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Igesund’s Untold Stories

The Bizarre Relegation Situation: What Needs To Change

Over the last few weeks, I have used this digital column to share some of my untold stories with you, giving you insight into some of the incidents and scenarios that have played out over my career. This week, however, I’ve decided to go a different route and rather deliver an opinion piece which I believe often goes without consideration but is certainly worth talking about.

With most leagues around the world – including our very own PSL – pretty much decided in terms of title winners, all of the attention has shifted towards the dreaded relegation battles and all the tension that goes along with it. 

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In South Africa, as I eluded on Monday, the relegation candidates are still very much up in the air with a host of teams still fighting to avoid the drop. In England two of the three teams set for relegation are already known, with Watford and Norwich City heading back to the English Championship and a third to be decided in the coming days. 

With having some kind of indication as to the the final league positions some teams have already started making plans for the new season, particularly those in the Intercontinental competition places, and closer to home, those who will be competing in the top eight and can budget in the additional revenue that comes with that. While the teams that have underperformed can start looking at where they can improve their squad and identify targets to approach. 

And this brings me to my point; Is the promotion/relegation process that takes place in South Africa at the end of every PSL season actually beneficial to the local game? And not only that, is it fair? 

At the start of every season, as with any league, there will always be teams who will set out to win the Championship. They will have a very clear indiation about what needs to be done, as it is no easy feat to be crowned Champions. There are so many factors that come into play that can influence the success of a season, never mind the 10 months of consistent hard work, dedication, discipline and sacrifice needed to just compete at the highest levels. 

But besides this, what these top flight teams do have is the luxury of knowing that even if their season unravels at the last minute, all of the hard work over the entire season was not in vein. That they will achieve some kind of reward for their efforts. 

In the case of the English Premier League, this would mean Champions League football if you finish in the top four, or entry into MTN Top 8 competion with a preferential first round draw here in SA. 

That said, I want to look at it from the lower division perspective.

I know first hand just how rugged and challenging the first division can be, where I served as a coach in my apprentice years, winning promotion on two occasions with African wanderers and later with D’Aberton Callies. 

In the GladAfrica Championship here in SA and the adoption of the U23 rule, coaches are generally working with younger, less experienced players and through no fault of their own can often lead to inconsistent performances. This meaning the margin for inconsistency is greater. However the potential for reward is seemingly smaller.

With the current Relegation/Promotion playoff, only one NFD team secures automatic promotion into the PSL with the league runners up and 3rd place going into the play-off with the 15th positoned PSL team to see who secures the last remaining PSL spot. 

You can argue that this structure allows for who ever finishes in 3rd position to reap some kind of benefit as they too get their shot at automatic promotion. But how fair is that on the team that finishes 2nd? Especially if the gap between 2nd and 3rd position is vast over the course of a season but yet thet still have equal opportunity to win promotion. 

More often than not, for the teams that end up in a play-off scenario luck plays a major part. With the quick fire nature of the play-offs, any injury to crucial player/s could severly hamper your chance of success. 

This, in the case of the 2nd place NFD team who may have only just marginally missed out on winning the Championship by a point or even goal difference, could mean rendering an entire season of hard work, sweat and, determination in vein.

On the flip side, a team playing in the PSL can have a disasterous campaign only to find themselves in the play-offs, where four good performances is often enough to see them return to the very league they had struggled in for the entire season. 

The big problem I have with this play-off structure is that these teams can often pull off these impressive performances in short spurts in a four-match haul but the truth of the matter is they failed to produce that over the 30-game PSL cycle.

But lets say the 2nd placed NFD team does manage to win the play-offs, they are then already forced to start the new campaign in the elite league on the back foot. 

Not only do they have less time for rest let alone a proper pre-season (which is a pre-requisite if you are to stand any chance of survival in the PSL) but they also have slim pickings when it comes to signing key experienced players to bolster their young squads, as by then, for the most part these players have already been snapped up by other clubs.

It is for these reasons that I believe we should have a straightforward promotion/relegation system. The top two teams from the GladAfrica Championship are promoted at the end of the season, while the bottom two PSL teams are automatically relegated. 

Thus ensuring a level playing field for all the clubs ahead of the season, giving all these clubs equal chance to prepare, recruit, strengthen and ensure they are equipped as best as they possibly can be.

In Europe, most soccer leagues its quite simple, whoever finishes in the last three spots get relegated to the second division. And whoever finished in the top three in the second division gets promoted to the first division – straightforward. No need to wait to for the conclusion of the topflight to see who is the 2nd worst of the bunch and give them a life line. 

I understand there is commercial bennefits to running the play-off system because of the additional revenue that can be generated, but with so much money already being pumped into the league, which is widely considered one of the best in Africa, surely the product needs to be put first. We need to ensure that the best teams are playing in front of thousands of football loving fans on a weekly basis, as to give these supporters their hard earned monies worth.

With the relegation battle being so tightly contested, I  guess it also opens the door to the question of whether South Africa is ready for an 18 team PSL league again? But that’s a question for another day…

Let me know your thoughts...

Before signing off this week please let me know if you’re enjoying the stories and if there any stories you would like to hear about. Also feel free to ask questions and I will do my best to answer them in my next column. That’s it for this week. Make sure you head to www.soccer6.co.za to go play the TAB Soccer pools this week and keep the above story in mind.

Yours in football,

Coach Gordon Igesund

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