Having recently encountered a number of young players who have been released from academies, or not given an opportunity, I find it amazing that often the reason given is their size.
Players with undoubted ability are being overlooked or deemed not appropriate due to their size. Now, I’m not saying every player on the small size is the next Messi or David Silva… but the fact these youngsters are having their hopes and dreams dashed and not given a fair chance to succeed, is a real cause for concern in my opinion.
The lower leagues in particular seem reluctant to take a chance due to the “physicality” of their league/s and seem to prefer an approach where bigger is better, often regardless of who might actually be the better footballer. It might only take one or two clubs to make the transition in ethos but the rippling effects could be huge. Surely we need the best players playing regardless of size? Are we being short-changed in the lower leagues?
Surely fans of clubs in lower divisions like to see players with flair who can beat a man at pace with ease, or unlock a tight defence with creativity, vision and incisive passing.
Don’t get me wrong, players with what is deemed an acceptable physique can also have said talents with a football and I understand clubs need to survive, and winning is paramount to that, but does that really have to be to the detriment of talent in smaller players?
I’m in no way trying to stereotype, it’s not always the small players who are the flair players and they can be equally as effective in any position: an agile goalkeeper, a dogged central midfielder etc etc. Are they always given equal opportunity though? I fear not.
I feel this is an issue stemming from Grassroots Football and is something the FA should take a look at. How many talented youngsters with a chance of making it through footballing ability, a real chance that is, have been cast aside or had their careers cut short because they were told they were too small, or god forbid, they were late developers.
I really think there needs to be a culture change or a shift in mentality where physique is not a deciding factor, particularly at a young age.
Some youngsters might have bags of ability and potential, mental strength, a solid and supportive network around them (all the makings of a player who could go places you might say), only to be told “sorry, you’re just too small.”
Should my own son follow the gene pool of his mother, bless her, he may not make it past 5ft 6in. Should I therefore start telling him to forget football as he’s probably not going to make it? After all, the odds would seem to be heavily stacked against him.
Again I refer to Grassroots Football where it’s often the biggest players who can kick a ball the hardest and furthest that are ultimately picked to play and/or given the most opportunities. I really thought we might be getting away from this old fashioned approach but it appears not.
Where is this new era of Grassroots Football I keep hearing about where technique and touches of the ball are frequently drilled in to players to ensure they are the best they can be. I’m not saying this is the case everywhere or at every grassroots club, I know plenty of coaches who agree with me and try to do the right thing.
However, is there really any point in a grassroots coach spending time coaching players to be fantastic footballers knowing only too well when it comes to trials, or at academies, their chances are significantly reduced because of their height?
Would they not be better off just picking the biggest and strongest, developing them the best they can? Surely that would be more beneficial to clubs, right?
I would suggest there is a place for all good footballers whether they be 5ft or 7ft. However, I’ve not heard many stories or encountered many players who were denied a career in football because they were too tall! Have you?
We need to get away from days gone by where height and strength were valued above all else and start taking a change on the little guy, the underdog if you like, and maybe just maybe the new Messi or Silva might be unearthed at Newcastle United and elsewhere with more regularity.