A person’s height shouldn’t affect their ability to play soccer professionally. The soccer world is littered with players of a more diminutive stature who have gone on to dominate the sport.
Sometimes being taller has its advantages, in defense, for example, but at other times, being smaller often allows a player to move around the pitch with more maneuverability.
Lionel Messi and Xavi Hernandez are two notably short players who have dominated the soccer world; although both players were earmarked as being too small to succeed, both have proven to be the best players of all time in their respective positions.
A short player can play in pretty much any position in the team apart from the goalkeeper position; it’s a role that understandably requires a certain stature to excel in.
There are, however, several roles within the team that is ideally suited to quick players of a slight build.
Today, we’re going to discuss four of the best positions where a short player could be deployed.
4. Defensive Midfielder
A defensive midfielder has to be quick, agile, and tenacious. Their sole goal in the game is to break up opposition attacks and then transition the ball forwards to their teammates.
Height isn’t a prerequisite to being a world-class defensive midfielder; just ask Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, arguably the best defensive midfielder in Europe, and only 1.71 meters tall.
Aggression, speed, and an excellent reading of the game mean that Kante gets into position, breaks up attacks, harries and tackles opposing players, and rarely puts a foot wrong.
Being shorter than several players has no direct bearing on a player’s ability to be a DMC; you’re after the ball at the opponent’s feet, not trying to win aerial battles.
Being short often means a low center of gravity; for a defensive midfielder, that means being able to change direction quickly. Being able to alter course at the drop of a hat allows a defensive midfielder to close down players easier, chase down loose balls, or attempt to intercept a pass.
The defensive midfielder role is one of the most important in the team, and if height were going to be an issue, the player in the position wouldn’t be picked if they were too short.
There is an argument to be had that a smaller player can move around more quickly and get around players to make tackles more efficiently if they’re on the smaller side.
3. Attacking Midfielder
In much the same vein as a defensive midfielder needs to be mobile, an attacking midfielder has to be agile and fast; they’re looking for through balls, long-range shots, and pockets of space in which to operate.
Height is irrelevant to an attacking midfielder as they’re often the most skillful player on the pitch.
With the ball at their feet, the AMC is deadly, constantly on the move, running with the ball, and playing the strikers through on goal.
In their position behind the center forwards, the attacking midfielder shouldn’t need to head the ball; they’re the ones doing the passing, and a long ball upfield should be heading for the target forward, not the attacking midfielder.
If a target forward is employed, then the perfect person to pass to is the attacking midfielder, who should be moving forward in support.
At this point, with time and space on their hands, the AMC can either move the ball out to the wings, play the ball forward, or run with the ball. Regardless of their choice, the attacking midfielder is the creator, not the finisher.
The central positions on a team are usually an excellent place to have someone with height, but due to the more withdrawn role the attacking midfielder sits, if a cross comes their way, it’s usually a wayward one. Collecting clearances from the opposing defenders, it’s to their feet that the player looks.
If height isn’t one of your attributes, but you’re quick and nimble, then the attacking midfield spot could be yours for the taking. Soccer should be fun, so playing a role in which you can excel makes it all the more enjoyable. Trying to play in central defense at 5 feet tall isn’t impossible, but it’s more complicated than it should be.
The last two positions on our list are both focused on crossing the ball; height isn’t a factor when you’re the one doing the kicking. Fullbacks need several skills if they’re to succeed, including stamina, pace, tackling ability, and crossing skills.
In defensive duties, a wing-back needs to be able to quickly track back and help the defenders by making tackles.
For defensive set pieces, height certainly helps, but there are other defensive duties to consider, too, such as marking the posts or marking players at the edge of the penalty area. Using the wing-backs for these duties negates their lack of height while keeping things tight at the back.
Once possession has been won, it’s the wing-back who needs to fly up the wing to add width to the attack, specifically, to cross the ball in for the strikers.
As the supplier of the cross, the wing-back does not need to be taller than anyone else on the field. They just have to have the stamina and speed to move up and down the flank for the full 90 minutes.
Ashley Cole of Arsenal and England and Roberto Carlos of Real Madrid and Brazil were two of the greatest attacking wing-backs of all time. Both could pass and cross the ball superbly and provide defensive solidity. Both players were also relatively short, or certainly not taller than average, yet had truly outstanding careers.
Lightning fast and with the ability to put the ball on a striker’s head with alarming accuracy is the primary function of a winger.
It’s about being able to fly past defenders and whip the ball in for teammates; heading the ball is rarely a concern for players who hug the touchline.
With the exception of Cristiano Ronaldo, many wingers are slight in build. They’re rarely incredibly tall, relying on their pace and ability to bypass players before cutting inside for a shot or cross.
Brazilian legend Garrincha is perfect if you’re looking for a world-class winger that didn’t rely on their height to give them an advantage.
At only 5’7” tall, the right winger was one of the most audaciously talented players of all time and used his superb footwork, tricks, and agility to turn defenders inside out.
With a low center of gravity, Garrincha could turn on a sixpence and be away with the ball while his marker was still trying to turn around.
Being short increases a player’s center, allowing them to maneuver in tighter spaces, which is an ideal trait to have in a winger. The taller the player, the more ungainly they often are, so for a winger, being short is often an advantage.
There’s also the advantage of being less conspicuous; a 6’7” winger stands out like a sore thumb, whereas a 5’5” wing wizard can fly under the radar until it’s too late.
Tall or short, the measure of a player’s worth to the team should always be measured by their skill and contribution to the club’s success.
Having said that, much like a tall center-back has an advantage over a shorter player, a diminutive winger or attacking midfielder will often find their smaller frame allows them to move past players with ease.
The Barcelona team led by Pep Guardiola had numerous short players, such as Xavi, Messi, and Iniesta, and that team became arguably the most incredible club side of all time. Xavi’s low center of gravity allowed him to control the midfield completely.
Messi was able to run past and around players as if they weren’t there, and Iniesta floated around like a ghost, unseen until he popped up with an incredible pass or goal.
Several of the young Barcelona team had been identified as superb players but were unlikely to succeed at the very top level due to their size. And look how that worked out.
You can learn more about the ideal height for a soccer player in this post.