The end of the season in May is usually a time for footballers and club officials to take a well-earned holiday.

But at Walsall, the Saddlers' final fixtures are the precursor to negotiations with several squad members about new contracts.

Walsall rarely offer longterm deals and, while that is probably prudent, it does mean most of their players are free agents each summer.

This year the most highprofile player out of contract is midfielder Darren Wrack, who has been at Bescot since

1998. And Walsall manager Paul Merson fears the club will not be able to retain Wrack as he would have to take a significant pay-cut.

"Wracky is on good money," said Merson. "He signed when ITV Digital was booming and has a very good contract which I won't be able to match. I'll sit down and talk to Wracky but he'll be looking for more than I can offer."

Persuading Wrack to stay at Walsall will be one of Merson's most important tasks this summer and the playermanager must also look to keep Julian Joachim.

The quick striker, on loan from Championship side Leeds United, has been a revelation at Bescot since arriving last month.

Joachim, aged 30, has scored two goals in five games and Merson hopes the player can agree a settlement package with Leeds for the remaining year left on his contract - allowing him to join Walsall on a free.

He added: "If we can bring in a player like Julian, he is going to put bums on seats for this club.

"We'll have to see what happens at Leeds, I don't know if they are going to pay him off.

"The fact that they are paying half of his wages tells me they don't want him. We would love to keep him and I'll be speaking to him."

And Merson is optimistic experienced midfielder Simon Osborn will remain at the club. Osborn is also out of contract in the summer, but Merson plans to offer the 33-year-old a new one-year deal as player-coach.

He said: "Ozzy is very important to the way we play. He is an organiser and his composure on the ball is second-to-none. If he plays well then the team play well."

Osborn, a holding midfielder, is no longer capable of playing every match, but Merson plans to rotate him with Mark Kinsella - his other player-coach.

Merson said: "I'd like both of them to stay and play and do some coaching."

Merson, who has been assured of a new deal when the Saddlers are mathematically safe, also hopes to retain Anthony Gerrard, Michael Standing and Andrew Surman. n Tomorrow: Darren Wrack tells The Post about his future