This is a gushy love letter to the world’s short soccer players

This piece of “writing” you’re looking at, or more likely are about to click away from, is a love letter to the world’s short soccer players: the diminutive dribblers, the tiny technicians and the petite spark plugs, who zip about the field, barely able to look out over the ball.

But first, I have a confession:

Hi, my name is Leander and I’m a tall person.

Rest of the circle in church basement: “Hiii, Leeeandeeer.”

I’ll admit it, I’m vertically challenged. In that dumbass non-metric system, I fall somewhere between 6-foot-2 and 6-foot-3, because it’s a dumbass non-metric system that measures people by feet and 12th of feet. (Shouldn’t those logically be called “toes”, rather than “inches”?) Anyway, I’m tall, albeit not super tall. Not like the 7 footer a doctor predicted I would become when I hit 6 foot at just 12. Thankfully, he was off by nine or ten toes, because I always sucked at basketball and volleyball is the worst.

I should probably mention that I hail from the tallest country in the world. At a meter and 88 centimeters, I’m only a little taller than my average countryman from the Netherlands, who stands at 1.82 meters – in spite of mass immigration from other, stubbier nations, whose elfin people are shrinking our gangly gene pool. We like to make fun of Wesley Sneijder, our national playmaker, who stands 1.70 m (5-foot-7). As the joke goes, he’s so short he could trip over a postage stamp.

But while I’m super good at grabbing things from high places and peering over crowds, I envy the short person. I envy him when I’m in a Not Economy Comfort/Plus/RoomierButPricier plane seat for longer than 14 minutes. I envy him when I give myself yet another sub-concussive blow by ramming my deceptively long (and growing) forehead into previously hidden crossbeams. I envy him most of all when he dribbles a soccer ball.

Here’s a riddle for all the morons who think America would win the World Cup if only all the professional ellipsis-tossers and hoopshooters played soccer: how many players over 6 foot – or 170 pounds, for that matter – are any good at dribbling? Not very many. Because the further your feet are from your face, the harder it becomes to run with a ball at your feet while looking at it with your face. Because of foot-eye coordination and centers of gravity, or something. #explanatoryjournalism.

My deep and abiding affection for the smallest of soccerers was sparked by Edgar Davids, the 5-foot-7 midfield enforcer of my beloved mid-90s Ajax teams. He was nicknamed “The Pit Bull” and he chewed and gnawed on opponents until all that remained was a sad pile of leftover bones. Davids towered over some of the other players I fell hard for, sparking a one-sided love affair with pocket-sized playmakers and wee wingers.

It’s hard to explain, exactly, but my fascination is probably underpinned by the David-Goliath dichotomy. As a Goliath, I’m endlessly amazed when David gets anything done. It feels like every time a little player does something of importance on the field, it’s a miracle of physics and biology, defying Chuck Darwin himself.

Imagine my delight when I learned that all 5-foot-5 of forward Sebastian Giovinco will be coming to Major League Soccer to do his soccering at Toronto FC. Giovinco will, at $7 million a year, be the league’s best-paid player – especially when calculated by inch. If he had needed more money to come to Canada, I would happily have given it to him from my own pocket, just to share a continent with him.

If you’re unfamiliar with Giovinco, go find him on, where he’ll delight you for the next few hours, provided you can stand that much techno. He is a whirl of stubby legs, running circles around defenders, leaving deep, steaming ruts in opposing halves.

But let’s not forget the other delights little people, those fantastical footballing creatures, bring to our lives. The asymmetrical team pictures; the comedic pre-game panning of all the players during anthems, when the cameraman invariably has to crouch for that one short one; the nicknames.

Oh, the nicknames. Real Salt Lake’s Ecuadorian forward Joao Plata (5-foot-2) has been dubbed the MosQuito. They get better. Romario (5-foot-5) was simply “O Baixinho,” which more or less means “Shorty.” Others, translated from their native tongues are “Duster” (Pablo Piatti, 5-foot-4), “The Magic Elf” (Ludovic Giuly, 5-foot-5), “The Little Rabbit” (Javier Saviola, 5-foot-6), “Little Bike” (Mathieu Valbuena, 5-foot-4), and “Fluff” (Diego Maradona, 5-foot-5, in some countries, apparently). And, of course, Giovinco is the “The Atomic Ant.”

Come on. The Atomic Ant. That is the apex of our civilization. To borrow from Hunter S. Thompson, “you can almost see the high-water mark – that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”