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AFC ruling clouds A-League finals

03 Dec 2012 | 00:00-Philip Micallef

The Asian Football Confederation's decision to cut Australia's participation in the AFC Champions League by one spot came as a surprise to those who are uninformed but it might be a blessing in disguise.

The AFC has ruled that the A-League, despite several warnings, still does not meet the criteria for full participation in the blue riband event of Asian club football.

Until the A-League is run independently from Football Federation Australia and a system of promotion and relegation is introduced, our club football will never be regarded as highly as that of Japan, China or Korea Republic.

But it's not all doom and gloom.

The AFC edict will not only save at least one club from incurring big financial losses for the privilege of taking part in an event where you only see some return if you make the semi-finals.

The AFC's clear message that it considers the team that finishes first past the post as the true champion might force a rethink on the merits or otherwise of the A-League finals series.

Premier Central Coast Mariners will go through to next year's tournament proper while champion Brisbane Roar must qualify, most probably against a team from Thailand.

Beaten grand finalist Perth Glory, which was hoping for a qualifying spot, missed out.

The question surrounding the validity of determining a champion club on the basis of a finals series has long been a topic of hot debate within the football family.

Especially since a large component of Australia's football family comes from Europe and South America, where the champion team is that which wins the highest number of points in a championship.

But now that the grand final winner will have to qualify to take part in the AFC Champions League while the winner of the Premiers' Plate will go straight into the 32-team competition, is it time to assess our priorities and fall in line with the rest of the world?

If winning the premiership means automatic qualification to the Champions League, will the A-League coaches place more emphasis on winning the premiership instead of the championship?

And if that turns out to be the case, will the finals series be devalued?

The three coaches whose teams are leading the competition gave mixed views on this development when asked which of the two titles would they rather win.

Graham Arnold, who coaches league leader Central Coast, was adamant.

"For me it's always the premiership," Arnold said.

"The finals and grand final are a lottery but maybe now Australia's football mentality will change."

John Kosmina, the coach of second-placed Adelaide United, agreed with Arnold.

"As always, I would rather win the premiership," Kosmina said.

"What's important all over the world?"

Ange Postecoglou, who is in charge of third-placed Melbourne Victory, sees it differently.

"I've always believed that in this country the champions are those who win the grand final," Postecoglou said.

"I still prefer that."

The finals series is the property of FFA and provides a substantial revenue to the governing body so it is highly unlikely that it will dump the mini-tournament which this season will become a straight knockout with no double chance.

But there might just be a way of killing two birds with one stone.

How about making the premiership the actual championship and replacing the finals with a knockout competition most fans have been craving for years?

FFA has always said that it would launch the cup competition only when it is able to fund it. Fair enough.

The logistics and costs of holding a nationwide knockout competition are considerable yet FFA could do much worse than continue to explore the possibility of launching a knockout involving 32 professional and semi-professional clubs.

Early rounds could take place during the A-League season in midweek and the final stages at the end of the competition in lieu of the playoffs.

Finals football is part of Australian sporting culture and Aussies love it.

I have always been in favour of a system that brings a season to a fitting climax and has given us some amazing grand finals in front of huge crowds.

But times and perceptions have changed and perhaps the AFC's decision to recognise the Mariners not Brisbane as Australia's champion may have been the catalyst that could force FFA's hand.

An alternative is to keep the status quo that works well in our own particular market and bank on the grand final winner to qualify for the tournament through the back door.

If the winner of the grand final can't beat a team from some of Asia's lesser nations, we would have a far more serious problem on our hands than what to do with the finals.

About this blog


Philip Micallef

Philip Micallef is a football writer with almost 40 years of experience. He has worked for News Limited and now SBS. He is a long-time follower of AC Milan.
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