Finals are part of Australian sporting culture, that is clear and understood. However one has to be concerned when finals start to reward mediocrity.
No doubt the observations we are about to make will see us accused of being negative towards the A-League but you cannot deny the facts. Despite all the hyperbole that the A-League has improved, one has to say that the gulf between those at the top and those at the bottom is widening. Two teams stand head and shoulders above the rest, Brisbane Roar and Western Sydney Wanderers.
Last season we pointed out that out of the six teams that made the finals only two teams, Central Coast Mariners and Western Sydney Wanderers won fifty percent of their 27 games. Third placed Melbourne Victory won 13 and fourth placed Adelaide United 12. Perth Glory who claimed the final place in sixth won just nine, a third of the games they played. At the time we raised the issue as to whether teams should have to win a required amount of games to make the finals series, so that teams played attacking football to be sure to make the end of season race for the Championship.
At the end of the round robin phase of the A-League in 2013/14 only one team won more than fifty percent of their games, the deserved Premiers Brisbane Roar! That is a terrible statistic. Even the second best team Western Sydney Wanderers only won 11; just over a third of games played. Central Coast Mariners and Sydney FC both won 12 each but did not manage as many draws as Wanderers.
Some will say that this a sign of a good league because it is so close, but such an argument again accepts mediocrity rather than strives for excellence. Surely the whole idea of a league competition is to strive for excellence that is why the team that wins the most games finishes top; they receive the rewards because they were the best.
In the UK the play offs are the closest they come to a finals series, and last year in the Championship Watford who came third won fifty percent of their games, 23 of 46 played. The next three teams on the ladder all won 19 games which is still a better return than a third coming in at 41%. Move down to League one, and one team won 19 of 46 games while the other three teams in the play offs, Brentford, Yeovil Town and Swindon Town all won 20 games or more. Again all over 40% on wins alone.
In the Championship the top two teams won Cardiff City and Hull City who were promoted won 25 and 24 games respectively. In League one it was the same with Doncaster Rovers and Bournemouth winning 25 and 24 games of their 46 games.
If we go down to the next level, in the state league or NPL as it is now, it has long been realised in Western Australia that if a team loses four games or more in what is a 22 game season their chances of lifting the title are slim. If one goes back to 2001 only two teams have won the league losing five games, Perth SC in 2003 and the Western Knights in 2010. That is the sign of a good competition, teams going through a league season not dropping games, rather than teams only winning a third of the games that they play.
Even if we look at the English Premier League only two teams in the top five have lost more than five games, Arsenal and Manchester City. If a competition is indeed to be a quality one it comes down to the top teams winning the lion’s share of their games. The top two teams in the A-League both lost seven game each out of 27 games.
These statistics surely prove that the A-League is unlike any other league.