Aussie-style finals are the cherry on A-League cake

Opponents of the A-League finals like to remind us at this time of the year that it's the Premiers' Plate not the Grand Final that should determine the true champions of Australia.

Brisbane Roar

Source: AAP

The premiership is the real thing, they claim, and the final series is just an added, end-of-season Americanism that has no place in our game.

There is no fairer way to determine the champions than by using the 'first past the post' system and that is the way it's done just about everywhere else.

Some preposterously even suggest the Premiers' Plate and the finals are two separate competitions.

Wrong, wrong and wrong.

At the risk of regurgitating an old discussion that is becoming as tedious as the fantasies of those romantics who yearn for promotion and relegation, some things should be clarified and put into perspective.

Each of the 10 A-League clubs play the other nine three times over 27 rounds.

Which of course means that some teams play 14 matches at home and others 13.

Which also means that teams play all the others twice at home and once away in one season and the other way round in the next.

That's fair enough, sort of.

The problem of fairness arises when a close premiership race is decided after the winning team have played more matches against their main rivals at home than away.

Take this season, for example.

Adelaide United won the title by finishing a mere point ahead of Western Sydney Wanderers and Brisbane Roar.

The Reds accomplished their feat by playing only two of their six matches against the Wanderers and Brisbane at home.

The Wanderers, on the other hand, were at home for four of their six 'direct clashes' while Brisbane were three and three.

The point I'm trying to make is if the tightest and most unpredictable race for the Premiers' Plate in years had gone the Wanderers' way how on earth would that have been fair on the Reds?

And if Brisbane had taken top spot after being the only team among the top three to have 14 games at home how would that have been fair on Adelaide and the Wanderers?

In most leagues of the world teams play each other twice: once at home and once away.

I recognise that Australian football has special problems but until such time as the A-League fixtures are even for every team we cannot justifiably claim that 'first past the post' is the fairest way of determining the champions. 

These are the facts. Now for the opinion.

I love the finals series. It is exciting and unpredictable.

Every year it regales us with some memorable moments such as Brisbane's late, late comeback against Melbourne Victory and Melbourne City star Bruno Fornaroli's sensational double against Perth Glory at the weekend that would never have happened if its opponents had their way.

They maintain that a few knockout matches should not be the 'be all and end all' of a season.

Excuse me, how on earth are the world's major tournaments like the FIFA World Cup, European championship, Copa America, UEFA Champions League and Copa Libertadores decided?

Italy did not win a match in the initial group phase of the 1982 World Cup but went on to win the trophy by playing better when it mattered most.

I do not recall anybody saying the Azzurri were unconvincing winners just because they had played poorly in the group phase or because anything can happen in a knockout match.

I reckon we should accept and embrace the finals for what they are - a true test of one's ability, character and temperament - and stop trying to be like Europe or South America.

If we really want to emulate the Europeans or South Americans we would be much better off trying to match them in the quality of league football. But that's beside the point.

The finals have merit and are an excellent way of maintaining interest till the very end of the season.

The system works well in Australia and the finals are loved by just about everybody so let's keep it this way.

What do we want: a championship decided with a few rounds to spare and meaningless matches involving teams with nothing to play for?

That's the last thing the struggling A-League needs.

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4 min read
Published 18 April 2016 at 10:00am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS