Standing tall: What Spain's win means for the little guy
Sport has assumed taller and bigger to mean faster and better, but Iniesta, Silva and Jordi Alba have shown you can be just as successful if you’re short. That suggests coaches should rethink their strategies, writes RONAN McGREEVY(5ft 6in)
WE SHORT GUYS get a bad rap. If we assert ourselves we’re described as having a Napoleon complex – which is ironic, given Napoleon was of average height for a Frenchman of his time, the legend of his shortness having been a tall tale that Britain used to denigrate his achievements.
But it has not helped our cause that the long roll-call of short leaders includes a rogue’s gallery of tyrants and buffoons, ranging from Joseph Stalin (5ft 6in), Kim Jong-Il (5ft 3in) and Silvio Berlusconi (5ft 5in) to our own Charles Haughey (5ft 5in). Any exhibition of belligerence is likely to be met with the sobriquet “bitter little man”, as Jack Charlton famously called Eamon Dunphy. Bitter big man doesn’t have the same resonance.
It seems small men can’t win – or at least it seemed so until the Spanish soccer team came along. Spain’s unprecedented hat-trick of major championship triumphs is a victory for skill and ability and for the little man.
The ringmaster of Spain’s Euro 2012 triumph was the incomparable Andrés Iniesta (5ft 7in), the player of the tournament. The first goal in the final was scored by David Silva (5ft 7in), the second by Jordi Alba (5ft 5in) from a pass by Xavi Hernandez (5ft 7in).
Spain were the shortest team at Euro 2012. A recent survey by the Professional Football Players Observatory of 500 clubs in 33 leagues throughout Europe found that the mighty Barcelona also had the shortest squad in Europe. (Shamrock Rovers had the second shortest.) The best footballer in the world, Lionel Messi (5ft 6in), of Barcelona and Argentina, was so small as a child that the Spanish club prescribed growth hormones.
The triumphs of Spain and Barcelona have turned on its head the modern-day preoccupation with height and athleticism that seems to be the trend across team sports.
As Wigan’s Spanish manager, Roberto Martínez, said this week, “Iniesta and Xavi would never have made it six years ago in a British team. The first selection is ‘not tall enough, not strong enough’.”
The television pundit John Giles (5ft 5in) says Spain’s triumph is a return to the natural order of things. “The little guys always did well at soccer . . . Soccer is a game of wit, imagination and creativity, particularly for players in the middle of the field. That’s why I was delighted to see Spain win it, because there’s always a copycat effect. If they are going to copy any team, let it be Spain.”
Giles says a myth has grown up over the years that the late manager Matt Busby rejected him because he was too small when he started out at Manchester United. “I never saw myself as small. I would have been short, but if you are strong enough it is an advantage being short, because you have a lower centre of gravity.”