Since its inception in 2005, the A-League has followed other Australian football codes, a regular season followed by a final series. Although finals are “engrained” into Australia’s sporting DNA and with the league expanding into 12 teams by 2020 (Western United FC in 2019 and Macarthur FC in 2020), I think It’s time for the A-League to scrap finals football.
There’s no doubt the allure of finals has conjured some entertaining moments. The 2019 grand final last season was a spectacle to witness. League champions Perth Glory were beaten 4-1 on penalties by Sydney FC in the final despite winning the league. It was a similar story to the one that played out in the NBA a few seasons ago. The Cleveland Cavaliers historic Game 7 win in the NBA Finals in 2016 was almost supernatural. They beat a Golden State Warriors that won a record 75 games during the regular season. There’s no doubt, finals can be entertaining. A simple search on YouTube can show you the greatest moments in finals series. But in both instances, surely the best team throughout the season should be given the recognition they deserve as champions?
Sydney FC’s achievement last season deserves to be celebrated. Winning the finals series for a record-equalling fourth time after defeating Perth Glory 4-1 on penalties is no mean feat and shows how dominant they are. But is it right to value Sydney’s achievement over Perth Glory’s achievements over the course of the season? The 2018 Grand Final was won by Melbourne Victory, despite finishing fourth and 23 points behind league champion’s Sydney FC. Is it right that the current system rewards those who scrape into the top six? It places a greater emphasis on the sprint of knock-out football rather than the season-long marathon.
In both instances, it takes away from the achievements of Perth Glory and Sydney FC during the regular season. In addition, finals football takes away the significance of qualifying for the AFC Champions League which is a major concern considering that poor performance by Australian teams these competitions could lead to losing an automatic spot for future tournaments. The best way to provide an incentive for the AFC Champions League would to deem third as the new sixth. Perhaps a move from the top-six model they employ to a top-three model could work? Where the top two would receive automatic qualification into the Champions League group stage. With third place gaining a playoff spot. It would provide a greater emphasis and incentive on qualifying for the AFC Champions League. While also replacing the sixth spot with third as the league’s benchmark for a successful season.
The removal of the final series would also provide a greater opportunity for the FFA Cup to thrive as the sole cup competition. The FFA Cup unites amateur and professional clubs in the ultimate finals series. We don’t need two knock-out cup competitions to decide that. The FFA Cup has great potential and plays an integral part in unearthing the next generation of Australian talent. Last season proved how successful the cup competition can be. Suburban grounds throughout Australia were teaming with supporters. The FFA Cup will undoubtedly continue to grow and should be the only cup competition we have.
Granted elimination finals are a part of Australia’s sporting landscape. With a 10 team format and two more on the way, the finals series provides the A-League and the FFA the competitiveness and entertainment it needs. The relevance of finals football should at least be reviewed, and possibly left in the past. Football doesn’t need a final series to be entertaining. Perhaps, it’s time the A-League follow Europe’s example and reward the team who sits atop the standings at seasons end.
Post by Kevin Wong. Follow him here on Twitter.