Finishing on top a poisoned chalice

Geelong Advertiser, Saturday 27 January 2007, p. 91.

Melbourne Victory won the home and away series, or the Minor Premiership, of the A-League by the length of a street or by twelve points, four games clear of its nearest challenger, Adelaide United.

In Europe, that would be enough to be crowned champion and progress to the next season’s international club championship.

But in Australia, following the example of the AFL, the Football Federation of Australia has decreed that the top four teams will play-off in a finals series to determine the Australian premier team.

Last year Adelaide United won the home and away series with a couple of games to spare but did not win another match, and Sydney FC, the glamour team led by Dwight Yorke, triumphed in the finals.

Some judges and Adelaide coach John Kosmina, think that the Victory will have the same experience this year.

In evidence they point to the fact that since it confirmed that top spot with four rounds to play, the Victory has drawn away to Perth and lost its other three games, the last by four goals to nil away to the Newcastle Jets.

It is not a prepossessing record and while coach Ernie Merrick says he has been rotating his team and overloading players in training for the finals, it does leave the fans wondering whether the Victory can suddenly switch back to winning football.

The concept of finals can produce exciting and highly competitive football, and it does attract Australian fans who are attuned to this mode of completing league competitions.

But it is not necessarily the best way of deciding who is the best team over a whole season, which is what the European first-past-the-post system undoubtedly does.

The Australian compromise is that the two teams who will represent the A-League in the Asian champions’ league are the league winner and the finals champion.

This year Adelaide United and Sydney FC will go forward into the champions’ league and next year, no matter what happens, Melbourne Victory, has booked its place with a year to plan for that and the chance to see what happens to our two representatives in 2007.

So it is, in this sense, a win for the Victory, but those who tune in to the English Premier League or Italy’s Serie A or Spain’s La Liga will still feel that Melbourne is already the champion of Australia by virtue of having won the home and away competition.

In this week-end’s matches, the Victory is away to Adelaide in the first leg of the major semi-final, with the winner over two games going into the grand final.

The loser will face the winner of the elimination minor semi-final between Newcastle Jets and Sydney FC, for a chance to play in the decider.

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