The A-League has got off to a bad start in this year’s AFC Champions League.
The Newcastle Jets are already out and Victory lost 3-1 at home in their first game. Sydney FC play their first game tonight at Kogarah but go into the match with a poor home record from previous seasons hanging over their heads.
If Sydney FC and Victory cannot improve Champions League results this season then the A-League risks being cut to just one automatic qualification spot for next year’s Champions League. If that happens then who should the automatic qualifier be?
Real football fans would probably insist on football tradition and vote for the team who finishes first on the league ladder – the premiers.
But fair dinkum Aussies, brought up on the traditions of other domestic football codes, would probably vote for the team who win the grand final – the champions.
However, fair dinkum Aussie tradition does not always deliver a fair dinkum outcome. Last season’s grand final saw Melbourne Victory crowned as champions, many would say entirely undeservedly. The Victory finished a massive 21 points on the ladder below the premiers, Sydney FC, who beat them three times in the regular season.
The Victory only eliminated Sydney FC in the semi-finals with a lucky goal late in extra-time.
The Victory then stumbled to a lucky grand final win against the Newcastle Jets. The Victory’s controversial winning goal came courtesy of a clear offside that was missed by both the match officials and a malfunctioning VAR.
Even Melbourne Victory fans would admit their team was not a fair dinkum ‘champion’ last season. Clearly, the premiers, Sydney FC, were consistently best across the whole season whereas the champions, Melbourne Victory, were a mediocre team who benefited from a couple of lucky breaks in knockout games.
Higher rewards, like qualification to the AFC Champions League, should be based on consistent excellence, not luck.
On that basis, surely the automatic qualification spot should go to the premiers. This season that will most likely be Perth Glory, who would thoroughly deserve the reward.