I recently read that the Turkish football federation has introduced some sort of a play-off/final-4 phase to the top division football, where the top 4 teams play 2-leg matches against one another AFTER the regular season is over to decide on which team gets the title.

I know that it's common practice in the U.S. so I can imagine that MLS employs this as well. I find it very peculiar and to be honest unfair. Are there any leagues in Europe where a system like this is/has been in use? I am wondering if there are any pros/cons of this "super final" system.

  • 1
    The Russian League introduced a type of playoff, but they did it to change the period when the league is played. – Marius Balaban May 4 '12 at 7:00

Well I would say that the primary motivation is to make more money. Take the Championship in England, the second tier of football, where the teams that finish the season first and second in the league gain automatic promotion to the Premiership, and the teams placed third to sixth enter a play-off. In this play-off the team placed third plays the team in sixth and the team in fourth play the team in fifth to decide who goes to the play-off final.

This can be very lucrative for the clubs involved and also for the broadcaster, in this case Sky.

There are other leagues in Europe, such as the Welsh Premier League where there is a play-off to determine who qualifies for the continental competitions for the following season.


The Greek Superleague introduced a play-off mini league in the 2007 - 2008 season1, where teams that finished in positions 2 to 5 in the regular season compete for better placement in European qualification. The current play-off system is:

In the play-off for Champions League, the four qualified teams play each other in a home and away round robin. However, they do not all start with 0 points. Instead, a weighting system applies to the teams' standing at the start of the play-off mini-league. The team finishing fifth in the Super League will start the play-off with 0 points. The fifth placed team's end of season tally of points is subtracted from the sum of the points that other teams have. This number is then divided by five and rounded to the nearest whole number of points, if necessary, to give the other teams the points with which they start the mini-league.

For the 2011 - 2012 season, second placed (regular season) Panathinaikos FC started the play-offs with four points, while tied third placed PAOK FC and Atromitos FC, and fifth placed AEK FC started with zero points, although Panathinaikos finished the regular season 16 points ahead of PAOK FC and Atromitos FC and 18 points ahead of AEK FC. It might seem unfair, however fairness was the widely reported goal of the playoffs, in an attempt to normalize European participation and give a better chance to teams from outside Attica to qualify, given the somewhat unhealthy dominance of Attica based teams in Greek football.

Teams managed to finish first in the playoffs and qualify for the Champions League albeit not finishing second in the regular season in 2007 - 2008, 2008 – 09, and 2009 - 2010. Obviously there is a strong financial incentive, as Danger Fourpence already mentioned, as it's a essentially a mini-league where 4 of the 5 strongest teams of the season compete and all matches are considered derbies.

An interesting side-effect is that it's quite easy to predict the points the teams will start the play-offs with two, three or even more matches before the end of the regular season. It has been reported in the local media that play-off participating teams chose to give their last games of the regular season with teams comprising of youths and non-starters, in order to keep their stars rested for the mini-league.

1 Superleague 2007-2008 championship invitation (in Greek, PDF)


In Rugby football codes (Rugby League and Rugby Union) it is almost universal to have a finals series decide the winner of the league. If you are brought up watching this kind of sport this seems perfectly normal and the lack of finals in most soccer leagues seems weird and anti-climactic. Indeed, in the Australian A-league (top level soccer league) they have a finals series probably because it is present in every other major sport played in the country and its absence would seem very strange.

The fans and players all look forward to the month of footy finals at the end of the year and there are a lot of traditions surrounding the finals. Yes, I'm sure broadcasters and stadium owners love the revenue it generates but this was the structure long before commercial interests became important. Fans want to see the top teams battle it out for the premiership instead of the winner being decided by bean counters, possibly weeks before the end of the season causing the last few games to peter out into meaningless exchanges.


Sometimes the best team is not reflected in the win/loss ratio. Injuries, unequal schedules, and other factors can give advantages/disadvantages to teams. A play off takes the teams with the best records and gives them a chance to advance to the finals by competing against the best teams.

Sports are also about the fans. The fans like to see the best teams play. The playoffs give the fans that experience in a winner takes all reward. Sometimes in the regular season the teams may not give 100% since the season is long and the strategy of holding some back is effective. In the play off format there is no reason to hold back. Both teams can give their all.

It also adds some competitiveness to the regular season as teams that are on the verge of making the playoffs will play harder. In a non playoff scenario the victor could be determined well before the end of the season. There is nothing left to play for leaving the end of the season bland when it should be exciting. To top it off the game that secures a teams victory could be played by a different team. This deprives the champions and their fans the thrill of winning a game to win it all.


The stated rational behind the introduction of the play-off in the Turkish league was last year's corruption scandal. The idea is that when these strong teams meet each other in the play-offs there is little risk that one of them will be able to bribe their opposition to intentionally lose a game. Compare this to the 2010-2011 Süperlig season, when Fenerbahçe is accused of bribing a number of teams to lose matches and of offering a financial incentive to the opposition of their main competitors (Beşiktaş, Galatasaray and Trabzonspor).

In this respect, there is an advantage to using play-offs in countries where corruption poses a problem.


Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.