one of those the most likely to come up with the match-deciding pass.
When his new deal expires Xavi will be 36 years of age; he's certainly getting on in terms of top-class midfielders but with his stamina and playing style, it is entirely feasible that he might still be a regular in the first team at that time.
Perhaps he will not be starting every week with the talent Barcelona are continuing to bring through in his position and the players they might sign over the coming years, but he's certainly very much involved in the first-team picture.
Xavi, more than Puyol, indicates that there is unlikely to be a sea change of playing style or team setup over the coming years from Barcelona.
They are schooled in different formations but the same essential ingredients hold true throughout the side: maintain possession, press quickly as a unit, be comfortable and competent on the ball.
The Spanish midfielder has almost 120 caps to his name and should go on to add a few more before he vacates the international scene, while for Barcelona he should become the first player to ever reach 700-appearance mark with some comfort before his deal expires.
During the present league campaign, Xavi has averaged over 100 passes per game, with more than a 95 percent pass completion rate. His quite phenomenal figures indicate strongly that he has a number of seasons left at the very top of the game.
Lionel Messi, Forward
Messi is a quite brilliant figure who has already had more praise thrown his way than maybe any player before him, yet deserves every piece.
Regardless of how he comes to be judged in terms of the "greatest ever" list, Messi's place in footballing folklore is assured. His record-breaking goalscoring exploits for 2012 are likely to help cement a fourth successive Ballon d'Or award.
The greatest "false nine" in world football was never likely to move anywhere else at this stage and his contract renewal with Barcelona was likely a formality, yet the length of time on the deal indicates a firm commitment on both sides.
Barcelona's entire structure of playing is perfectly geared toward getting the best out of Messi and, in turn, he helps the rest of the side play to their best strengths.
His 25 league goals in just 16 appearances this season make a mockery of the general thought of a "one-in-two" striker being a top player, while his 30 percent shot conversion rate for the season shows he is far more than a shoot-on-sight forward.
Messi has already won everything club level football has to offer yet is still, at 25, perhaps a couple of seasons away from his peak years.
It's a daunting thought for La Liga defenders that this phenomenon might become even better but that is the reality of what Barcelona will hope to present between now and 2018.
The Argentine's aim between now and the end of his new deal will be to keep winning trophies for his club, attempt to do the same with his nation and continue breaking as many goal-scoring records as possible.
At a rate of hitting almost 100 per year, anything is possible from this No. 10.
Statistical data from WhoScored.com