Andres Iniesta, Lionel Messi, Sebastian Giovinco and Marko Marin share one thing in common: all these gifted players are less than 1.70m tall, once again proving the oft-repeated adage, “if you’re good enough, you’re big enough”.
A glance at football’s roll of honour down the years similarly throws up any number of legendary names who thrilled crowds and won medals around the globe despite their diminutive stature. Diego Maradona, Pele, Alain Giresse and Thomas Hassler arguably top a very long list indeed.
FIFA.com has delved into the archives and produced this salute to some of the smallest yet greatest players of their age.
Looking back over decades of world football history, it immediately becomes obvious that South America keeps coming up with players who are slight in stature but immense in terms of performances both for club and country. Pele (1.73m), Romario (1.69m) and the legendary Garrincha (1.69m) left a deep impression on coaches, team-mates and fans with their staggering range of talents.
Garrincha, a FIFA World Cup™ winner in 1958 and 1962, netted 232 goals in 581 games for Botafogo. The winger, who died in 1983, is still rated the best player of all time in some quarters of Brazil – better even than Pele. However, Pele’s career record makes truly impressive reading, with an astounding 470 goals in 412 appearances for his hometown club Santos, a record surely destined to stand for all time. The former player, who is now 68, scored a remarkable percentage of those goals with his head. The third Brazilian FIFA World Cup winner whose name is compulsory on this list is the 1.69m Romario, FIFA World Player of the Year in 1994, and a member of the 'FIFA 100' ranking of the 125 greatest players of all time.
Then and now in Argentina
Brazil is not the only South American country to specialise in big names on a small scale. Argentina has long operated a conveyor-belt of short but breathtakingly skilled stars. Diego Maradona (1.65m) and Lionel Messi (1.69m) are the best-known players in this bracket from the nation which has won the FIFA World Cup twice.
Maradona, now the Albiceleste head coach, unquestionably rates as one of the greatest players in history. He represented his country between 1977 and 1994, with the 1986 FIFA World Cup triumph in Mexico as the crowning glory. Barcelona superstar Messi will be looking to emulate that achievement in the future.
Prompted to join the Azulgrana after the club offered to fund treatment for the young Messi’s growth hormone deficiency, the 63 kg lightweight promptly repaid the Catalan giants with outstanding displays in La Liga and the UEFA Champions League. Other pint-sized Argentine stars include Maximiliano Moralez (1.61m) and Diego Buonanotte (1.57m), currently featuring in Primera A for Velez Sarsfield and River Plate respectively.
Former Bayern Munich left-back Bixente Lizarazu is hardly tall at 1.69m, but he positively towers over 1.62m Alain Giresse. However, Gabon coach Giresse unarguably rates as the greatest of the smaller players from France after a glittering playing career with Toulouse, Olympique Marseille and Bordeaux. He filled a pivotal role in the celebrated France team of the 1980s, also featuring Michel Platini and Jean Tigana, and winners of the 1984 UEFA European championship.
Lizarazu enjoyed plenty of success too, and ranks as one of the best left-backs the game has ever seen, after winning the FIFA World Cup on home soil in 1998 and the European championship two years later. Ludovic Giuly (1.64m) has played professionally since 1994, and captained AS Monaco in the 2004 Champions League final. He later switched to Barcelona, where he won La Liga twice, and the Champions League in 2006.
Jimmy Johnstone was one of the best-known and best-loved players ever to feature in the Scottish game. 'Jinky', named Celtic’s best player of all time by the Glasgow club’s fans in 2002, stood a mere 1.57m tall but was a key member of the 1967 European Champions' Cup-winning side. The former Scotland international died on 13 March 2006 at the age of 61.
Alan Ball was far from the largest star to emerge from the English game at 1.68m tall, but that did not prevent the tenacious midfielder from helping his country win the 1966 FIFA World Cup on home soil. In a 22-year playing career, Ball scored 180 goals and earned 72 full international caps.
Germany’s smaller stars
In Germany, Thomas Hassler (1.66m) and Pierre Littbarski (1.68m) were both outstanding players who comfortably made it to the top of the world game. The pair featured together in the 1990 FIFA World Cup winning team, also clocking up honours in the Bundesliga and abroad.
The best of the current pocket-sized crop in Germany is Marko Marin, the equal smallest member of the national squad at 1.69m alongside Piotr Trochowski of Hamburg. As a youth, the 20-year-old Marin was informed by Eintracht Frankfurt that he would not make the grade as a professional, but he proved the doubters wrong and is currently one of the Bundesliga's hottest properties as he helps Borussia Monchengladbach battle to avoid the drop.
Around the world
Shorter players have made their mark in other parts of the world too. Former Denmark schemer Allan Simonsen, a member of the legendary Borussia Monchengladbach side of the 1970s, is only 1.65m tall, but his place in the record books is secure as the only player to score in the finals of the European Cup, the UEFA Cup and the European Cup Winners’ Cup.
The best-known small-sized goalkeeper hails from Mexico. Jorge Campos, also famous for his brightly-coloured shirts, made no fewer than 130 appearances for El Tri, testament to the exceptional quality of the 1.73m man.
Finally, Zhao Dayu was the best striker of his era in China PR, despite his slight build at just 1.62m. A runner-up with his country at the AFC Asian Cup in 1984, he finished top scorer at the prestige tournament.