Without the threat of relegation, A-League clubs play without jeopardy – but there are benefits to facing the dreaded drop.
Everyone loves watching successful teams battle it out at the top of the ladder. The huge talking points, the hype, the controversy, the teams that crumble under the pressure of being hunted by the chasing pack, or those that fend off aggressive pursuers – life at the top of the ladder guarantees excitement.
But in leagues with a relegation system in place, what happens at the bottom of the ladder is just as exciting- in many cases even more so.
It-s because teams actually stand to lose more getting relegated – it-s a battle for survival you can’t take your eyes off.
Watching teams try to avoid the drop into the abyss is nerve-wracking for fans and the clubs involved. The media goes into a frenzy, especially when bigger teams get caught up in the quagmire of a relegation tussle. Even the neutral gets a kick out of bar-room brawl down in the football basement.
I-ll never forget the few times during my career when all of a sudden the objective to stave off relegation was on the agenda. Lose two or three games in a row and you quickly get caught in the downward spiral.
It was always an unforgettable experience, an incredible challenge and amazing feeling when safety was assured. And there was endless pressure involved. The countless times the message was pumped into your head of the consequences if the club got relegated – everything was on the line.
Relegation is the punishment handed out for hitting a bad patch of form or just being worse than the others. Sport is ruthless and so it should be.
In Australia we have the battle for the top six, which guarantees finals football for the majority, but we have no punishment for teams that finish bottom.
Six from 10 creates a scenario where many teams have a chance of being in the hunt for a finals spot for a long period of time. But eventually, teams down the bottom end up playing for nothing more than pride – but there should be a lot more on the line. We need to have intense competition throughout the whole league and the length of the season.
Players, coaches should be going to training and games feeling genuine pressure. Do we have that in the Hyundai A-League? Yes, but only for clubs in serious contention for top six spots.
Teams should be feeling pressure from both sides of the ladder. That kind of pressure will either propel you to greater heights or break you down. That-s what football is, and should always be, about.
South Korea are the only other nation in Asia aside not to have promotion and relegation, and they have given the Asian Football Confederation the green light that they will implement it in 2013.
That leaves us as the last country standing. We too should be pressing ahead to create a second-tier competition. It can only be healthy for the game and give football in Australia – alongside the future FFA Cup – a further boost.
The big question is can we manage a second division in Australia? A lot will hinge on the volume of the new TV deal and how it will be distributed. I would love to see it happen.
And if all fails, and a second-tier league is not feasible, what then? At least put a system in place that has consequences for the last-placed team at the end of the season.
One solution would be exclusion from playing in the FFA Cup. This would at least have the cellar-dwellers in the Hyundai A-League playing for something tangible and create additional interest for football fans.