4 Players shattering the glass floor in Major League Soccer
Height represents power in modern society. Where do rules derive? From on high. What is failure? Coming up short. Symbolism clashes with perceived realities, however. Surrounded by his imposing Imperial Guard, legend grew that Napoleon Bonaparte was only 5' 2". In fact, he was 5' 7", average for the time but still considered vertically challenged by today's standard.
Other leaders looked up at their underlings, as well. Hitler was 5' 9". Across the Channel, Churchill was three inches shorter. Mussolini was 5' 7". To complete the WWII collection. Generalissimo Francisco Franco beat them all at 5' 4". The tradition of small leaders to be feared continued with Vladimir Putin standing in at 5' 7". Although to further confound contemporary stereotypes, Mao Ze Dong was 6' on the nose.
Football mirrors empire building in many ways, including the notion anyone of any shape or size can play the game with great skill. Among football's legends, Johan Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer stood tallest at 5' 11". Pele was middling by greatness' standard at 5' 8". Diego Maradona, accused by many of having a Napoleon complex, was 5' 5". This era's five-time Ballon d'Or winners epitomise the game's universal appeal. Cristiano Ronaldo is 6' 2" whereas Lionel Messi required hormone treatments as a boy to reach 5' 7".
For all that, UEFA's top clubs seem to have adopted a minimum height requirement. While shorter players hold an advantage due to low centres of gravity when the ball is kept on the carpet, they must still cope with much bigger defenders who, thanks to modern sport and nutritional science, are much quicker and more agile. Therefore, elite clubs see too much downside in fielding welterweight players in a physical game dominated by middle and lightweights.
It's difficult to find top players under 5' 7". Everton winger Bernard is the rare exception. The great Barcelona squad, whose few detractors considered them vulnerable when defending crosses and corners, were all at least 5' 7". Messi, Xavi Hernandez and Andres Iniesta were the shortest. Carles Puyol, often labelled short for a defender, was 5' 10".
Messi's ball skills and intelligence weren't enhanced by hormone treatments, only his size, but where would his career be had Barcelona not extended an invitation to move to Catalunya and become a chemically engineered giant? At 5' 2", would he still be playing for Rosario Central in Argentina's newly christened Super Liga? Would he ever kit up for Argentina? Or might he have gone abroad, albeit not to Europe?
Major League Soccer accepts players great and small, too. European legends and one-time Manchester United teammates Wayne Rooney and Zlatan Ibrahimovic measure in at 5' 9" and 6' 5" respectively. On opposite coasts, each has dominated the MLS narrative in 2018. It doesn't stop there, however. The league's ambition to match the Premier League and La Liga's status causes them to leave no stone unturned, to keep the door open for all applicants. There is no minimum height requirement. Consequently, its franchises collectively field a handful of players who stand 5' 6" or less.
Here are four with exceptional talent.