In Soccer, Size is Not Everything

Alexi Lalas told The Big Lead yesterday, he believed Landon Donovan was “one of the Top 20 players in the world.”  That’s nutty.  But, so were comments he made on The B.S. Report.  Lalas told Simmons “height” was becoming a more prevalent issue in soccer and that diminutive talents like Leo Messi were “a dying breed.”

Soccer players, as with all athletes, are becoming bigger, faster and stronger than before (through unnatural means?), but that does not give a team a decisive advantage.

Barcelona were the best team in the world last season.  They won La Liga and the Champions League with stars, such as Leo Messi, Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Dani Alves, all shorter than 5’9”.  Their striker Samuel Eto’o is listed at 5’11”.  They played beautiful football.  Their height was not a factor.

Arsenal has lit up the EPL this season, the most physical major European league.  Gael Clichy, Bacary Sagna, Cesc Fabregas, Denilson, Andrei Arshavin, Theo Walcott, and Eduardo are all shorter than 5’10”.

Diego Maradona, the best player in the history of the sport, is 5’5”.

The player Lalas mentions as being big is Thierry Henry.  Of all attributes Henry has, being 6’2” is arguably the least important.  He’s renown for neither scoring goals with his head nor using his physicality.  He’s quick and he’s a superb technical player.

Height gives one advantage in an individual matchup.  Soccer isn’t about individual matchups.  It’s about space and the effective utilization of space through collective action.  A well-drilled team in position will beat a bigger team.  A short team can put the ball on the carpet, just as a tall team can put the ball in the air.

The U.S. National Team does not need players who are 6’4”.  It needs players who are well-trained tactically and technically.

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  1. Couldn’t agree more. I still remember Eric Wynalda saying the United States were “favorites” to win the World Cup back in 2006. I do fear the soccer “analysts” for ESPN hurt the game more than they help it here in America.

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