After watching Santi Cazorla deliver another superb performance for Arsenal during their 3-1 win over West Ham last Saturday I was struck by the importance several sections of the media attached to the Spanish midfielder's height.
On Match Of The Day, once the Spaniard had wrapped up the three points for Arsenal with his long range effort, commentator John Motson also felt the need to mention Cazorla's height, expressing surprise that he was such a good player, considering he is so small.
This obsession with creative players height is tiresome and trivial, but above all, it shows complete ignorance of the necessary qualities that make a great player, as many of the best footballers, past and present, have been of a similar size to Cazorla.
Height is no doubt important in certain positions on the pitch, for goalkeepers, centre-backs and even holding midfielders. But when it comes to creative players, whose primary aim should be to use the ball well, analysis shows that height is about as relevant as taste in music.
Cazorla, who measures 5ft 6in, is in good company. Leo Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta, the top three nominees for the 2010 Ballon d'Or, are even smaller than him, all measuring 5ft 5in. In three years living in Spain, I've never heard commentators or journalists discuss these players' heights.
Cazorla dealt with the question of his height in his interview with The Daily Mail, saying: "I don't see an advantage, nor a disadvantage. Ultimately football is played with the ball and isn't dependent on your height or strength. In Spain there are strong players as well, as in all leagues. The Premier League is characterised by its physicality but I'm adapting very well so it's not much of a change."
Indeed, Cazorla is hardly the first small player to succeed in England. Paul Scholes, 5ft 7in, is widely regarded as the best English midfielder of his generation and has been one of the best players in the Premier League for over 17 years. The repeated failure of successive England managers to use Scholes properly until he quit international football in 2004 was to the detriment of the national team, and if England are to have any hope of making it beyond the quarter-finals of major tournaments in the following years, it will have a lot to do with another small but talented player, Jack Wilshere, who is just 5ft 8in.
Of course, there have been some brilliant tall, creative players, like Johan Cruyff, Ronaldinho (both 5ft 11in) and Zinedine Zidane (6ft 1in) but small players who can do wonders with the ball are nothing new. Pele was just 5ft 7in, Maradona 5ft 5in, Romario 5ft 7in and George Best 5ft 8in.
What is concerning is that it is not just John Motson and a few tabloid journalists who ignore the evidence: size is still regarded as a deciding factor in a player's future by many coaches in England. I have read about clubs measuring talented children's wrists to see how big they are going to turn out, with the smaller players being discarded, while it has been reported by more than just one journalist that when many coaches hear about talented teenagers, the first thing they ask about is how big they are. Former Republic of Ireland international Matt Holland backs up these claims, and has told me he often hears the phrase "a big good one is better than a little good one" uttered by youth coaches of top clubs.
The fact that Cazorla is not a regular fixture in Spain's midfield but would walk straight into England's highlights the failings of coaching in England, and the obsession with size is one of several reasons why we are not producing enough players with genuine ball skills.
Cazorla has 48 caps for his country and would have many more if he did not have to compete with the two best creative midfielders in the world, Xavi and Iniesta. Even Cesc Fabregas is not guaranteed a place in its midfield, and is now being played in the 'false nine' role. Mikel Arteta has never played for Spain's first team, while Juan Mata, who is in excellent form for Chelsea in what we are always reminded is 'The Best League in the World', has been left out of Spain's squad for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Belarus and France.
Explaining the decision to leave out Juan Mata, coach Vicente Del Bosque said: "We have a problem with quantity, not quality."
What would England give to have this particular 'problem'? Until we stop obsessing with the size of our players, it is a dilemma we will never have to deal with.
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