There is a long-established myth that to succeed and be influential in the Premier League you need to be physically big and strong. However, the arrival and success of smaller players like Luka Modric, Jack Wilshere and David Silva is quickly dispelling this notion.
We often hear about young English players who never made it in the game because they were too small, and the argument and debate over the size of players is often brought up whenever a player who is slighter in stature – for example, Luka Modric – moves to England. There is often talk about whether they will be able to cut it in the English game and cope with the rough, competitive nature of the Premier League.
The Premier League is physical in nature, and it isn’t something that everyone can adapt to, but many players who are slight in stature (Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Lucas Leiva) have shown that you can be influential as a smaller figure in the English game. Smaller players often succeed because they have the technical skills necessary to be influential in the Premier League. They often have exceptional touch, awareness and desire which more than makes up for any lacking physical attributes. Players like Tim Cahill often break the stereotype surrounding size in the English game. Cahill is a very aggressive player and a great header of the ball despite his stature, banishing the thought that you have to be big and imposing to succeed in this league. The Premier League is a rough, competitive league – more so than many across the continent – but it appears that size doesn’t matter so much nowadays, and it is other attributes like attitude, skill, and fitness that will ultimately determine a players success in the top flight.
English football recruitment has always been largely based around physical ability and size, recruiting kids who are the biggest and strongest, at the expense of smaller but more technically gifted players. It is difficult to say whether this form of discrimination has lessened in the recruitment of young players, but the lack of small, technically gifted English players suggests that it hasn’t.
The English game needs to take a look at the rest of the world and the success of smaller figures on the continent. The Barcelona and Spain squads are both filled with technically gifted players who aren’t exactly giants. It seems that size is certainly less of an issue in terms of youth recruitment in Spain than it is in England and their successes on the field must in some ways be attributed to their youth development system.
Barcelona and Spain do also have some bigger stronger players, and this mix or blend of the two opposites appears to be a vital mix for a successful team. There is always a suggestion that teams like Arsenal-who have several smaller players-need beefing up in the middle and that they lack the stong physical presence required to be successful in this league. Perhaps this illustrates that it is key to have the best of both worlds in order to have a successful side in the English game.
It has been always been thought a necessity to possess taller, bigger, stronger players to succeed in the Premier League, but that is gradually changing. There is often a debate about whether Lionel Messi would have the same effect if he were to play in England, but judging by the success of other players of similar stature – Tevez, Wilshere, Aguero – if you are good enough, then you are big enough.
There is no doubt that the pace and competitiveness of football today requires increased athleticism and a strong physical presence in your side, but there is plenty of room for the smaller player in the Premier League. It seems that the key is in how you utilize size, with smaller players possessing exceptional speed, vision and intelligence on and off the ball, which can be just as key as any physical advantages. Size clearly has some advantages, but other qualities still persist resolutely in the game, and there is certainly a place for the smaller player in the Premier League.
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