For most of the world’s top sports, height seems to play an advantageous role; whether it’s the towering height of basketball players for dunking, the advantage it gives to volleyball players, or the advantage of long arms and legs in swimming.
Different sports have a preferred height to play among the elites or be ranked with the top 1% of best players. Soccer, however, tends to be all-encompassing with regard to height.
The game has had its fair share of tall players who have performed remarkably well. These players used their height to their advantage irrespective of the field position.
Swedish international Zlatan Ibrahimović, with a height of 1.95 meters, is considered one of the most prolific goalscorers in soccer. With his height, he can make incredible headers and bicycle kicks with his head and legs.
On the defensive side, Spanish international Gerard Pique, who has a height of 1.94 meters, is regarded as one of the world’s best defenders with a successful career to back it up. His towering height at the defensive line makes him a formidable threat to the opponent’s strikers. In addition, he is skilled at making swift defensive headers.
Dutch international Virgil van Dijk is yet another tall player with a height of 1.93 meters. He’s not only good defensively, but has a couple of goals to his name due to his quality headers from corner kicks. With his height, he’s able to outplay the opponent’s defenders.
Serbian professional soccer player, Nemanja Matić, represents the sport’s tallest defensive midfielders with a height of 1.94 meters. He used his height to fend off balls from the defensive area and relay them to attacking midfielders and strikers.
However, the question about the shortness of soccer players seems valid, especially because there are more short players in the list of all-time best soccer players than there are taller ones. Still, height has its fair share of advantages in the sport.
This article attempts to answer the question ‘why are soccer, players short’ and discuss supporting reasons for it. In addition, it highlights its possible advantages and why the sport is accommodating to all heights.
- Why are soccer players short?
- How does shortness affect soccer players’ performance?
- Does playing soccer make you shorter?
Why are soccer players short?
Are soccer players really short? Soccer players usually have an average height of 1.82 meters and that cannot be regarded as short.
This does not mean that the sport doesn’t have a quantifiable number of short players. However, being short is not a guarantee that you’ll become an exceptional player.
While there are many professional soccer players to use as examples to validate this point, it’s more pleasing to use the top two best soccer players to have graced the game in its recent history. Funnily enough, both have fans that have continuously pitted them against each other.
On one hand is the naturally gifted Lionel Messi, whose height is 1.69 meters. On the other side is the multi-talented Cristiano Ronaldo, with a towering height of 1.87 meters.
Both soccer legends are living proof that height is not a topic that’ll hold weight in soccer. At both ends of the height divide, they have both won the highest recognitions and awards for players in soccer.
The idea of height is subjective and depends on an individual’s idea/concept of tall and short. Here are three possible reasons that will make anyone think that soccer players are short.
Comparing them to basketball players
One of the most popular sports in the US is basketball. So it is no surprise that people would naturally tend to make comparisons in height between players in both sports.
The average height of basketball players is around 1.98 meters. In comparison with soccer, which has a player’s average height at 1.82 meters, soccer players may seem short.
The reason for this disparity is not far-fetched and can be seen in the nature of play of both sports. In basketball, players are required to “score” by throwing the ball upwards into the basket.
For this reason, the sport would attract taller athletes and players. Soccer, on the other hand, has its gameplay on the ground. Since ball control is done primarily with the feet, there’s little emphasis on height for outfield players.
However, tall soccer goalies come with the advantage of being able to cover a greater area of the goalpost.
Skinnier bodies often look taller than muscular bodies
On a first impression basis, skinnier people look taller. With this in mind, if you compare soccer players to other skinnier athletes, soccer players come off as short.
Let’s still go with our basketball players as a good example. Since height is the primary focus, basketball players do not necessarily “bulk up” their bodies. This is because muscular bodies are way harder to lift during throws or dunks.
Not all soccer players are muscular in nature, but a far lesser percentage of them can be regarded as skinny. A tall skinny soccer player may not have the advantage of balance and stamina during tackles as a muscular player would.
Let’s take, for example, someone like Nwankwo Kanu or Peter Crouch. These players are not only tall but have skinnier builds. Yet, they were known for not having the greatest stamina during tackles at their peak days.
So, judging by body build, soccer players may appear short when watching them run around the pitch.
Stretching and style of play
While there is no scientific evidence to prove that stretching can increase height, the gesture in itself and style of play can, over time, make a player look taller than they are.
We see this play out in sports like swimming and basketball. For example, swimmers are constantly kicking at the water with their legs and throwing arms to make strokes for movement. This gives an impression of height.
The same applies to basketball players. No doubt, they are already naturally taller than the average human. Still, their continuous jumping and stretching to reach the basket makes them “longer” in height.
Defensively, they have to raise their arms in the air to intercept passes and shots. This gives additional heights to them and can make them appear taller they really are.
The use of hands is prohibited by law in soccer. Soccer players try to keep their hands close to their bodies as naturally as possible to avoid fouls. If anything, this takes away any additional height impression that basketball players and swimmers may enjoy.
How does shortness affect soccer players’ performance?
Short players have continued to thrive in soccer for several reasons. Here are some of the most significant factors that have contributed to the success of short players in soccer.
Low center of gravity
It’s really all about the physics here. As a result of their height and closeness to the ground, short soccer players have a low center of gravity.
Naturally, with a low center of gravity, objects have higher and better stability and balance. The same thing applies to humans.
In soccer, players are expected to run by moving the ball from their half of the field into the opponent’s goalpost. To be able to control the ball while moving without losing possession, a great amount of skill, balance, and stability is required.
Have you ever seen Lionel Messi charge down at defenders with incredible ease and balance? Although there are taller players with great dribbling abilities, Messi stays firmly on the ground while he worms through the defenders.
Unless there’s an aggressive tackle, he won’t easily drop to the ground. On the other hand, a player like Peter Crouch, when faced with a horde of defenders, can easily lose his balance.
Speed and agility
Taller players may not always have these traits as pairs. Still, there’s a higher probability it can exist in shorter players. Agility may come naturally for shorter players since they tend to have lesser bone density and weight.
With relatively shorter legs, they can take quick steps. This can easily be translated to speed.
When put together, it can be a beautiful recipe for a great dribbler. It is one of the reasons the players are loved and admired by all and sundry.
Brazilian international Fred and French international Kylian Mbappe are regarded as one of the fastest soccer players in recent history. It should come as no surprise that they run around with “short heights” of 1.69 meters and 1.78 meters, respectively.
Again, this does not invalidate the tremendous breathtaking speeds of taller players like Romelu Lukaku and Erling Haaland with towering heights of 1.91 meters and 1.94 meters, respectively.
As earlier discussed, soccer is one of those sports that brings together the most varied of human sizes and allows them to give their best performances.
They perform well in most outfield positions
In the past, the sport had its share of short goalkeepers. In recent times, goalkeepers tend to be a lot taller. Just like retired Spanish international Iker Casillas, those regarded as short goalies are still taller at 1.82 meters than most short soccer players.
With their incredible agility and speed, as well as a low center of gravity, short soccer players adapt well into the midfield and forward positions. As a result, most short soccer players play in either of these positions.
Notable examples of professional soccer players who have excelled at the highest level of the game include Xavi, Luka Modric, David Silva, Lionel Messi, Juan Mata, Sergio Agüero, Andrés Iniesta, and Eden Hazard. They achieved greatness irrespective of their height in the midfield and forward positions.
On the defensive side, taller players may be naturally preferred because of the functionality of the role. Still, short players have also proven to be formidable forces at the back.
Dani Alves, Marcelo, Roberto Carlos, Dani Carvajal, and Jordi Alba are notable examples of short players that have excelled as defenders.
Does playing soccer make you shorter?
No, it does not! There’s neither scientific nor rational evidence to prove that it does. Moreover, it’s hard to track because professional soccer players start as young players who spend most of their growing years in the sport.
It’s hard to tell if whatever significant increase in height was due to biological growth or if the game had anything to do with it.
The way the human body is designed, with bones already formed and hardened, there’s not much you can do to reduce the size of these bones. So unless the natural aging process occurs, which results in a bit of shrinking, soccer players cannot become shorter from playing soccer.
Watching soccer players run around the pitch can give an impression that they are short. This is more glaring when comparing their average heights to basketball or the NFL players.
Most people argue that soccer players tend to be skinny, but there are several players who prove this wrong.
The same applies to the height of players. The sport’s legends all come in varying heights. They have also played exceptionally well in the field positions they were assigned.
Being short or tall in soccer has its pros and cons and it is important for every team to have a perfect blend of both.
Playing soccer can also not make players shorter. The sport accepts whatever height you bring. All it asks of you is to be exceptionally good with your feet, head, and shoulders.
Hi there, I’m Jay.
The Pitch is Ours is a new beginning for me and a stepping stone to prepare before retiring from the professional soccer team. Soccer is everything in my life! My friends and I have created this blog with all our enthusiasm, passion, and understanding after years of playing pro soccer. Hope you will enjoy it!