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It's time to grow up

04 Apr 2013 | 11:39-Craig Foster

Its about time we got serious about the terms to denote our champion clubs and changed the way we value the achievements of A-League teams.

This season Football Federation Australia has done a great job in effectively turning the finals series this season into a knockout Cup.

Given the fine margins between the teams late season, particularly after late coaching changes which saw performances of Brisbane and Perth improve, it is entirely possible for a team that lost more games than it won, to claim the Grand Final.

The open nature of a ruthless knockout has re-energized fans ahead of the finals, but for those same reasons, it seem ridiculous to call the team that prevails, ‘Champion’ of the A-League when it is simply a team that was successful over a three-game knockout series, notwithstanding the excitement and drama that will no doubt flow.

The Grand Final is essentially a Cup Final.

There can be no question that winning the finals series comes a distant second to winning the league title, which is becoming increasingly more difficult as the level continues to rise. As the league proper becomes ever more respectable, the finals will be seen for what they are: a knockout series to determine a secondary title winner and a spot in the AFC Champions League.

With the AFC again providing the Cup winner with an automatic spot into Asia, a much greater prize than the artificially-created title of ‘champion’ lends the finals added gravitas.

As far as I am concerned, the ‘Champion’ is Western Sydney Wanderers, as it was Central Coast Mariners last season and Brisbane Roar the one before that.

These three teams were the most dominant, consistent and successful and take the greatest credit from the past three years. So do their coaches, Tony Popovic, Graham Arnold and Ange Postecoglou.

For the record, before that it was Sydney FC and Viteslav Lavicka (09-10), Melbourne Victory and Ernie Merrick (08-09), Central Coast Mariners and Laurie McKinna (07-08), Victory and Ernie again (06-07), and Adelaide United and John Kosmina (05-06).

To me, the name ‘Premiership’ has no meaning.

To place the greatest value on the Grand Final winner - for it is the team that receives the coveted 'toilet seat' -  potentially rewards mediocrity. Take this season as an example; putting aside their recent turnarounds in fortune, if Roar or Glory were to win, could anyone realistically say they have had a successful season? Or, that they are worthy champions?

Scraping into the top six and succeeding in a knockout series, where the lottery of penalties comes into play, cannot be allowed to be interpreted as an acceptable way to crown a champion.

It is ridiculous.

It's not just Brisbane and Perth threatening to undermine the concept of a champion. The Mariners, Victory and Adelaide would all acknowledge the term can no longer apply for this season. It is already taken.

This is not a critique of the finals as a concept, mind. The race for the top six is absolutely brilliant for a league without relegation. It provides tremendous tension and pressure alongside the race for the title. The recent matches between Roar and Sydney FC, Perth and Adelaide, provided fabulous entertainment and a wonderfully close climax to the real championship.

In an evolving competition, how we categorise the finals will determine how relevant they remain.

In a few year’s time, the FFA Cup will be a superb addition to the football calendar, with the National Cup Final played immediately before the season. The top six finals series should also be re-branded the 'end of season Cup', with the prize of the Asian Champions league driving the teams on.

Same format, different terminology, changed values and a football calendar that is  specific to football - a football calendar that balances maximum fan interest and team competition with prizes that reflect our game and are specific to our sporting environment.

A pre-season National Cup, league title, end of season A-League Cup, international matches, All Star game and visiting club teams from abroad would be the ideal scenario.

This season, I’ll heartily congratulate the knockout series winner - after all, any silverware is hard-earned - but the champion of Australian football in season eight is the Wanderers, and no amount of false attributions or marketing campaigns can change where the greatest value lies.

About this blog


Craig Foster

As SBS’s chief football analyst, Craig provides expert opinion and unrivalled insight. He has also represented the Socceroos and played abroad. Follow @Craig_Foster on Twitter.
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