Merrick wants Muscat

Ernie Merrick believes inspirational Melbourne captain Kevin Muscat has at least another year in him and said the club will make re-signing the 35-year-old a priority in the off season.

Ernie Merrick believes inspirational Melbourne captain Kevin Muscat has at least another year in him and said the club will make re-signing the 35-year-old a priority in the off season.

Muscat has now captained Melbourne to two championships and played a starring role in Saturday's Grand Final win over Adelaide. The veteran is yet to make a decision public on whether he will retire, but his coach wants him to play on.

"My gut feeling is that Kevin Muscat will sign on for at least another year. That's my gut feeling," Merrick said.

"He's getting better. People may forget that Kevin played every minute of every game this year and I don't know if he's injured, because he refuses to tell me. The physios and medical staff are sworn to secrecy. They never tell me," he said.

"His performances on field have been technical, skilful and strategic. His leadership on-field is exceptional. There's no doubt he becomes a priority signing."

Melbourne has four players out of contract, Muscat, Nick Ward, Michael Theoklitos and Carlos Hernandez. Merrick expects discussion over the future of that quartet will intensify next week when Football Operations Manager Gary Cole sits down to sort out any future deals.

"We've avoided any discussion about re-signing, either the players or myself over the finals period. It's worked a treat. The following week or so we will work really hard on signing all the players up," he said.

"Gary Cole's got the next challenge, signing as many players as possible. There's some tough ones to re-sign there, because the salary cap makes a big hindrance. Everyone wants to be renumerated for their rewards as they should do. Players become targets of other A-League and overseas clubs."

Hernandez is the biggest challenge for the club, with his two-year-loan deal at an end as of June and his Costa Rican club asking for a transfer fee in the realms of $1 million. Merrick admitted it will be a struggle striking a new deal with the 26-year-old given that Melbourne has already got a marquee player in Archie Thompson.

"People seem to think it's just the transfer fee, the actual inside the salary cap that becomes a problem. We already have our marquee senior player, so it's a really tough gig. I don't think there's' any better than Gary Cole in signing better players."

However, Merrick believes the club is in a better position to keep its best players than what it was when it won the Grand Final two years ago.

"We started six months ago to re-sign most of the boys, Gary has been extremely successful. We snared Archie for another two years on top of existing deal. Danny Allsopp was signed for another three years, all those key players. Billy Celeski, who has had a fantastic season. It's just an ongoing work in progress," he said.

Merrick is out of contract himself as of the end of next season and with Melbourne set to embark on an Asian Champions League campaign at that time, the club will be looking to come to an extension agreement with the 56-year-old. But he is in no rush to sort things out.

"I've got another year on my contract to run, until March 2010, so I'm certainly not a priority," he said.