Roar and Against: The A-League should follow the EPL and ditch the finals

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    Sydney FC celebrate their 2017 championship. Is history set to repeat? (AAP Image/David Moir)

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    And so the Premier League is underway for another season. Ahead of us is nine months and 38 rounds of football to crown the finest club in England.

    It’s a far cry from what happens in Australia, where the home-and-away season sets the scene before a champion is decided after a sudden-death finals series.

    Both systems undoubtedly have their merits – and their flaws. But which one reigns supreme? It’s time to find out.

    We put the question to Roar Expert Mike Tuckerman and Editor Daniel Jeffrey for them to battle it out, but we also want to hear what you think.

    Is a first-past-the-post system how we should crown our champions? Or is a finals series the way to go?

    For: The A-League should ditch the finals system

    Daniel Jeffrey, Roar Editor
    There’s one main reason for ditching the finals and moving to a European-style format: fairness.

    No-one can deny crowning a champion based on an entire season’s worth of results is fairer than doing so based on 90 minutes of football. It rewards consistent results, not just a side’s performance over a string of do-or-die fixtures.

    Take last season as an example. Sydney FC had sewn up the title with weeks to go and were head and shoulders over every other team in the A-League. Yet they were only an assured penalty shootout performance from Melbourne Victory away from missing out on the main piece of silverware for the season.

    Had they lost that grand final, it would have been a serious injustice against a side which had completely outclassed the rest of the competition throughout the season.

    One poor match, even if it happens to fall on the final day of the season, should not cost such a dominant side a championship.

    The finals-less approach can, of course, take some of the excitement out of the season.

    But surely this is the role played by the FFA Cup?

    The knockout competition, in addition to providing lesser clubs a chance to step into the spotlight, gives fans the tension and drama of winner-take-all matches, taking away the necessity of an A-League season which culminates in a grand final.

    FFA Cup winners Adelaide United

    (AAP Image/Ben Macmahon)

    And let’s not forget that round robin-style seasons can provide just as much entertainment and intensity as a final. I’d argue the upside of such a competition dwarfs that of a finals series.

    Manchester City’s epic, last-minute Premier League victory back in 2012 is the obvious example of this – and rightly so. But it’s not as if the A-League has been devoid of such tightly-run finishes to the regular season.

    Had the 2015-16 competition been decided solely on regular season form, it would go down in the annals of history as one of the greatest finishes to a season in Australian sporting history – Melbourne City going from first to fourth in the final two rounds, and three other clubs (Adelaide United, Brisbane Roar and Melbourne Victory) split by just the solitary point atop the ladder.

    With the finals, we are depriving ourselves of that drama despite the presence of a knockout cup competition, while at the same time not fully rewarding teams for their regular-season form.

    When you put it that way, it’s an easy decision.

    Against: The A-League should keep the finals system

    Mike Tuckerman, Roar Expert
    Many of our most iconic A-League games have been finals fixtures. Why would we want to get rid of them?

    Erik Paartalu’s header, Danny Vukovic’s shootout save, Besart Berisha’s tumble… We’d have missed out on all of these memories if the A-League employed a first-past-the-post system.

    And for what? So that we can be more like Europe, a continent where the championship playoff final is now one of the richest games on the planet? Where countries like Belgium and the Netherlands are increasingly employing playoff systems of their own?

    Yes, they still employ a first-past-the-post system in these nations. But their national leagues have been around for a lot longer than 13 years. And they’re played in countries where football is the dominant code, not fighting for a place at the table.

    The fact is we’ve had finals football since 1984, when they were brought in to decide the National Soccer League champions. Should we simply forget about all that history, too?

    Of course, this system can sometimes provide drama. Just ask Manchester City fans. Or better yet, look north to the J League, where they’ve switched between championship playoffs and a first-past-the-post system more than once.

    Last season, Sydney FC won the premiership with four rounds to spare. With no promotion and relegation at the other end of the table, the finals series adds an extra incentive for teams to keep fighting.

    Sydney FC Football A-League Grand Final 2017

    (AAP Image/Dean Lewins)

    “The A-League is boring” has been a common refrain over the past couple of years, in which the same ten teams have done battle three times a season. But how boring would it be if there was no finals football at the end of it?

    It might suit the Premier League – which boasts 20 teams, including three new clubs each season – but it’s not going to work for a relatively new competition with a fixed number of teams and no promotion or relegation between divisions.

    Most EPL clubs attract a full house every week, but the A-League’s biggest crowds are usually reserved for our grand final. Removing that element for the sake of a few football hipsters isn’t smart, it’s commercial suicide.

    So leave the A-League finals as they are, and simply enjoy the EPL for what it is. We can enjoy both.

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