Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A-League Finals 2014

A-League
Finals time in the A-League can only mean one thing - the annual debate about the merits of a finals system.

While the debate has been more muted this year, it's one that bubbles beneath the surface as five clubs vie to stop Brisbane Roar claiming what would be just reward for their season - a third A-League championship in four years.

Almost all football purists in Australia prefer the first-past-the-post system, rewarding the most consistent team across the 27-round season. This year there can be no argument that Brisbane Roar has been that team.

This is where the debate regarding the merit of a finals system becomes interesting.

With a first-past-the-post system, and with no relegation in the A-League, such was Brisbane's dominance this season the season as a contest would have ended weeks ago, with the final few rounds reduced to being, effectively, dead rubbers, except for the battle for the remaining ACL spots.

However, given the way some clubs seem to treat participation in the ACL that might be something some would be happy to avoid.

Yet with a finals system in place, the final few rounds generated excitement as teams swapped and changed positions all the way up to the final minute of the final game as Sydney’s last minute winner saw them climb above Adelaide into fifth, and set up an Elimination Final against arguably their biggest rival, Melbourne Victory.

In the process, however, the Premiership gets undervalued, particularly by FFA who seem intent on playing down its significance so as to not take away from the finals series. One just has to look at the low-key trophy presentations since the A-League’s inception to get an idea of where the Premiership sits in the pecking order according to the FFA. Finals are king, and by some margin, with the Grand Final winner (the 'Champion') the team recognised as the best of the season.

And rightly so, in my opinion.

Finals are an Australian tradition, across all sports, and whilst football shouldn’t always borrow from other sports on this occasion it is something that works. Just look at attendances, television ratings, media interest. Finals matter in Australia. And for the most part, the deserving Champion has emerged at the end of each season.

Let's hope that continues this season as Brisbane is the only club that truly deserve the title of Champion this season. The inconsistency, and at times, terrible form of other sides means there is only one deserving Champion this season. It would be an injustice should any other club hold aloft the toilet seat on May 4.

While following the other codes with a finals system is fine, one area the FFA and the A-League should be a leader is with simultaneous kick offs in the final round. Damien de Bohun's rationale for not having simultaneous kick offs, which is standard in almost all leagues across the world, was, quite frankly, a joke.

Television, time zones, stadium availability he cried.

Has he not heard of the red button on his FOXTEL remote? Fox Sports utilise it every weekend with their EPL coverage and did likewise with their Saturday night NRL coverage. It is entirely possible to screen five games at one time. Imagine the drama on the final day, especially one like this year when every game mattered and every goal altered the outcome of the top six.

With the fixture already manipulated to within an inch of its life, time zones aren't an excuse with any credibility. There was a round earlier this season when all five games were played in New South Wales. It's tough for Wellington and Perth, but scheduling the final round entirely on the East Coast isn't, or shouldn't, be an issue.

Even Adelaide, with only a 30-minute time difference, could comfortably host a game.

Stadium availability is the only excuse that has some merit given the difficulties in obtaining access to multi-use stadia when the three other football codes are also in-season. However, it is not insurmountable. With careful planning it can be overcome.

The one thing lacking is the will to actually make it happen. It's no longer good enough for the FFA to dismiss it out of hand.

Given the same debate has been had in the other football codes, who also steadfastly refuse to consider the option, it's time for the FFA to stop being a follower and be a leader.

Paul Williams

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