Why the A-League finals are a godsend

The A-League's popular finals are the icing on the cake for Australian club football but they certainly are not everyone's cup of tea.

adelaide united

Adelaide players celebrate their 2016 grand final triumph Source: Getty Images

There are many who would love to see the series get a red card and never to be seen again.

This is not another 'for or against' instalment of the most unproductive argument in Australian football.

But we, nonetheless, should all say 'thank goodness for the finals' because without them, this season would have been just about dead and buried after what happened at the weekend.

The mini-series has its merits of course and it is part and parcel of Australia's sporting culture. We love grand finals, don't we.

The finals have always given our game a fitting climax ... the knockout nature has provided some epic matches in which reputations were made and destroyed, and produced some grand finals for the ages.

The series has its drawbacks too. It effectively is a lottery that can reward mediocrity.

In a top-six system - why not a top four, anyway? - a team finishing sixth in the regular season could have a strong three matches and end up landing the championship by winning far fewer games overall than the first five teams on the ladder.

Many believe that the ones that finish first past the post should be regarded as the champions, as is the case with 95 per cent of the football-playing countries in the world.

The playoffs issue has divided public opinion like no other and we will continue to argue about them ad nauseam as long as Football Federation Australia 'own' the series from which they take all the gate takings.

So the chances of the FFA relinquishing control of the series are as high as those of the governing body allowing the A-League to run their own show.

Yet whether you like the top six or not, this season proves that the series is a godsend.

Sydney FC hold an 11-point lead over nearest rivals Melbourne Victory with five rounds to go.

The Sky Blues emerged on top in the Big Blue on Friday night so the destination of the premiership is just about done and dusted.

Thankfully, however, the looming playoffs and the scramble to get into them will ensure that interest in the remaining rounds of the season be maintained right through to the end of the regular season.
Can you imagine how low the general appeal of the A-League would have dropped in the last five rounds now that there is daylight between Sydney and the rest?

Can you imagine how deeply such a state of affairs would have affected attendances and television figures, especially since there are no relegation issues to keep the fans guessing?

Several European leagues are often decided with rounds to spare.

Chelsea and Juventus are running away with England's Premier League and Italy's Serie A respectively, while in some recent years Bayern Munich wrapped up Germany's Bundesliga by Easter.

Without suggesting that the leagues of Europe might yearn for a finals series similar to Australia's, some countries might be inclined to do away with tradition in favour of a money-making, end-of-season finale.

Clubs that make tens of millions of euros from European football are not known to shy away from exploring any avenue that could lead to more revenue.

So before we knock the finals and dismiss them as a lottery that has little to do with football tradition, and yearn for the recognised way of deciding league titles, I reckon we should be grateful for having a system that admittedly has its flaws but which enables fans and the media to maintain interest in the season until the very end, particularly when a team runs away with the premiership as is the case this season.

This cannot be a bad thing, surely.

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4 min read
Published 6 March 2017 at 9:35am
By Philip Micallef
Source: SBS