It is no one’s fault or achievement what they’re born with. It is more about what you do with what you’re given or gifted with. Professionally, contrary to popular belief, some believe that no matter how hard someone works, a person more talented would do the same job more efficiently and lucratively. But the majority still has the opinion that hard work, resilience and perseverance really do beat talent especially when talent refuses to work hard. The history of sports is full of examples of sportsmen who would be considered as an anomaly with respect to their physique and physical appearance in light of the sports they would be professionally not just pursuing but succeeding at it with global renown. Steve Nash may have seemed much shorter than an average NBA All Stars Basketball Player but that never stopped him from rising above players much taller than him and dunking it right in the net!
Football however, is taken to be more than just a sport. Without a shred of a doubt it is the most popular and most played sport in almost all the different parts of the world. In many countries and regions, it is more than religion and culture, it is an identity, an international language that anyone who plays or watches or has ever played or watched (because billions of people at some point in their lives have) can speak and understand.
Football, like all other sports, has evolved a lot in the past one century. The days of reliance on physical supremacy to dominate the game are long gone and for many decades now it is more about the composure, intelligence and understanding of the positing of the player and the ball at what point in the play and which part of the field. Speed, strength, stamina along with ball control, pass, cross and shoot power and accuracy are all major components and characteristics that make up the total skill level of a professional football player.
How big of a role does Height play in Football?
There is no perfect average height in football. Each position and each role requires a certain height for a player to succeed while the rest merely adapt as coaches ignore their weaknesses and focus on their strengths.
For example, it certainly helps if a goalkeeper is more than six feet tall with a wingspan to cover the majority of the goal. But if you’re looking for a fast winger then you’re better off going with a shorter player who can run faster than their taller counterparts. After all, you don’t see many wingers who are over six feet tall running up and down the flanks.
So when a coach picks his squad for a game, the type of role he wants each player to play will decide what kind of player he eventually picks. He could go with a shorter, mobile striker if he plays on the counter-attack while Plan B could involve a taller, physical striker who is good in the air and hold-up play.
Every position and every role demands a different kind of player. But there isn’t exactly a correlation between the average height of the squad and how successful that team is. Physical aspects only help to a certain extent. Better coaching, tactics, and game strategy do the rest.
Manchester City’s average height is on the shorter side compared to the rest of Europe but they have performed formidably well in the past one decade winning the domestic league multiple times and also making a place for themselves each year in the UEFA Champions League consecutively throughout the past many years. This used to be the squad that stayed out of the English Big Four for over two decades before the Emirati takeover and since then have been one of the top performing clubs of not just Europe but the World. But why did Mancini and Guardiola mostly sign players who are less than 6ft in height?
“The average height among elite players of the world fell by two inches from 2005 to 2015.”
This is according to an in-house analysis that looked at the 11 players selected each year for FIFA FIFPro World XI for that decade. Every year since 2005, over 20,000 professional soccer players around the world elect best of the best footballers to World XI. The weighted average height of these soccer maestros fell by about two inches, from 6′0″ in 2005 to 5′10″ in 2015. The most dramatic diminution has been among the midfielders, as the average height of the three play-makers plummeted from 6′1″ in 2007 to 5′7″ in 2010 and 2013.
Trophies reflect this downward spiral, as teams led or captained by 5′7″ players won the last two World Cups and the Euros, as well as the Champions League in four out of the last seven years. The driving force behind the rise of short players was the emergence of tiki-taka, a playing style that relies on short, agile and technically gifted players such as the Catalan trinity of Messi, Xavi and Iniesta. Pioneered and perfected at Barcelona and adopted by Spain, the tactic, equally admired and abhorred for its obsession with passing and possession, made these teams untouchable between 2008 and 2012.
After his formidable spell as the manager of Barcelona during its heyday, Pep Guardiola migrated to Bayern Munich in 2013 to evangelize tiki-taka. With Bayern players forming the backbone of its squad, Germany won the World Cup a year later thanks to 5′9″ midfielder Mario Götze’s extra-time goal. Once Barcelona and Spain succeeded at the highest level, short players benefited as teams kept the ball on the ground more and used technical skills over physicality. Lots of defenders say the smallest players give you the biggest problems, because they go under you with faster pivot. Some of the world’s most celebrated players are fairly compact. Xavi Hernandez, who has won more trophies than any other Spanish player ever, is five-foot-seven, as is Andres Iniesta, who scored the winning goal against the Netherlands in the 2010 World Cup final. And several of the retired legends are somewhat diminutive, too; Brazil’s Pele is five-foot-eight, and Argentina’s Diego Maradona is just five-foot-five.
There are several reasons for the rise of football’s little big stars, but the main one is that being close to the ground is a major advantage for midfielders and forwards. Shorter people have a quicker stepping pattern. They can change directions much faster than tall folks, and they have better control over their limbs. That’s what makes them more elusive for the defender, and that’s what makes them a better threat.Short players might have an easier time overall, too, because studies show tall players get called for fouls by referees more frequently potentially because people associate height with aggression.
The Shortest Football Players Ever
There was a time when football was considered a big man’s game, where physical prowess counted for more than mental and technical capabilities. Small, weedy players were considered a risk, and a strong, muscular presence was more preferable, especially at the back. But recent events in football have rewritten history and tradition, and small, highly-skilled technical players are now at a premium. The likes of Messi, Mata and Cazorla, with their low center of gravity, are able to get the better of their bigger counterparts most of the time.
Lionel Messi is largely regarded as one of the smallest players in world football, but the Barcelona star’s height of 1.7m (5ft 7in) pales in comparison to some other shorties who have graced the green grass.
Bournemouth’s Ryan Fraser is perhaps the most recognizable name at the larger end of the small spectrum, but the Scottish winger has plenty of company in the 1.63m (5ft 4in) club. Franco Niell (Gimnasia), Joaozinho (Krasnodar) and ex-England U21 defender Alan Wright (retired) all count themselves in Fraser’s company.
A mere centimetre below at 1.62m (5ft 3.7in) sees Elgabry Rangel (retired), Carlinhos Bala (retired) and former Ecuador international Christian Lara added to the list. Fellow Argentine’s Juan Cuevas and Diego Buonanotte come in just below at 1.61m (5ft 3.3in).
Former England U17 winger Levi Porter, currently with Shepshed Dynamo, is up next, but shares his spot on the list with ex-Juventus and Monaco man Rui Barros, both players lining up at 1.60m (5ft 3in).
Another Argentine representative now in Maxi Moralez of New York City FC fame, who shares the same short stature as Daniel ‘Keko’ Villalva – would you believe it, another Argentine. Both players are 1.58m (5ft 2.2in) in height.
Now we’re getting to the nitty gritty. Brazilian attacking midfielder Madson, currently of Al-Khor in Qatar, stands at 1.57m (5ft 1.81in). The 31-year-old is joined in joint third smallest alongside former South Africa international Benedict Vilakazi.
Speaking of Qatar, Al-Sadd legend Jafal Rashed Al-Kuwari takes the second spot at a minuscule 1.55m (5ft 1in). Rashed’s short stature didn’t stop him from having an iconic playing career, however, as he represented his national side 51 times, captaining them in several of those outings. Indeed, David Beckham featured for the AC Milan side who played in the former midfielder’s farewell match.