New research shows Stoke tallest and Barcelona shortest

icon bigteams6 November ~ CIES Football Observatory, a research group based at the University of Neuchatel, Switzerland regularly produce statistics that can add insight or offer new ways of thinking about the game. Their most recent newsletter looks at the average heights of teams across the “big five European leagues” in the current season and over the last five years. Barcelona fielded the team of the shortest average height in the current season at 5ft 9ins (1.76 metres). Stoke City v Southampton on October 25 had an average height of 6ft 2ins; the tallest across the five leagues.

Simple comparisons of average heights reveal very little on their own. The Barcelona team that trounced Real Madrid 6-2 in May 2009, in what some argue was one of the finest performances of all time, had an average height (by my reckoning) of 5ft 10ins. The fact that the current team does not reach the same level of performance can't be explained only in terms of physical stature.

But what the CIES data raised for me is the part height plays in the way I look at and think about teams or players, and the kind of stereotypes that are sometimes associated with physical stature. More than once I've heard a defeat for my team Oldham Athletic explained in terms of “they were bigger than us”, perhaps obscuring a deeper insight where size and strength obscure clever organisation, technical competence or a well thought out game plan.

Players above average height often draw attention. At 6ft 5ins, Ian Ormondroyd found it difficult to hide. He had a place on a list of the 50 worst players in the Premier League, yet achieved cult status, perhaps rooted in irony, at many of the clubs he played for between 1984 and 1998 – and for good or ill often crops up as the prototype for Peter Crouch. It's something to be remembered for.

The CIES data made me think about players I had seen over the years who perhaps challenged height-related stereotypes. A team of Andy Goram, Denis Irwin, Ashley Cole, Martin Buchan, Des Walker, Steve Coppell, Paul Scholes, Archie Gemmill, Gerry Hitchens and Ian Wright would have an average height of 5ft 8ins. They might be vulnerable at set pieces and, although made up of players some would judge as too short for their playing position, would, I think, be competitive. Hitchens, although scoring at better than a goal every two games with Aston Villa between 1957 and 1961, did not fit the stereotype of a No 9 in the 1960s and was perhaps more appreciated during his career in Italian football. Brian Simpson

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