The eternal question that haunts all men: Does size matter?

I know what you are thinking and this is not an article about that! For as long as I can remember you always hear about football players who didn’t make it because they are ‘too small’. We still hear this today even about players who actually have made it – when Modric signed for Spurs for example, there were already questions as to whether he could cut it in England because of his size. But why does size matter? Or maybe it doesn’t matter much at all now?

I remember playing Sunday league football from 10-14 years old and there were always one or two teams in the league that had a team from the land of the giants. I used to play in a highly skilful, but small side. We had a couple of big kids (we lined up like The Mighty Ducks), but the other teams just had bruisers who weren’t bad players, but nowhere near as skilful as our team. Yet every year they won the league on intimidation alone. This was a regular occurrence up and down all the youth leagues: a big team who were half-decent would win the league.

Naturally these teams used to supply the local professional youth teams with the majority of their players – I actually used to look around our team and think we have some of the best players in the league, why has no one been picked up? I knew that technically our players were better but they had one major thing working against them: size!

Now I think this was an English thing that probably didn’t change until the late 90’s when we actually started learning from the rest of the World. Yeah ok, players came through like Michael Owen and before him Micky Quinn (ha ha), but on the whole, football recruitment was based on physical ability and size and this was evident in most professional teams until the mid-nineties. It is surprising this was an English mentality, especially when you think what Maradona did to England in the 1986 World Cup quarter final:

“Maradona, turns like a little eel, he comes away from trouble, little squat man … comes inside Butcher and leaves him for dead, outside Fenwick and leaves him for dead, and puts the ball away … and that is why Maradona is the greatest player in the world.”

Bryon Butler BBC Radio Commentary

Maradona was only 5 ft 5ins.

So possibly the best player ever was tiny. Have things changed now? Well we have seen this form of discrimination (let’s get that right, it is discrimination) lessen in the recruitment of young English players, but think where we could have been if we had followed the example on the continent. Look at Barcelona for example, a team rated by many as the finest in the world, and they technically have a team of relative Oompa Loompas.

The likes of Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Pedro, and Bojan have all spawned from the Barcelona youth academy and their Spanish players also make up much of the Spanish national side. They are all under 5ft 7ins.

Talking of Spain, the current world cup holders, they also have other key players like David Villa and Cesc Fabregas who are only 5ft 9ins. But they do have a mix of players to redress the balance a little at least – Torres, Puyol, Xavi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Busquets. It seems that this can be a vital mix if you want to have a successful team.

Now, the Premier league has changed, but a lot of the smaller players in the premier league are foreign. Has this had an effect on the England national team? Well if we look at the regulars in the team they are all over 6ft: two commanding centre backs, 3 midfielders in Lampard, Barry, and Gerrard, all over 6 ft and usually one attacker being a larger target man. The exceptions are only players like Ashely Cole, Theo Walcott and Aaron Lennon, who all play wide positions – maybe a sign of the caution of English recruitment; good players, but small, so they need to be wide players. Could the lack of this type of diminutive central player have cost England?

The vast majority of smaller players setting the Premiership alight this year are foreign, Tevez, Van der Vaart, Nani, but now England can claim one in Jack Wilshere – and shock of shocks he plays in the middle! This could be down to his foreign manager who probably never had a problem with smaller players. If you are good enough, you are big enough.

Even though things have started to change in this country, can a smaller side challenge for the Premier League? How would Barcelona fair in the EPL? Well Spurs and maybe Arsenal are probably the smallest out of the top 5.

United are the most successful Premier League team and they have generally had a mix of players. There is an almost perfect physique to be an unstoppable Premier League player – Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale are two players that are physically hard for anyone to cope with. Player size has been part of the ethos of our football league for so long that it is still a necessity for a side to possess taller, bigger, stronger players, particularly down the spine of the team.

But I do think the league is slowly moving on and although some of the smaller premier league teams survive relegation by virtue of having a battering ram style of play, the teams at the top are employing more of a mix of player size than ever.

I for one hope that the English national side continue to reflect this change in attitude more and more, and that in turn we continue to produce more gifted smaller players who aren’t only allowed to play wide positions. I am glad football mentality in this country is changing and we can truly now say that the size of an individual doesn’t matter; it’s his ability that counts.

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  1. Dazza says:

    Good article – I got told I was too small once…brings back the memories and I am now crying slightly

  2. hayley says:

    great article, and for the record, size does matter lol x

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