Is There a Best Height for a Soccer Player?

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Is there an ideal size for a soccer player?  According to Richard Witzig in “The Global Art of Soccer”, footballers have ranged from 5’6” to 6’2” tall.  This is a range that some 95% of the World’s population meets! 

 Mom and Dad measuring their boy and girl's heights

American football and basketball players, in comparison, are typically much taller and stronger than the majority of the population.

Although purists may argue that size does not matter when it comes to football, and that talent is the main arbiter as to whether somebody will succeed at the top level, research does indicate that players are tending to grow both taller and leaner.

In part, this is because of the evolution of the game in the past few decades. 

The average professional footballer now covers 50% more distance during a 90-minute game than his peers in the late 1960s. And not only are they running longer, but they are also having to do so at greater speeds.

The number of sprints and high-intensity playing activities performed by players has nearly doubled since 2002. 

Statistics indicate that the ball is in play and lives almost 15 minutes longer than in 1990, an increase of 17%.

To succeed at the highest level, players need not to be fitter and with greater powers of stamina and endurance, but they need to be more athletic in build, more agile, and require greater powers of mental concentration.

Elite players no longer just have the luxury of allowing the running to be done by their teammates. Modern coaches demand that they are prepared to do their own share of hard work as well – there is no room for passengers in the modern game. 

Of course, there are still differences in physiques depending on the position played.  Goalies, center-backs, and strikers are typically taller players.  They also tend to be more muscular than wingers or full-backs, although, even in those positions, the average player now is both taller and stronger than his equivalents of yesteryear. 

Another development in recent years has been the increased emphasis put by clubs in nutrition and diet.

Famously when Arsène Wenger first took over as manager at Arsenal in 1996, he was alarmed to discover the lack of nutritional awareness among the squad he inherited. He immediately banned chocolate, seasoning in food and the drinking culture, which was part of the club and many others at the time.   

A quarter of a century later the landscape has changed completely. Clubs now offer nutritional advice to players and the more wealthy employ full-time nutritionists to prepare individual diet plans for players.

The days of top footballers coming back from their summer vacations 10+ lbs overweight are over.

Professional players now realize that they need to stay in shape 365 days a year, and, even when on vacation, it is not uncommon to see them in the gym for an hour a day.

That does not mean there is no room in the game for the players who do not fit the physical mold.

Lionel Messi, for example, is just 5 feet 7 inches tall (1.70 meters), whilst West Ham’s Manuel Lanzini is an inch shorter.

They are the exceptions, not the rule though, and it is undoubtedly true that the trend will continue towards taller, leaner, more athletic players.