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  • Writer's pictureChristian Marchetti

Is it time to scrap the Finals Series?

Finals series' have always been a part of Australian sport. In its short history, the A-League has had a knockout style system to decide the Champions at the end of each season.

However, is it time to look at the model used in European leagues, where the team on top after the home and away season takes home the trophy?

There are many arguments for it, the main one being that the team on top should logically become the champions from a perspective of fairness.

Two of the last three season's championship winners in the A-League have proven this argument. Melbourne Victory in 2018 and Sydney FC in 2019 arguably won the toilet seat based on an excellent finals campaign instead of consistency throughout 27 games.

In these two seasons, the Premiers (Sydney in 2018, Perth in 2019) finished head and shoulders above the rest of the competition in the home and away season. It was only the intense nature of knockout football that eventually took its toll on these sides.

Even Sydney FC's captain at the time, Alex Brosque, questioned the merit of the finals system in the A-League, intriguingly immediately after that 2019 success over Perth on penalties.

"Maybe the fact that we have a cup competition now, maybe it is time eventually to look at scraping these semi-finals and final," Brosque said.

"It happened to us last year; we won the league by 14 points and weren’t seen as champions, and Perth were incredible this year but aren’t seen as champions."

Perth finished eight points clear of Sydney FC in the home and away season in 2019. (Getty Images)

As Brosque touched on, to 'be seen as champions' is important in football in terms of how we judge the best sides of yesteryear.

Unfortunately, history won't remember how Tony Popovic guided Perth to a maiden Premiers Plate in style. It will only remember how they supposedly 'bottled it' in the Grand Final.

Fans of other codes will disagree, saying that if you were the best team that season, you would be successful in the Finals Series.

However, football is a much different sport to the likes of Aussie Rules or NRL. It isn't as heavily reliant on the individual quality of teams; any side can come up with the right game plan in a one-off game to stifle their opponents.

Just look at the FA Cup Final between Chelsea and Leicester in England over the weekend. Thomas Tuchel's side were the overwhelming favourites against a Leicester side who had previously lost four finals. Yet, Brendan Rodger's team came prepared and put in an excellent defensive shift to grind out a 1-0 win.

Finals football isn't a barometer of the best team that season; it is the measure of the best team for two or three high-intensity matches.

Throughout one season, many factors come into play that positively or negatively affects each team and can act as a natural equaliser across the competition in some instances.

Suppose an A-League team finishes second and books a home semi-final. But then three of their most important players get injured.

In that case, finals football isn't a fair assessment as those players would make the difference, or already have been the difference between the other sides in the competition that season anyway.

The finals series brings teams into contention for the title when they otherwise shouldn't be in any other league, most notably European leagues.

European leagues sometimes cop some flak for not being competitive enough (look at how Bayern Munich have cruised to a ninth consecutive league title in Germany).

However, at least titles are won based on sporting merit. And, as we saw when Leicester also won the Premier League back in 2016, the fairytale stories are that much more enthralling to witness for the neutrals.

Fairytale stories don't necessarily have to involve winning the title, either.

The A-League could make the top three places all Asian Champions League qualifying spots. We could have a tight tussle between several clubs each year to make it into Asian football's elite club competition.

If a top three were in place this year, it would be a fascinating race, as just four points separate second from seventh. In addition, clubs would see the benefit of a ladder-based system if they were to receive financial rewards based on their position each year.

Given that it is still unclear if the competition winners get any prize money, that idea might be a little further down the track.

Either way, a winner based on the home and away format will be of more financial benefit to all the clubs in the long term. In years gone by, the clubs have been shafted with revenue by the federation.

In 2016, when Adelaide United beat Western Sydney 3-1 in front of a capacity crowd at Adelaide Oval, the FA received a far more considerable portion of the revenue raised from ticket sales.

Both Adelaide and the Wanderers should have earnt more for the sell-out crowd in 2016. (Getty Images)

What's the point in club's putting on a spectacle if they aren't financially reimbursed? Football clubs are now run like businesses, after all.

We all love the nostalgia of past finals matches, such as Brisbane's epic Grand Final with the Mariners in 2011 or Terry Antonis redeeming himself with the winner against Sydney in the Semi-Finals of 2018.

But, the A-League must prioritise a shift away from its roots for the greater good of the sport.

A more sustainable model, similar to that used in Europe, should be followed. It starts with scrapping the Finals Series.


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