Lionel Messi and the 25 Best Small Players in the World Right Now
Size matters...no wait size doesn't matter. Such blanket statements of (not necessarily true) fact are a part of everyday life. One of the great things about football is there is very little room for such a black and white mentality.
While other team sports quite naturally need to place an emphasis on height or strength, the nature of football allows it to embrace creativity and technical ability more than others might.
This has meant players who aren't six foot tall or bigger to both comfortably make a living in the sport, and in many cases flourish successfully. The shining example of this today is Barcelona and Argentina's Lionel Messi.
Messi utilises his comparatively slight stature in the way he, at times, unfathomably weaves his way through what seems the tightest of spaces with a mixture of tremendous trickery and speed. Yet while this is one element of his game, his size does not wholly characterise who he is as a player.
As is the case with the following list of 25 of the best small players in the world right now. The only criteria being they come in under 5'9'', like Messi, these players are some of the most talented in the world right now.
If there is anyone you think is missing out or if someone on the list isn't worth their place please feel free to comment and discuss.
It has been a joy to watch Xavi's rise in prominence in recent years, seeing him grow in football circles and public recognition from Barcelona's talented playmaker to the world dominating pass-master who's legacy has already been ensured.
This may come across as hyperbolic but it is true. Not only has Xavi played his role in making Barcelona one of the most scintillating club sides around, the midfielder has also helped orchestrate the re-emergence of the Spanish national side as a genuine global power.
Despite being the wrong side of 30, it doesn't seem pertinent to even begin thinking about Xavi's time being anywhere near up. Of course nobody can account for injuries, but such is the level of which the 31-year-old's footballing brain works, there is a great chance his mind will more than compensate for his legs for the best part of a decade to come yet.
Around the time Tottenham Hotspur signed Luka Modric, Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger commented he didn't think the diminutive Croatian would cut it in the Premier League. He was very wrong.
For the majority of his first season at Spurs, Modric was deployed out left where he would he would look to influence proceedings by linking up with his teammates from this position and cutting inside. On sporadic occasions in his first year and on a more permanent basis thereafter, his manager Harry Redknapp made the decision to play him from central midfield.
Modric has excelled there. With the ball he is the man who starts many of Tottenham's attacking moves, and on the defensive side of things his reading of the game extends to making crucial interceptions while he is also a capable tackler and closer down of opponents. The common theme of both sides of his game is a toughness where he doesn't often allow himself to be shirked off the ball and when he is, Modric soon back on his feet.
Fabrizio Miccoli has been around a bit, throughout Italy and even a spell in Portugal with Benfica, but since joining Palermo in 2007 he has found a suitable stage in which to display his talent.
While he is not one of Serie A's most successful players, Miccoli is one that demands to be watched, a skillful and tricky operator who left to his own devices can cause all sorts of trouble for the opposition.
Despite a couple of brief flirtations with Birmingham City, Miccoli stayed at Palermo and remains one of the team's best players.
The hype surrounding Franck Ribery has tailed off somewhat compared with the heights it reached a couple of years ago. If the Frenchman is no longer as sought after by Europe's biggest clubs as it seems he once was, he undoubtedly remains one of Bayern Munich's best assets.
Injuries have restricted the amount of games Ribery might have otherwise played in the past few seasons, but when he did play last year he was one of Bayern's strongest performers. Seven goals and 11 assists in just 25 Bundesliga appearances was not a bad return.
Ribery has begun 2011/12 in similar fashion and if he can avoid injury will surely be delivering on a regular basis the type of performances that attracted such attention before.
After the historic high of the treble in 2009/10, it has been a difficult year or so for Inter Milan. If they are to get back to the very top of Italian football and possibly the Champions League, they will need the very best from Wesley Sneijder.
Statistically speaking, of some of the world's best attacking midfielders and playmakers, Sneijder's aren't necessarily the most impressive. But so much of what Inter have done best in the couple of seasons since he has been the club has run through the Dutchman. When he is on particularly sparkling form, he can be unplayable with the way he can open teams up with his passing.
Inter have issues elsewhere in their squad right now, but ignoring the advances of Manchester United and Manchester City and building around Sneijder will be the best option if they want success again in the short term.
Andrei Arshavin right now seems representative of his Arsenal team as a whole. Still extremely talented, but seemingly lacking direction and motivation.
Like the Gunners though, Arshavin is not a lost cause just yet. The Russian remains a player capable of the spectacular, or at least providing those moments in which a game's momentum can turn for the better.
The fact is for much of the criticism directed his way last season, Arshavin was still a very useful player for Arsenal. Six goals and 11 assists in the Premier League, three and two in the Champions League. As one of the club's most experienced campaigners now, if he can step up and instill some drive he may be one of the characters who might reignite the stuttering north London team.
One of the taller men of the small players listed here, it is perhaps Alexandre Pato's fresh face and precocious style that still gives the air of a boy among men. But if that is the immediate impression it is certainly not one that extends to his ability and level of performance.
Pato's 14 goals last season were a big contribution to AC Milan's scudetto winning campaign and continue the steady tallies the Brazilian has been bringing since arriving in Italy.
With his pace, finishing and goal-scoring instincts, you get the impression that one of these days Pato will truly explode and become the world-beater Milan need to put themselves back competing for the Champions League on a regular basis.
One of the few defensive players to make this list, Philipp Lahm is a model of consistency for both Bayern Munich and Germany.
The versatile full-back belies his small stature with decisive tackling and the solid presence he provides in his teams' back line. As many of the best in his position are, Lahm is a strong contributor in attack. An assured presence on the ball and with the pace to utilise that against opponents, not to mention for getting back.
You get the impression that Lahm may well stay at Bayern for the rest of his career. If what we have seen so far is anything to go by, they will be more than happy to keep him.
The man behind so much of what Manchester City do great, David Silva has played a big role in transforming them from a club of potential to legitimate Premier League challengers.
Deceptively quick, Silva has the ability to create something from nothing in an instant. While there is substantial attacking talent around him, the Spaniard is more often than not the man to set things in motion so the likes of Aguero and Tevez can capitalise.
Silva has helped City this far, if they are to make the next step he will likely be a big reason for that too.
Antonio Di Natale
You cannot think of Udinese these days without thinking of their captain and talisman Antonio Di Natale.
Since joining the club in 2004 Di Natale has not only been their man, but also one of the best performers in Serie A, and still a vastly underrated one at that. The Italian international has won the Capocannoniere (top scorer) winner the past two seasons, not only putting the ball in the back of the net but doing so often with goals of remarkable skill and beauty.
Di Natalie's loyalty to Udinese is also very admirable. Though he could have chosen to move elsewhere, he has remained at the Bianconeri through thick and thin, being the catalyst that at various points has guided them to safety from relegation and top four finishers.
The player charged with restoring a sense of creativity to the Chelsea attack, if Juan Mata's time with Spain and Valencia is anything to go by he will more than fulfil his job description.
Since the 2008/09 campaign, the statistical evidence of Mata's contribution to Los Che more than indicate this is a player who will bring goals in one form or another. In the past three seasons in La Liga alone he directly set up 29 goals while scoring 28 of his own.
Like most attacking players right now involved in the Spain set up, Mata is both technically marvellous and a real treat to watch. Exactly what Chelsea need right now. He has got off to a bright start with Chelsea, and while still adjusting to the Premier League, already looks set to be a good buy.
David Villa and David Silva made their way out of Valencia last summer and have already enjoyed success, Mata looks set to follow suit.
Marcelo is one of the best attacking full-backs in football right now.
His ventures forward down the left flank for Real Madrid mean, both with and without the ball, he is a figure that cannot be ignored. If defensively he is not quite as strong that is okay, what the Brazilian offers in pushing his opposite number back is a form of defence in itself if he can restrict their chances to attack.
The less desirable side of his character is a penchant for petulance and play-acting, but then again, he is hardly alone in this.
Sergio Aguero's eight goals in five games already for Manchester City have given the club a great early return on their investment. Whereas some foreign arrivals need time to settle, it hasn't taken long for Aguero to embrace the Premier League.
The Argentinian is an explosive proposition, his bursts of acceleration putting him in prime position time and time again to make the most of his lethal finishing. At only 23 years of age, you have to believe we haven't seen the best of Aguero yet, too.
City coach Roberto Mancini will be hoping that Aguero is the type of player regularly capable of making a difference in the big games. There are sure to be plenty of those for the club this season so he will soon find out.
The future for Carlos Tevez might seem a little foggy right now. He didn't get his move back closer to home, and he looks to have been usurped as Manchester City's favourite Argentinian by Aguero.
Still, it is hard not to see a player as talented and hard-working as Tevez not playing a major role for City as the season goes on. He has proved his reliability for the club, being their top scorer over the past two seasons and in the tireless displays of running and closing down he gives in providing a layer of defence up-front.
The interesting watch might be seeing how City strike a balance in getting the best out of him and Aguero, not to mention the rest of the squad's array of attacking talent. If Mancini proves successful here it may confirm this group's status as the best strike force outside of Barcelona.
Ezequiel Lavezzi has been getting better with every season at Napoli, and along with Marek Hamsik and Edison Cavani, looks set to bring back the type of success that hasn't been seen since his fellow Argentinian Diego Maradona was in town.
For a time Lavezzi was the glamour boy in Naples, but since the arrival of Cavani he has got his head down and plays more of a supporting role, but one that has proven extremely valuable in Napoli's resurgence. He brings both goals and a decent work ethic too, which when applied to his creative streak make him one of Serie A's most exciting propositions.
Theo Walcott has not yet nailed down a level of consistency to make him a regular world-beater, but there is talent undoubtedly there that makes you think that surely someone can get the best out of him one day.
His pace has meant Walcott is more often than not deployed wide right, but as the player himself believes, his attributes surely would serve him better centrally. Walcott has great timing when it comes to making runs that put him in dangerous positions. That speed of his means he can be in and away with the ball before defenders have a chance to react.
The England international's finishing is somewhat hit and miss, but there is a level of quality to his best goals that suggests with continued practice he could become a top goalscorer.
Andres Iniesta has come up trumps for both Barcelona and Spain, in some notable big goals (he of course scored the winner in the 2010 World Cup final) and in his general reliability in important matches.
Along with Xavi, Iniesta has formed one of the most gifted and effective midfield partnerships in football. A thoroughly talented passer who is so crucial to Pep Guardiola's game plan and making his Barcelona side tick, Iniesta also has the attacking chops to excel in the final third in helping to deliver the final touches to the masterpieces his team paint throughout the pitch.
Only 27 years old, Iniesta's responsibility will continue to grow for Barca, and considering the experience he has gained already, his maturing years might well become his best yet.
Javier Hernandez was viewed by many as the transfer bargain of the 2010/11 season, his goals in the second half of the campaign helped Manchester United to the Premier League championship and the Champions League final.
Early signs from this year seem to be he will carry on where he left off. There is arguably not a better penalty box striker in the division right now, Chicharito's constant movement matched with a great positional sense provide him so many great opportunities to score goals.
The Mexican is already a pretty good finisher, but considering he is still only young, the worry for opposition defences everywhere is that this is a talent he will only continue to improve.
Eden Hazard is being touted by many as the next big thing of world football. This season will certainly give us more of an insight into his potential as he and his Lille side take on the Champions League.
We do know already that the young Belgian international is a talented attacking midfielder who's speed and fine dribbling ability makes him a handful for the opposition to deal with, capable of coming up with something out of nothing. His success already in the French league indicates a comfort already in competition with a decent level of talent and it will be a joy to watch him progress.
Unlike some of the other great Barcelona youth products, Pedro wasn't necessarily destined in the eyes of some for a place in the first-team. Fortunately for all concerned, his manager Guardiola knew otherwise from his time working with the striker in the B team.
Pedro isn't one of Barcelona's most glamorous players, but he is one that fits its style perfectly, working well with their front three in linking with the likes of Messi and David Silva. He has proved his reliability with a decent goal record as well as some important strikes in big games including last season's Champions League final.
Nigel De Jong
The dark-side of Nigel De Jong's game have been the extremely ugly and dangerous tackles the midfielder has too often made on the pitch. But maybe this is just something that has to be accepted every now and then with such a combative and aggressive player, especially with the pace of the modern game.
De Jong is definitely an important player for both Holland and Manchester City. With the great attacking talent in both sides, he is the midfield enforcer that will win the ball so they can go and play. He is a tough defensive presence to navigate with his ability to hound at players, and despite the aforementioned exceptions, to win tackles.
Giuseppe Rossi's 32 goals for the Yellow Submarine last season was his best return yet. He is arguably the best player in La Liga outside of Real Madrid and Barcelona.
In the penalty box his movement and awareness allows him to make the most of so many opportunities, complemented by his eye for goal. Outside the area he is more than comfortable too.
The Italian-American is also one of the best providing strikers in Spanish football right now. Since moving there in 2007 he has contributed 24 assists.
While the value of goals can never be underestimated, it is always a pleasure to watch such a well-rounded striker.
AC Milan's decision to let Andrea Pirlo go indicated their belief that the World Cup winning playmaker's best days were behind him. There is a truth to that, but his new club Juventus might still reap the benefits of a player who possesses one of the best minds in football. Something that should not be underestimated as the Old Lady of Turin attempt to return to the top of the Italian game.
Pirlo's ageing legs might now allow him to influence games fully in the manner he once did, but the passing ability and the eye in which to spot a good run are both still there. If Juve are able to find a way to maximise this and let others do the necessary midfield work around Pirlo then he could prove to be a truly important player for them.
One of English football's most polarising people, Ashley Cole has also been one of its strongest performers for over a decade now. Evidence in both can be found already this season in the steady performances for Chelsea coupled with an atrocious challenge on Manchester United's Javier Hernandez which drew much criticism.
Early on it was Cole's attacking contributions down the left wing for Arsenal's free-flowing and successful sides of the first half of the last decade that gained him attention, but it has been his defensive solidity that has marked him out as a mainstay of both the England team and now Chelsea.
Cole's pace and stamina mean even the best of wingers have had difficulty in finding ways to beat him. If they do find a way then it is not long before the tireless full-back is back at them again next time.
The last entry on to the list comes with some bias, as a Tottenham fan I have watched plenty of Aaron Lennon and there are few players as exciting and enjoyable to watch in full flow as the speedy winger.
Lennon's ability to turn defenders inside-out with his speedy turns and changes of directions is a sight to behold as he bamboozles full-backs. The final cross and shot is off sometimes, but I'm willing to cut him a little slack as delivering something perfect at the speeds he is going is an inexact art.
The sometime-England winger enjoyed a pretty good first time in the Champions League last season and looked like he has the quality to cut it on a more consistent basis with the best in Europe. Achieving that consistency will be the next big test for Lennon, especially as he is in a Spurs team currently full with creative, attacking midfielders. If he passes that test, there could be a lot to come from him.
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