Taking inspiration from a B/R NBA debate on the GOAT (Greatest of all Time) at each height, B/R Football has adapted the conversation to select the best player at every height—from 5'3" to 6'7"—in the game today.
The shorter and taller ends are pretty easy to pick given the options are so limited, but as we gravitate towards the 6'0" mark, we're forced to make tough calls between a series of elite players that play very different roles and positions.
We've included an honourable mention or two for particular sizes that grouped multiple world-class performers together.
All height measurements are taken from Football Manager.
5'3" Yeferson Soteldo, Santos
Top-level footballers don't tend to get much smaller than 5'3", so this is where we start.
Venezuelan winger Soteldo is the clear best of a slim shortlist. He has impressed on every stage presented to him—from youth international to current club Santos—swatting away concerns over his height along the way.
5'4" Lorenzo Insigne, Napoli
Insigne's made his diminutive stature work in his favour over the years, carving out a decade-long career in Italian football based on agility and elusiveness.
He's naturally tricky in tight spots, low to the ground and able to change direction in an instant, and he's turned many a defender inside-out over the years.
5'5" Marco Verratti, Paris Saint-Germain
One of football recruitment's modern trends is to play a 6'0"-plus player at the base of your midfield—think Sergio Busquets, Casemiro, Fabinho and Rodri—as you want them to play some part in the aerial game.
But sometimes a player's talent on the ball is so strong you can make a concession, and Verratti's smoothness in possession, ability to dictate play and the sheer impossibility of tackling him are worth the trade-off.
5'6" N'Golo Kante, Chelsea
Kante's another player who makes his height work to his advantage.
He bustles around the pitch, covering every blade of grass in deceptively quick fashion, slipping through small gaps to make tackles and squeezing away from markers when carrying the ball.
He's like a bowling ball, zipping from target to target to harass and dispossess, hitting with power and precision at the same time.
5'7" Lionel Messi, Barcelona
If selections from 5'3"-5'6" were easy, then 5'7" was a piece of cake. Who else for the best 5'7" player than arguably the best player in the world, Messi?
Like Insigne, he's used his small stature, low centre of gravity and quicker steps as a weapon against defenders, who constantly fall over themselves as they try to keep up with him.
His dribbling style of taking lots of little touches suits the fact he has smaller legs, and it's that lightning change of direction that helps him coast around attempted tackles.
5'8" Eden Hazard, Real Madrid
Our first genuinely difficult call to make. Everything up to this point was automatic, one player clearly out ahead of the rest, but 5'8" offers a few different options and almost forces you to drop a hot take.
We've gone for Hazard, who beats out fellow all-time Premier League great Sergio Aguero and Ballon d'Or winner Luka Modric for the spot.
Of the three, Hazard has perhaps the greatest natural talent, and is or has been considered the closest to the Messi/Cristiano Ronaldo bracket at times. His free-flowing form for Real Madrid right now helps the argument, too!
Honourable Mentions: Sergio Aguero, Luka Modric
5'9" Neymar, Paris Saint-Germain
Back to making easy calls. Peak Neymar is one of the best three players on the planet, and over the course of the 2019-20 season has hit those top levels fairly often.
His greatest nemesis is injury. The kicks and whacks he's suffered over the years are now taking their toll, but he's enjoyed a relatively healthy campaign, and PSG are reaping the rewards of it.
Honourable Mentions: Mohamed Salah, Sadio Mane
5'10" Kylian Mbappe, Paris Saint-Germain
Mbappe is no longer an elite prospect; he's an elite footballer, full stop.
His age (21) will ensure he'll continue to be referenced as a "youngster" or a "wonderkid," but that probably does him a disservice; it suggests there's plenty for him to do before he reaches the top, but he's already there, among the very best in the game.
The Frenchman's frame and height are about the perfect mix for his attributes, as he's tall enough to be a factor in the air but not so tall that it can derail his balance at full pelt.
Honourable Mention: David Alaba
5'11" Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City
De Bruyne uses his frame and height well, cultivating a powerful, direct dribbling style that utilises more strength than speed.
He's so good on the ball and so precise with his passing, the technical elements of his game probably wouldn't suffer if he was a foot taller or shorter either way, but when he moves with it you can see how he's moulded his style to his body.
Honourable Mentions: Roberto Firmino, Angel Di Maria
6'0" Robert Lewandowski, Bayern Munich
Hold up. Lewandowski is only 6'0"?
He looks and plays much taller; he can be dominant in the air, either from long balls or crosses. Lewandowski measuring out at 6'0" was this writer's biggest surprise when compiling the list.
At this height, he'll come in shorter than almost every centre-back he plays against, meaning huge credit goes to his athletic spring and timing, as those attributes are contributing towards a truck load of goals per year.
Honourable Mentions: Sergio Ramos, Toni Kroos
6'1" Cristiano Ronaldo, Juventus
There are times when Ronaldo looks about 6'4". Heck, there are times when it seems as though he's about 7'0" tall, what with the spring and hang time he's capable of. Remember that time he jumped above the crossbar to head a cross home?
6'1" is about the perfect height for Ronaldo's crosshatch of skills. Tall enough to be a constant threat in the air but not so tall that it hurts his agility, change of direction and ball skills. He supplements it all with top-tier physical conditioning, meaning he's still in peak form at age 35.
6'2" Harry Kane, Tottenham Hotspur
6'2" marks the start of goalkeeper territory. The very best between the sticks come into play from here, with Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Jan Oblak in the running for this nomination along with centre-back Kalidou Koulibaly, but a healthy Kane pips all of them to the prize.
Comparing ability levels across three starkly different positions is no easy task, so sometimes it's best to oversimplify the argument: If the hardest thing to do in football is score goals, perhaps the elite-tier striker is the sensible pick from this shortlist.
Kane's tall, well-built but also technically sound, making him the complete modern forward who can score every type of goal. If he has one weakness, it's his own injury record.
Honourable Mention: Kalidou Koulibaly
6'3" Paul Pogba, Manchester United
If Lewandowski plays bigger than his size (6'0"), Pogba perhaps plays smaller.
We say that not to point to a lack of physicality, aggression or aerial ability—he has plenty of all of those—but to highlight just how incredibly smooth he is on the ball. It doesn't feel right or fair that a man of such size should be able to glide across the pitch in such aesthetically pleasing fashion.
Pogba's combination of strength, size and technical ability make him an all-round midfielder. Post-lockdown football has reminded us just how much of a game-changer he can be, and that's in part because he uses all of his ability to his advantage.
Honourable Mention: Alisson Becker, Raphael Varane
6'4" Virgil van Dijk, Liverpool
Finally, our first outright defender gets the nod. Van Dijk looks and plays to every bit of his gigantic size; he's a man only a select few have got the better of in a physical contest over the last year or two.
Infuriatingly (for attackers), he has incredible top-end speed to go with his physicality and frame, plus perhaps the sharpest defensive brain in the game. He rolls all of that into one to become a one-man wall, and he's rightly recognised as the best centre-back in football by the large majority of fans.
6'5" Wojciech Szczesny, Juventus
One inch after nominating our first defender, we select out first goalkeeper: Szczesny, of Juventus, has developed wonderfully since leaving England, really maturing as a player and eradicating the lion's share of mistakes from his game.
The giant Pole moves deftly for his size, counting reflexes and agility among his strengths just as he does aerial reach and command of his box. The 6'5" range was mostly a contest of goalkeepers—we're getting a bit big for outfielders now—though Joel Matip was a contender.
Honourable Mentions: Gianluigi Donnarumma, Joel Matip
6'6" Thibaut Courtois, Real Madrid
One of the easiest picks of all was this one. If 6'5" is a bit big for outfielders, then 6'6" skews heavily towards goalkeepers. With the form Courtois has shown this season, his selection was automatic.
Real Madrid's charge for La Liga's title is based on defensive solidity and grit—a U-turn in style for the ages, given how they operated for the entire decade before—and Courtois' excellent performances between the sticks are a big part of that.
For reference, the best 6'6" outfielders are perhaps Jannik Vestergaard (Southampton) or Wout Weghorst (Wolfsburg), but they're nowhere near the Belgian's level.
6'7" Dan Burn, Brighton & Hove Albion
Burn bucks all assumed footballing logic. At 6'7" he towers over everyone on the pitch—he's a full seven inches taller than his own goalkeeper—and yet the position he most regularly occupies is...left-back.
It's not even as though he's playing for an overly defensive side, either; Brighton are a possession team who enjoy in excess of 50 per cent of the ball in most matches.
It makes no sense, yet it's working out OK. There's always an exception to the rule, we suppose.