Slow play-off sys­tem leaves clubs lag­ging

The Football League Paper - - NEWS -

FAIL to pre­pare. Pre­pare to fail. Ben­jamin Franklin’s fa­mous quote is tacked up on ev­ery dress­ing room wall from Wy­combe to Wash­ing­ton DC.

As any coach will at­test, suc­cess is an­chored in for­ward plan­ning. So why do we per­sist with the cur­rent play-off sched­ule? League One fin­ished on April 30, the other divi­sions on May 6. Yet fi­nal­ists Brad­ford and Mill­wall will not meet un­til May 20, while the win­ners of the Cham­pi­onship and League Two semis must wait un­til the fol­low­ing week­end. Crazy.

Any club en­ter­ing the play-offs is al­ready at a dis­ad­van­tage. Un­sure which divi­sion they will be com­pet­ing in, they can­not know which play­ers to tar­get, nor how much in­come to ex­pect.

Plans

Ob­vi­ously, con­tin­gen­cies will be drawn up. But, when ri­vals are ac­tively sign­ing up play­ers, ap­proach­ing spon­sors or ap­point­ing coaches, those plans aren’t much use.

By the time Brad­ford or Mill­wall climb the Wem­b­ley stairs, Sh­effield United will have spent an ex­tra three weeks hon­ing their squad for the Cham­pi­onship. Is that fair? Not when you con­sider that who­ever wins the play-offs is, by def­i­ni­tion, the team re­quir­ing most surgery to thrive at the higher level. It is also three weeks more train­ing, more pres­sure and fo­cus. While Billy Sharp and pals tweet photos from Las Ve­gas, Steve Mori­son is slog­ging away in Lewisham. For sup­port­ers, too, the sched­ule is a strain on wal­lets and pa­tience. In a stan­dard year, all three fi­nals are held on a bank hol­i­day week­end. That means packed car­riages or mo­tor­ways, fol­lowed by in­flated London ho­tel prices. A fam­ily of four, trav­el­ing by train, will shell out north of £600.

Of course, we all know the EFL faces com­mer­cial pres­sures. Pay­mas­ters Sky call the shots, and stag­ing the play-offs af­ter the Pre­mier League has con­cluded guar­an­tees more lu­cra­tive spon­sor­ship and big­ger view­ing fig­ures.

For­mat

In turn, the EFL brand gains greater ex­po­sure, with the three fi­nals col­lec­tively beamed to some 250 ‘ter­ri­to­ries’. Ching, ching. But that doesn’t make it right. In the in­ter­ests of in­tegrity, the EFL should scrap the cur­rent for­mat. In­stead of two-legged semi­fi­nals, play just one match with the higher-fin­ish­ing side given home ad­van­tage. This sys­tem, as ad­vo­cated by

FLP colum­nist Gra­ham West­ley last week, is used suc­cess­fully in Non-League and would serve to speed things up and give suc­cess­ful sides a more ap­pro­pri­ate ad­van­tage.

Gone, too, would be the gripes of van­quished Fleet­wood boss Uwe Rosler who claimed – with some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion – that in bussing to and from Brad­ford for the first leg, his side were dis­ad­van­taged ver­sus op­po­nents re­quired to travel only in one di­rec­tion.

Had this re­vamped sched­ule been used this sea­son, ev­ery divi­sion could have fin­ished on Satur­day, April 29.

Sin­gle-game semi-fi­nals would then have been on Wed­nes­day, May 3, with the fi­nals on May 13. Ev­ery­one would ben­e­fit, apart from the mon­ey­men, of course. And that’s why it will never hap­pen.

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