• A-League grand final winners will no longer secure a qualification spot to the Asian Champions League (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
The winners of the A-League grand final will be robbed of a spot in the AFC Champions League from the end of next season.
By
Philip Micallef

Source:
SBS The World Game
7 May 2021 - 8:22 AM  UPDATED 7 May 2021 - 8:32 AM

The Asian Football Confederation has always regarded our finals series as the national knockout and it gave the grand final winners direct entry to the ACL on that basis.

Football Australia has now decreed that the grand final winners will not get the chance to pit their strength with Asia's elite any more.

The startling revelation came after the FA announced that the winners of the soon-to-be-renamed FFA Cup will get a playoff spot in the following Champions League. Another half spot will go to the premiership runners-up.

A-League issues run deep but we must not give up
When the hugely unflattering crowd figure of 990 people emerged from the clash between Western United and Newcastle Jets last week, it capped off a string of unwanted headlines for the domestic game in Australia.

Australia at the moment has an allocation of one automatic and two half spots.

And since the premiers will get direct entry to the 32-team tournament there will be no spots left for the champions.

The final series from this season will be run by the A-League but the game's governing body retains the right to determine which teams fill the allocated spots in accordance with AFC stipulations.

This is just not right and does not make sense. I can think of no better way of devaluing and demeaning the finals than by depriving the winning team of a spot in Asia.

Regardless of whether you believe that the grand final winners or the team finishing first past the post should be declared Australia's champions, this is how we do it here.

Yet if we rob the champions of their rightful spot in the Champions League, we ought to wonder why we should have a finals series in the first place.

The A-League was more than happy to give half a spot to the cup winners in the spirit of solidarity with those clubs that do not play in the competition. But it is believed it only agreed on condition that the ACL spot for the grand final winners won't be jeopardised. That's fair enough.

So the professional clubs were understandably taken aback by the shock announcement that their wish had come true but at the cost of a spot in Asia for the champions.

The AFC was never going to allow a team from each of two knockouts to gain access to the Champions League and the FA chose to reward the cup winners rather than the champions.

This allocation formula is deeply flawed, essentially because the FA are telling the fans that finishing second in the league or snaring the cup is more important than winning the grand final.

This may well be true, particularly in the case of the league runners-up, but that is not the issue.

Football is having a bob each way here.

Australia should honour its grand final winners because most Aussies love the end-of-season finals and that's what we have been doing for decades.

Yet if the AFC forbids us from rewarding our champions with a spot in the ACL, we should either retain the finals but declare the premiers as champions or else scrap the finals altogether. 

Or else accept that the domestic cup is not yet big enough for its winners to deserve a spot in Asia, albeit via a playoff, and keep things as they are. If Australia gets a greater allocation, the FA could then look at the cup winners taking up one of the spots.

The finals series no doubt has been dealt a body blow to its image and relevance by this latest development.

One hopes that there is still time for the FA to reverse its decision and give the final series the recognition it deserves.