Search the Site

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.