Size matters. It always has.
As a teenager I played local representative football with and against a young lad who went on to do alright for himself; David Beckham. Back then, around the age of 13 and 14, Becks was far from the biggest boy. You couldn’t say he was average height, not even what you’d describe as short. He was tiny.
Skilful, confident, and possessing a wand of a right foot, David Beckham the teenager was, despite his diminutive stature, still a hell of a player. It was irrelevant to most observers though. “He’s way too small to make it,” they’d say.
Manchester United knew something the rest of us didn’t. They had snapped him up nice and early, but relatively unopposed as there hadn’t been any great clamour for his signature among London’s clubs. “The scouts all reckon David’s not big enough,” explained Ted Beckham to my dad, as our respective parents stood on the touch line watching us one cold, winter’s afternoon. “But United have done tests on him, and they reckon he’s almost certain to end up six foot tall.”
And they were right. By the time we were reunited at the England Under-18 trials, Beckham was six feet tall exactly, strong, athletic and en route to world superstardom.
Would Manchester United have persisted with him if the examinations had predicted five foot six? We’ll never know, but the fact that he was tested, probably tells us the answer. In football circles, bigger has, almost always, been better.
A relatively short time ago (apologies for the pun) Barcelona’s unusually small, yet freakily talented trio of Lionel Messi, Xavi and Andres Iniesta emerged. Together, they magically proved that lots of little can also give it plenty of large on a football pitch. They’re still very much at it, of course.
It sparked a trend. Suddenly, the general notion that modern footballers have to be big, strong athletes went out of fashion. Managers at every level of the game began to accept that power and pace weren’t such important prerequisites after all. Intelligent, nippy, pocket rockets came to the fore, and football is certainly a better spectacle because of it.
The little men - as long as they’re good enough - are here to stay but I sense times are changing once more. The next generation of must-have footballers will be big AND beautiful, and soon every team worth its salt will have to have one.
What’s prompted this revelation? It’s the recent performances of Michu and Marouane Fellaini.
Not just physically intimidating, these two players are also quick and incredibly mobile. With a velvety smooth touch, cultured passing range and football intelligence they’re team players who, importantly, are capable of scoring goals with their heads and feet with equal aplomb.
Arsenal couldn’t handle these two specimens in recent weeks and so far this season, neither have most teams. They have it all.
Athletic Bilbao’s striking Adonis Fernando Llorente is another giant with the all-round package, while Yaya Toure and (when he’s fully fit) Abou Diaby are two other Premier League heavyweights who provide height, muscle and much, much more.
Big, no longer has to be used in the same sentence as cumbersome or slow.
The tired cliché, “he’s got a good touch for a big man” should be buried in a time capsule and never, ever dug up. Andy Townsend, please take note.
Back in 1996 I remember being instructed by Bruce Rioch to stand in front of six foot four Everton striker Duncan Ferguson at throw-ins and to “step on his toes, be a pest”. Big Dunc was at least a head taller, a billion times harder, and I was petrified. Despite this, I stupidly obeyed my orders and the Toffees legend didn’t like it. I only just survived.
But despite his fearsome reputation in the 90s, Duncan Ferguson was a player ahead of his time. A scary, powerful beast, who also knew how to treat the ball like an old friend when he needed to. The likes of Michu, Fellaini, Toure and Llorente don’t possess his aggression but they marry physicality with poise in a seriously impressive way, and it can be an unstoppable force.
It takes all sorts to create the perfect football team, but managers will always pick a good big’un, over a good little’un. So, watch out for more ball-playing giants at a Premier League ground near you.
Size matters. It always has.
Click here to read more from former Arsenal midfielder Adrian Clarke.