There has been talk of change in European football for many years, and the coronavirus pandemic has only accelerated the possibility of alterations being made to league structures. The most obvious case in recent weeks has involved the Premier League and the English football pyramid, with some of the nation's biggest clubs pushing for more power in return for bailing out lower clubs who desperately require financial support.
The pros and cons, both on a short and long term basis, have been well documented and debated in recent days, and it leaves open the possibility of necessity trumping tradition in the very near future.
Nevertheless, there should be an acknowledgement that every league in the world does not follow the same rules, and that includes the A-League on the other side of the world. In Australia, the A-League format is a bit different to other sports. The "Champion" of the A-League is the actual winner of the Grand Final while in other sports in Australia, a Grand Final winner would be called the "Premier". Naturally, there are mixed views as to whether it is a fair system, with the sixth-placed team after the allotted amount of games still being able to put together a three-match winning streak at the end of the campaign to be crowned champions.
Such a scenario played out in 2017-18 when Melbourne Victory, who finished in fourth spot and 23 points being premier winners Sydney FC, going on to win the end-of-season Finals Series despite having never spent a single week in the top two.
On the flip side, the powers-that-be in Australia will argue that the A-League guarantees excitement to the very end each season. Some leagues in Europe, such as Serie A and the Bundesliga, have teams in Juventus and Bayern Munich who have dominated for the best part of a decade. Although the gap has been closed recently, there is still an expectancy that they will ultimately prevail over a regular season. In comparison, there have been six different champions in the A-League, as well as seven different premier winners. Eight clubs have also won at least one or the other, further highlighting the competitive nature of the division.
Nevertheless, the last two times in which the double has been achieved has been through Sydney FC, most recently last season after they had held top spot for 16 successive matchdays either side of the break in action. Steve Corica's well-drilled side then kept clean sheets in the last four and final of the Finals Series, making them the team to beat ahead of the upcoming campaign which now begins at the end of December. Unlike in mainland Europe where most divisions were able to recommence action within a few weeks of their usual start date, the A-League has needed to wait as many as two-and-a-half months to get back underway, meaning that games will begin just before the peak of summer time.
Another standout ruling for the A-League is the use of salary caps and marquee players. It is not a simple case of staying within a budget with teams being required to spend at least 90% of their allotted budget. In order to continue to promote and enhance the profile of the league, clubs are able to sign marquee and guest players, while funds are also put aside for a junior marquee player. It is the league's attempt to find the right balance between the development of their homegrown talent and attracting players of a certain age and experience to the country when they will also be receiving offers from Major League Soccer and Asia.
Unlike leagues in Europe where promotion and relegation exists, the A-League have recently worked towards expanding the league from 10 to 12 teams. That resulted in Western United playing their inaugural campaign last season and Macarthur FC preparing for their first-ever season in the top tier in 2020-21. In the case of the latter, United for Macarthur and South West Sydney FC merged together to form one club, and plans both on and off the pitch have been taking place throughout this year. While their squad is far from complete, veteran Australia goalkeeper Adam Federeci and former England Under-21 international Matt Derbyshire have already been signed in a bid to ensure that they are competitive with the more established teams.