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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    The Crowd Says (49)

    • August 16th 2017 @ 6:20am
      Gurudoright said | August 16th 2017 @ 6:20am | ! Report

      Both sides of the argument has merit but I can not a support a first past the post system while certain teams have an advantage over who they play at home twice a season and those they only play once. Due to every team play everyone three times during the round robin, the draw is not fair and equal. Until every teams plays all their opponents the same amount of time both home and away the first past the post is a flawed system

      • August 16th 2017 @ 8:03am
        Fadida said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:03am | ! Report

        True

      • Roar Rookie

        August 16th 2017 @ 8:58am
        Grobbelaar said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:58am | ! Report

        Very good point Gurudoright.

        In the near future, we will have 16 teams, with a home and away season of 30 games, and that will be the perfect time to ditch finals football forever. Even better will be an 18 team competition with a 34 game season and promotion and relegation with a fully professaional national second division of 16 teams.

        By then, the FFA Cup would have grown to such a degree that its various finals will sate any remaining yearning for finals football.

      • August 16th 2017 @ 9:24am
        Nemesis said | August 16th 2017 @ 9:24am | ! Report

        “Until every teams plays all their opponents the same amount of time both home and away the first past the post is a flawed system”

        It’s not perfect. Is any system perfect? On Saturday, Crystal Palace will play Liverpool in the EPL after Liverpool had to play in Germany this morning. When Watford played Liverpool last week Liverpool were fresh. Does this mean the system is flawed because some teams get advantages other teams do not?

        In some leagues (eg Scotland), they play Home & Away once then divide the competition into 2 halves: Championship & Relegation and teams in each half play an opponent once only. Does this mean these competitions are flawed?

        Every team in ALeague plays every opponent equal times. That should be the fundamental principle for every football competition.

        • August 16th 2017 @ 10:05am
          Brian said | August 16th 2017 @ 10:05am | ! Report

          The biggest problem with splitting is the bottom end. I wouldn’t mind splitting after 18 games and having the top 6 play each other twice for the next 10 weeks but what would the bottom 4 do. We don’t have relegation or a draft which makes for a very unque problem at the bottom end.

          • August 16th 2017 @ 10:09am
            Nemesis said | August 16th 2017 @ 10:09am | ! Report

            Splitting will be my preferred format when we move to Pro/Rel

            12 teams:
            – one match home each = 22 H&A matches

            then split in 2 groups
            – Top 6 play for ACL spots & Champions
            – Bottom 6 play to avoid Relegation spots

            • August 16th 2017 @ 11:09am
              spruce moose said | August 16th 2017 @ 11:09am | ! Report

              Nice.

            • August 16th 2017 @ 10:14pm
              Redondo said | August 16th 2017 @ 10:14pm | ! Report

              Nemesis – I quite like the Australian tradition of a final so…maybe add to that with the top 2 after the top 6 home and away series playing off for the championship at a large capacity neutral stadium e.g. ANZ Stadium or Etihad (alternate years).

              That provides a guaranteed climax to the season and recognises there’s a clear difference between managing performance over a season (which often depends on club wealth and the size of the squad) and performing in a single game.

              I reckon the EPL Home and away format misrepresents quality sometimes. Man Utd under Ferguson for his last 5 or 6 seasons might be interesting to look at. I’m pretty sure (but too lazy to check) that Manu underperformed against the top 6 but compensated by grinding out 1-0 results against weaker teams.

              I say that as a Manu fan – even during the Ronaldo years they were bloody boring and pretty ordinary for long stretches but still won titles.

            • August 16th 2017 @ 10:26pm
              Redondo said | August 16th 2017 @ 10:26pm | ! Report

              Also, before introducing promotion/relegation, there’s nothing to stop adding the top 2 NPL teams to the bottom 6 home and away series (without promotion).

              It would give a great indication of relative quality (A-League versus NPL) and drawing power of the top NPL clubs. If an NPL club finishes above an A-League club it would drive the case for pro/rel.

      • August 16th 2017 @ 11:08am
        spruce moose said | August 16th 2017 @ 11:08am | ! Report

        So true.

    • August 16th 2017 @ 8:20am
      Buddy said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:20am | ! Report

      High on my wish list is to see a change in how the season ends. I have a few variations to share and much better to discuss during our long off season, rather than getting distracted as we often do during the regular season. I would love the season to end with a Super Cup final where the winner of the A League regular season meets the winner of the FFA Cup. Both teams have been successful, both can be presented with their trophies and parade in front of fans and there is a final prize for the season in a one off game that is purely about prestige and enjoying the game and will not throw any questions up as to who the real winner of the competition is.
      I am also a big fan of the promotion system used in many leagues around the globe where you can secure an automatic spot by league position and then 4 teams play off for that final,promotion spot. Always draws good crowds and in the UK they get a final at Wembley and a real carnival atmosphere with a lot at stake….big crowds even in League 2. My version would be to have the bottom team in the A League in play offs with 3 teams from the next tier or tiers if it was regional to secure the final spot in the A League for the following season. That would provide the FFA with the revenue they obviously want/need from play offs and the super cup final,is part of that. You could rotate the venue so that everyone knows at the start of the season etc etc.
      Please don’t waste time pointing out the flaws, I am well aware that the FFA Cup winner could be the same team and you therefore need alternatives and there are inherrent problems with promotion and relegation. This is just my wish list, just as realistic as any other suggested alterations to the status quo. It requires a coup and a seizure of power by like minded fans!
      In the meantime I will continue to shutdown at the completion of round 27, congratulate the League winners as the champions and don’t engage in the weeks that follow irrespective of which team is there. That’s just my coping method!

    • August 16th 2017 @ 8:34am
      Nemesis said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:34am | ! Report

      It’s not a case of “have one & not the other”.

      It’s a case of respecting & celebrating both the Premiership & the Championship for what they are: two competitions that are subject to two different match day regulations & require different technical, tactical, physical & mental preparation & conditioning.

      The Premiership is a competition open to 10 ALeague teams and tests the team that is best over 27 matches played for 90 minutes in Spring, Summer, Autumn all across Australia: Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Newcastle, Gosford, Brisbane, Wellington.

      Teams are tested at home and away. A draw is a legitimate result and goal difference matters.

      The Championship is a competition open to the best 6 teams in the ALeague over 2-3 matches played in April/May. It is a contest to determine the best ALeague team in knock-out football. A drawn result is not valid. Matches can be won by penalty shootout.

      Is one better? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Is the 100m race better than the 400m race? Is a 400m race bettr than a 10k; 10k better than a marathon?

      Or, can we enjoy them all & understand each winner is worthy?

    • Roar Rookie

      August 16th 2017 @ 8:37am
      Stevo said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:37am | ! Report

      This is what happens when you have the longest off season in the whole world 😉

      • Roar Rookie

        August 16th 2017 @ 8:45am
        Stevo said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

        On more important matters, Jack Reilly on the world game web site has come out swinging:

        “Don’t forget that 30 years ago Frank Lowy left the game in Australia because he believed that the political influence of the states was far too great.

        “He then came back and used that influence for his own benefit. And nothing has changed whatsoever since.”

        • Roar Rookie

          August 16th 2017 @ 8:55am
          Grobbelaar said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:55am | ! Report

          Wise words from Jack Reilly.

    • August 16th 2017 @ 8:45am
      Markfromcroydon said | August 16th 2017 @ 8:45am | ! Report

      In football, the purest and fairest way to determine a League Champion is a home and away season where every team plays every other team once at home and once away. Anything else is only a poor compromise. I yearn for the day we are able to achieve this system in Australia.

    • Roar Guru

      August 16th 2017 @ 9:03am
      Wayne said | August 16th 2017 @ 9:03am | ! Report

      It’s Australia, we have a Finals Series. We are not Europe… SOLVED!

      As mentioned earlier, no Promotion/Relegation. No stories if Premiership is decided with weeks remaining. No Qualifying for other tournaments. May as well end the League early

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