Where Are all the 179-Centimeter Tall Soccer Players?

How much does height matter in soccer?

In Wednesday’s semifinal, Spain was considerably smaller than the German team (average height on Spain’s 23-man squad: 180.91 cm; average German height: 184.48 cm), and Puyol‘s header was perhaps most impressive because of his unimpressive height.

Still, there would seem to be clear advantages to height (and we know that bigger players are more desirable among youth-league coaches).

The question is open to further analysis. But here’s a simpler conclusion that seems solid: the appearance of height apparently matters quite a bit.

A reader in Norway named Christian Sørensen examined the height statistics for all players in the 2010 World Cup and found an interesting anomaly: there seemed to be unnaturally few players listed at 169, 179, and 189 centimeters and an apparent surplus of players who were 170, 180, and 190 centimeters tall (roughly 5-foot-7 inches, 5-foot-11 inches, and 6-foot-3 inches, respectively). Here are the data:


It’s hard to imagine that players and teams wouldn’t exaggerate their height (it sure happens in basketball), whether for the purpose of intimidation or merely self-esteem. Christian’s discovery may not be earth-shattering, or even remotely important, but it does remind me of the nifty analysis by Joseph Grundfest and Nadya Malenko that identified companies who massage their earnings via their aversion to the number 4.

Robert Zieger

At what point does "the hidden side of everything" really just mean "of no consequence whatsoever and not really worth mentioning"?

I earned $29,000 a year last year. I tend to tell people I make $30,000. Slyly manipulating the data to achieve some advantage? Nope. It's called rounding up.

I got a raise and will make $31,000 next year. And if people ask, I still tell them I make $30,000.

Similarly, I couldn't tell you what I weigh. I know that it's roughly 170 pounds. Good enough for me. If I actually weigh 172, I assure you that my self-reported 170 has no "hidden side".

Why would there have to be anything more to the story than soccer players listing a nice round number, especially given that a centimeter is a tiny quantity, quite a bit less than a half an inch?

This is all stunningly uninteresting.


190 cm is a lot more than 6'3."

John Lynch

Does Arnold Schwarzenegger still claim to be 6'2" tall?

Giovanni Ciriani

The graph's horizontal axis skips 199.

Dave Jones

Final digits 9 & 1 are underrepresented. 0 is overrepresented.

Final digits 4 & 6 are underrepresented. 5 is overrepresented.

It's just rounding.


I think this is a bit of nonsense. The graph has numerous valley + spike patterns in it. And they're not all just around the 9-10 mark.

Giovanni Ciriani

The spiked height distribution is clearly an artifact of the conversion from inches to centimeters. If you look at the following conversion table, you can predict which heights in cm will spike.

In the conversion graph, all dots (height in cm) that are close to a height in inches are the ones spiking. The conversion graph also explains why certain heights double dip: for instance 176 and 177. If we assume that some heights were originally supplied in cm and other heights were originally supplied in inches, the rounding before conversion would explain the graph. Ac actually it should be possible to calculate what percentage of heights came in cm and what percentage came in inches.


Gerry S and Chris have it.

The first 8 spikes of the graph are at 168, 170, 173, 175, 178, 180, 183, and 185 cm. If you convert heights from inches to centimeters and round, those correspond to 5'6, 5'7, 5'8, 5'9, 5'10, 5'11, 6', and 6'1, respectively (167.64, 170.18, 172.72, 152.26, 177.80, 180.34, 182.88, and 185.42 cm).

Above that it's less clear. 6'2 = 187.96 cm rounds to 188, but the next spike is at 187. The last spike is at 190, which could come from 6'3 = 190.50 cm, if they rounded down.


Soccer players need not be tall. What the need is agility and fleetnes!


you don`t get a lot of tall fragile limbed people playing hockey.if really tall they are also really talented.


As a woman who is just shy of 6 feet tall, I've noticed that most men between 5'10" and 6 feet say they're 6 feet tall. I think being 6' sounds more impressive than being 5'11", and it's close enough most people won't notice.

I suspect 170 and 180cm are similar "milestones" that men, soccer players or not, round up to.


And is it possible that Roger Federer is the same height and weight as Rafael Nadal (as recorded on www.wimbledon.org, presumably based on self-reports)? Seems awfully hard to believe.

Dean Keaton

Another reason not to care about soccer.


I have my own saying: "all American men lie about their height (including me)".

I have met guys who say they're 5'9" and are my height, and I'd say I'm 5'7.5", when I'm under 5'7".

Check drivers' licenses, and measure guys without sox on and standing against a door jamb using a level (with the water bubble in it) so that they don't say you're putting the ruler on a downward slant.

Reality is tough.

chris hauser

i'm 5'10 and 3/4, and want to say i'm ashamed to have always said 5'11." i console myself by imagining it's easier for all concerned.

there are trees that are much shorter now by the gross column inches of newsprint.......


I am 6'5 1/2". Back in 1975 a professional basketball player listed as 6'9" moved into the building I was living in. I never met him, though one day while I was collecting the mail, the postman who said he had, told me that we were about the same height.

Alex Dering

Wouldn't it make more sense to lie about height downwards? Imagine the shattering of a 6' player's estimate when someone claiming to be 5' 3" takes him to school?


I remember Charles Barkley list at 6' 6'' when he was 6' 41/2'' in real life. Magic at 6' 9'' when he was 6'8'' as I recall. Kareem would grow an inch or two when he reach n the playoff in some announcers scripts. many a "7' center" would be closer to 6' 10'' in reality. In soccer, it should not be as much of a factor, why bother?

Douglas Stone

And Bill Walton is most certainly 7'2", but listed at 6'11" to sound more athletic.

jerry sloan

Also: measure the foot size, the circumference of the head, the length of the left toe, and the square inches of the right ear. All this is extremely important. And if you don't reach any positive conclusions, start measuring again!!!