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Small has its place in the beautiful game

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Jim Spence | 15:04 UK time, Friday, 30 September 2011

Many of Scotland's finest footballers have been "Wee Men".

Players cast in that very Scottish mould of being vertically challenged, but magnificent on the ball.

However, while they may have been small, there was nothing lacking with the size of their hearts or their playing ability.

In giving a first international call up to the prodigiously talented Danny Swanson and cementing Barry Bannan's place in the Scotland squad, boss Craig Levein has turned the clock back to an era when one question and one question only needed to be answered in picking a player.

"Can he play?"

With "wee" Jimmy Johnstone and "wee" Willie Henderson and countless other small players at every club in the land, the answer in the past was an emphatic yes.

You'll all remember players at your own club who fit the bill.

Dundee United midfielder Danny Swanson

Swanson was spotted by Levein while playing in the lower leagues with Berwick Rangers

But over the years as our football sought to recreate land of the giants, those who were small in stature, but big in raw talent and ability were not cast for starring roles.

Instead they were frozen out by the "Big Men".

How often have you heard the cry from football managers and fans alike: "We need a big striker"?

For too long our football has taken a narrow view of what makes a footballer.

At Barcelona, the home of perhaps the three greatest talents in world football in Messi, Xavi and Iniesta, size doesn't matter.

Even in the heart of defence the hugely talented Carlos Puyol stands at just five foot ten.

That would give many coaches a severe twitch.

After all, everyone knows you have to be six foot plus to play centre half don't they?

Not Barca boss Pep Guardiola, who instead asks the question "Can he play?"

Not is he tall enough but does he have good spring in his legs.

Not is he big enough, but does he read the game and take up good position.

Not is he 14 stone, but does he have tenacity and drive and character.

In recent times many in football have made the decision that being athletic meant being over six foot and able to run all day.

Thus a generation of Danny Swanson's and Barry Bannan's, tall on talent but short on inches, have plied their trade at lower levels and been lost to the game at the top flight.

Yet, those two are perfect examples of the kind of athleticism required in football.

With low centres of gravity and exquisite balance they can dance past opponents.

With snake-hipped changes of direction, and lightning-quick feet they can leave bigger players trailing in their wake.

Both can skip over the ground leaving heavier defenders flat-footed and have greater mobility than many of the big, lumbering giants classed as "athletic" by coaches with closed minds.

In picking Bannan and Swanson, Levein has gone back to the future.

As manager at Dundee United he spotted Swanson at Berwick Rangers and knew he was watching a player of craft, guile and sheer ability.

Swanson delights the eye and the senses.

He and Bannan are in the finest Scottish traditions of the "Tanner Ba'" player.

Both are blessed with great natural ability, but both have worked tirelessly to hone their skills.

And in reaching the top they have both had to battle against the prejudice of an industry which looks at size first and ability last.

In looking only at the ability of the players, the Scotland boss has embraced the philosophy if you're good enough you're big enough.

And in doing so he, along with both players, stands tall.


  • Comment number 1.

    can't wait for another promising youngster of smaller stature to play for scotland in tom cairney of hull city

  • Comment number 2.

    I agree he is an exciting prospect. I also like David Templeton at Hearts.

  • Comment number 3.

    Bannan's a great prospect, he was the stand out player against Lithuania recently. I sincerely hope that he plays in the next two, we need ball players to get the ball into Kenny Miller's runs. We sorely missed him against Lithuania too.

  • Comment number 4.

    Dear me Jim, you're getting carried away here with your over the top praise of Craig Levein.

    This is the same man who opted for a 1-10 formation in Prague, remember, and he has had plenty of big players in his teams both at club level and international level.

    I think both are good players but let's not get carried away with praise for Levein until we see how things progress, after all what has he won ?

  • Comment number 5.

    Not sure anyone was advocating that a whole team of midgets is the way forward but in the midfield area certainly size matters less than others. But what exactly do you expect him to win? I certainly wouldn't like to go back to the feartie ye oldie squad culture of Roxburgh and Broon era who were both far too concerned with their personal win/loss record and didn't seem to blood anyone below age 30. Leaving a hapless Vogts to try masses of untried young players..

    Players like Swanson and Bannon are a welcome addition if more creativity is what is required. They both offer more in this department than Brown can and certainly have more pace than Charlie Adam.

    Personally, I would also like to see both Fletcher and O'Connor back in as well.

  • Comment number 6.

    Doesnae matter how tall or small you are ......are you any good?. Wee Jimmy Johnstone played 40 years ago, Pat Nevin 15 years ago! All our yesterdays again

    The Barcelona players are exeptional but protected by the new tackling rules.

    Play the 'wee diddys' versus Lichenstein and see how they perform against the minnows.Tricky match for Scotland because Lichenstein were robbed last time (7 minutes of extra time played at Hampden was wrong)

  • Comment number 7.

    I help out with a youth team .... EVERY WEEK is a battle to battle to get the smaller players a place in the team ..... comments like "he's too slow", "he's not strong enough", "we need more height in the box", "he struggles to kick the ball far enough" freely roll off the tongues of managers as justification.

    Scottish football is more than a decade off changing attitudes at grass roots level, parents LOVE the tall strong players running yard after yard (with no skill involved) leaving smaller players struggling to catch up .... Coaches LOVE the tall players doing exactly the same. Comments every week from parents and coaches like "we need the strong players in the team" at 12, 13 or 14 years old is rife in boys football.

    Its so soul destroying watching players run about like headless chicken getting so much praise just for being able to run fast!

    100% true story ..... 2 years ago, Gussie Park, Dundee, a regional select trial game, the SFA Regional Development Officer who I'll spare his blushes by omitting his name, was encouraging a player to pick the ball up just outside his own box and 'run' with it. The player was absolute knackered after the 1st third but still encouraged the whole game to keep 'running'.

    Disgracefully the small players received ONLY 5 minutes each of the last third and all made to play up front regardless of their preference. There was tears at the end from some of the smaller players only for the regional development officer to say "Oh I thought you had played the full 1st third" despite he had full list of names ticking them off as they played. They were judged on that 5 minutes that they had not made the regional squad.

    Here was a hugely influential figure in youth development wearing SFA badges reinforcing the Scottish mentality that you need to be lucky enough to be tall as a youngster and therefore be able to run faster than average to be good at football.

    I've no doubt there has been hundreds of youngsters like Danny Swanson who have been discarded by scouts before even being invited for trial with senior teams just because of their height!

    Despite the success of players like Messi, Tevez etc I guarantee you pick a public park in Dundee next Sunday and watch any boys team in the range of 12-16 year old and 90% of the teams will all put the 'wee man' on for the last 5/10 minutes to give him a run-a-bout ..... soul destroying because you usually find they have very good ball control and can actually pass from a to b!

  • Comment number 8.

    As a long standing Well supporter we can point to Dixie deans (V2) as a great example of small being good - Dougie Arnott as well adds to the view that size does not matter (my wife can confirm).

    As an aside where size does matter is just how big a plonker you can possibly be - @6 please step forward - you dwarf Lorenzo Amaruso and Tripod (Doddy Weir). For 50 years England have not won anything more than Scotland have despite 10 times the population so net-net your performance is actually much worse than ours - no matter how you dress it up - diddy team, you bet.

    To be honest - I am glad Tom Slabber posts here - it just brings into focus the little englander mindset that demonstrates the inferiority complex we all know you have - keep it up - we are laughing at you not with you.

  • Comment number 9.

    my little brother was player of the season 3 years running for his local team at cb and played at a regional level but once his friends shot up in height and he didnt he struggled to play and so eventually quit the team.

  • Comment number 10.

    Nearly all the best players in the history of the game, whether domestically or on the internation front, have been under 6 feet.

    "In recent times many in football have made the decision that being athletic meant being over six foot and able to run all day."

    When I've made that point on other blogs regarding Scottish football, my candour has got me in right sticky stuff.

  • Comment number 11.

    Perhaps you need to read my post again.

    Having stated that both Bannan and Swanson are good players you will not my gripe was about Jims effusive praise of Craig Levein not about the history of "wee" Scottish players either past or present.

    I have posted many times complaining about the overemphasis on height and the negative tactics employed by Craig Brown in particular although Walter Smith was also guilty but that was exactly the tactic used by Levein when he decided on a policy of total defence.

    I don't expect him to win anything as Scotland manager but, despite Jims praise what did he win at Dundee Utd.?

    I watch Barcelona on a regular basis and believe that's how football should be played but they do have players of exceptional talent as well as being brilliantly organised.

    Would have no objection to Fletcher playing but not O'Connor.

  • Comment number 12.

    #5 "not" should of course read note !! Apologies.

  • Comment number 13.

    4 morbhoy

    Any Praise for Craig Levein in the blog was secondary to his decision to use players like Bannan and Swanson regardless of their physical build.

    My point is that smaller players are regularly overlooked and indeed discriminated against as Purplepen at 7 has alluded to.

    That said, Levein may have won nothing at Tannadice but he restored a sense of purpose at the club and paid particular attention to rebuilding the youth system.

  • Comment number 14.

    #13 Jim Spence

    Jim, I don't rate Levein as a manager and I thought you were generous with your praise but I'm happy to accept your points regarding rebuilding the youth system and restoring a sense of purpose.

    I didn't comment on the main theme at #4 as Icould have gone on forever.

    Size shouldn't matter but sadly it does and it has always been thus. I have less than fond memories of being overlooked by a preference for players who were bigger than me both in Scotland and in England.
    There are positions which demand some height, especially in these days of 6ft7in strikers but I was disappointed not to say annoyed when Gordon Strachan, no giant himself, wrote off Ross Wallace as being "too wee" to play LB having converted him from the left wing and then froze him out.
    Good to se that Wallace has been successful at both Preston and Burnley in midfield or on the wing.

    Bannan in particular looks a really good player and it's good to see him get the opportunity at Villa as well as with Scotland.

    Over the years we've been treated to the delights of Johnstone, Henderson,et al who somehow managed to survive the days of real "hard men" and prove that skill would win the day.

    Barcelona, as you say, are the perfect example. They have recruited players of immense ability who all play football the way it was meant to be played and are a delight to watch. Thank goodness for SKY and Easyjet making it easier to watch them nowadays.

    Ability should be the determining factor always, if you can play it doesn't matter what size you are just as it doesn't matter how old you are.

  • Comment number 15.

    Fair enough but I'm not sure winning something is a damming criticism. He had a decent record at Hearts and DUtd and did very well with what resources he had. I very much doubt either of the present OF managers for example would win anything at any other SPL club, when they so obviously struggle against even very modest Euro opposition. In fact I doubt even SAF would manage it now.

  • Comment number 16.

    lets be honest, with a country of 5m you have to make the very best of whatever talent you have available. and grow and encourage that talent as bes you can.

    i have heard good things about swanson but i am a sligt sceptic due to levein's proneness to calling up players from dundee utd. kenneth, dixon, and maybe even conway were favoured because of personal relations between levein.

    bannan and naismith linked together amazingly against lithuania. both wee guys. we have to stick to doing what we can do best. personally i'd like to see adam and fletcher in holding roles beside each other so we can have the freedom to really cut loose the creative clout of naismiith morrison and bannan in the midfield. levein has yet to do this. the 4141 tends to reduce the atacking freedom.

    we have more small ball playing midfielders at our dispaosal than anything else so we should stick to what we're good at.

    what do people think are the cahnces of s fletcher being called up if miller is out? does anyone know why garry caldwell is not in the squad despite playing for wigan today??

  • Comment number 17.

    oops just realised he is on the end of the list there.. does anyone think there might have been justification for faddy on the bench against spain even if he's not fit. if we need something from nothing

  • Comment number 18.

    Scotland are a glorified pub team, but why must they insist on picking players whose great-great grand-aunts once went on holiday to Scotland in 18-hundred and whenever.

    How can anyone from Scotland cheer on players like Kris Commons (basically, a pub player from England who couldn't even cut it at Championship level)?

    Wait until Gary Hooper opts to represent Scotland, once he realises he'll never be good enough to play for England (not that you have to be that good to represent them).

  • Comment number 19.

    But they can at least try and be better and some of the new structural reforms and personnel changes reflect that. Football is a 'broad church' of styles. Can't all be Spain!

    I'm sure you can give an actual example of this ancestral player. Choosiing diaspora is fine with me.

    They cheer on their team, what else would you expect.

    Hooper represents England.

  • Comment number 20.

    That was of course for #18!

  • Comment number 21.

    19. At 22:35 1st Oct 2011, Rob04 wrote:

    No, of course I can't name a Scottish footballer who represented that region of the UK courtesy of having their great-great grand-aunt visiting the Scottish region of Britain.

    That was, quite clearly, hyperbole.

    Unfortunately, the Scotland football ''faithful'' have humiliated themselves in cheering on an English pub team player, like Kris Commons.

    Any ''national'' pride in the Scotland football team has been lost over the last few years, when they pick non-Scots who may have had a grandmother from that British region.

  • Comment number 22.

    England's an extremely poor national team, but once Gary Hooper realises he's not even good enough for that team, then he'll be attempting to play for Scotland as quick as you can say ''Jack Robinson''.

    You mark my words!

  • Comment number 23.

    I laugh at comments from english people saying we need their english counterparts in our team as they wouldnt get in their english team and that we rely on them having a great grandma who lived in scotland for a day to qualify them to become Scottish. When about 3/4 of the English team is from a different continent and is full of immigrants of the past 10-20 years.

  • Comment number 24.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 25.

    When the French team won the World Cup in 1998 HALF the team were born in Africa

    Bob Wilson played for Scotland years ago and he was born in England

    Scotland have been searching outside thier wee diddy pool for players for decades.Stuart McCall in the 90's...etc

    Craig Levein stated he will examine all the ancestory line (great grandparents who escaped Scotland for a better life elsewhere).

    How sad for the young players growing up in Scotland that non born Scots are being given a chance to play for a team ranked 55th in Europe.

  • Comment number 26.

    #23 These players were born in England k..bhead!

    Look a facts not Scottish prejudice !.

    The Spanish team had a Brazialian born player, Germany have Polish born players,France continually picks African botn players.Portugal had Deco who was born in Brazil agmonst others.

    Scotland , Ireland and Wales continually raid thier great grandparents route bald heade men and combs springs to mind

    Play the young born Scots and see how they perform against Lichenstein should bbe interesting (last time it 7 minutes of extra time to scrap a win)

  • Comment number 27.

    #6 #26

    Give it a rest mate.

    First point on your whinging about the 7 minutes extra-time in the game vs Liechtenstein at Hampden. Obviously you have forgotten the challenge on Lee Wallace that required him being stretchered off early in the second half, resulting in 5 minutes extra time. And if you've chose to forget that, then undoubtedly you'll have forgotten the constant barrage of late challenges on our players during said extra time which resulted in the free-kick which eventually led to the corner and winning goal. Nobody was happy with the way we won that match, but it's 3 points at the end of the day.

    Second point, on the non-born Scots. Ideally I'd have 11 players born within this nation, but FIFA rules will change and we'll do all we can to succeed - just take the Irish under Jack Charlton to the present day. It does get a bit annoying seeing someone not born here getting a game ahead of players who are maybe more deserving, for example Russell Martin (Norwich) ahead of Mark Wilson (Celtic) who was a standout last season. But then you get guys like Morrison and Bardsley who have more than proved their commitment to the cause. In some cases players will accept a call-up as effectively it will boost their CV and get them a big move elsewhere, but treat every case differently. I'd rather have Salford-born Bardsley at left-back than Stephen Crainey any day of the week, for example.

  • Comment number 28.

    "How sad for the young players growing up in Scotland that non born Scots are being given a chance to play for a team ranked 55th in Europe."

    55th in Europe?! Ha ha! There's only 53 members of UEFA...I know Scotland aren't great but surely they aren't so bad that they rank 55 out of 53 teams!

  • Comment number 29.

    To be fair to Levein, regarding the Dundee Utd squad, that was the first match and it stands to reason he might have squad players that he knows. In numerous interviews since, he has said he has a better idea now of the players he has available. I was however, surprised that Gary Kenneth started that match.

    I too wondered about S.Fletcher being called up but I think it is unlikely. Seems to be an impasse between men who should know better. Agent should be doing his job here.

  • Comment number 30.

    David Villa why are you actually on here? Away n find a blog about England, just because it's the BBC doesn't mean your spiteful comments are welcome on a blog about Scotland. I for one was born in England to Scottish parents and moved back up here as quick as I could, one reason being to escape the arrogant English. Seems I didn't manage it.

    By the way, John Barnes? Jamaican born? Good luck hiding in your glass house

  • Comment number 31.

    At first I thought "at least soul-villa can express himself coherently" unlike another poster.. but then he goes on to repeat and contradict himself. If Scotland are a glorified pub team would it not stand make sense to cheer a pub player? I share your opinion that he is not the highest profile player in the world but I don't think he failed at championship level. Scotland do not have a plethora of left sided wingers to choose from, a hardship we have shared with England. I think were the FIFA rules to change most English fans would have Bale in the squad even if his only link with England was he had watched a film surtitled in English.
    I don't feel sorry for young players growing up having to work harder for a chance. Apathy is a blight on many potential stars of all of the United Kingdom. Most sports feature players representing countries they were not born in. There are many things football fans can do to humiliate themselves. I doubt cheering is one you would find on the family fortunes board.

  • Comment number 32.

    What about management David Villa? I for one disagree with foreign international managers. We have hopefully left behind the Berti Vogts era for good, and with the amount of world class Scottish managers currently operating at the highest level, we don't exactly need to go back down that route. Ingerland are currently managed by an Italian, does that not devalue anything they achieve? It does in my eyes, not that scrapping with Montenegro for top of your group is much of an achievement given the delusions of grandeur which the Ingerlish are susceptible to. It's only a stepping stone to Euro 2012 glory don'cha know!

  • Comment number 33.

    What,s this obsession we have in scotland about height.
    A premier league manager a few years ago when talking to a 14 yr old prospect asked who was with him.My dads outside the laddie informed him.The manager promptly went outside and checked out how tall the father was.I know this as fact.
    After all Paul Hegarty & Eric Black both under 6ft were rarely beaten when the baa was in the air.Some 6ft plus players you could not get a credit card under their feet when attempting to jump.Anyways the gemme is meant to be played on the deck is it not? The 2007 uefa cup final was played on terrible wet n windy hampden night.Seville & Espanyol served up a cracking game with the ball rarely leaving the turf.
    #7 Your comments are bang on but have fallen on deaf ears for donkeys.
    The odd wee yin like bannon that slips the net,has ability.The problem is he cannot express himself to the max playing in a 5 man midfield.Get him further up the park to hurt teams.
    #6 The funny man again. The barca players are exceptional, but its not the rules that made them that way is it???? Or did i detect a (WHEN ARE WE GONNA GET A KICK OH THE BAA)when terry,lampard,ferdinand rooney etc come up against barca or spain?????

  • Comment number 34.

    Billy Dodds one of the finest headers of the ball I ever saw. I would also like to see Scotland try two deep midfielders. Charlie Adam has said he would most like to play sweeper. This position doesn't really exist anymore but it is because his awareness of players is more 180 degree than 360. This is his weakness not his just under average pace.

  • Comment number 35.

    jim u blether a load of tosh as they say up there i think. u should write for the beano or dandy. levein is hopeless we should have walked out this section. we need to win two games and we have as many goalies as forwards in a 25 man squad. our two top forwards are nowhere near the squad. to get in u must be english or playing in england,old firm or have or have had arab or tart connections. 25 players divided into 3 categories. amazing !!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 36.

    I read these blogs regularly and rarely feel the need to comment but I have to say "Tom Slaford" clearly uses this as an opportunity to spew his racial hatred for Scotland. I don't undertand why Tom feels the need to hang around Scottish orientated chat rooms, do us all a favour and nip back across the border ;)

    On the note of utilisng dual nationality players , England are as bad as anyone else - Owen Hargreaves, Tony Dorigo, Brian Stein, Rob Jones, John Salako, Cyrille Regis, Graham Le Saux, Matt le Tissier, Cyrille Regis, John Barnes oh and wait for it 77 capped former England CAPTAIN who was born in Singapore... TERRY BUTCHER.

  • Comment number 37.

    More hot-air from you Jim. In one of your blogs last year you claimed that if Iniesta and Xavi had have been Scottish then they would have never made it. Not quite sure what Shaun Maloney and a multitude of other vertically challenged Scottish pro-footballers have managed to do that Xavi can't, but I'll let you tell me in your next column. Is it just me or has scotland always had more than its fair share of small footballers. As you and everyone else keeps telling us, its not size that counts its how good you are - but our midgets are just as bad as our bruisers.

    Btw - Swanson is average. I know that anytime a player with a Dundee clubs gets in the Scotland team yo guys call it a public holiday, but jeezo, they guy is 'spl average' at best!

  • Comment number 38.

    #29.. i think you were reponding to me after that massive insane hijacking from the english lobby. england tinted vision is laughable. owen hargreaves, born in canada, kevin pietersen born south africa, manu tuilagi born in samoa.. ha ha ha i suppose you think all fans of all english sports are a disgrace too... well maybe only because of their ignorance ;)... it's this sort of think why everyone else loves to beat you. you think you are always in the right... we scots still support our teams through thick and thin and support their cause fully.

    i really cannot see swanson playing.. given his age i do think he is less of a prospect than say templeton or ness, i do think it's a touch of arab vision from levein.. after this long in the job he really should know of every player eligible to play for scotland. players like lee wallace and ross mccormack maybe a bit overlooked with is spl vision. maybe swanson is the bees knees and i do know he can be a stand out player for dundee.. i guess if he measures up against the squad then sure give him a shot.

    people shouldn't be knocking our team so much.. ok we are no world beaters but vogts would have sold his sould for the squad we have now.. we are improving.. fletcher, adam, morrison, hutton, gordon, bannan, mcarthur, caldwell, berra, mcfadden, bardsley, goodwillie, maloney, martin, wilson, hanley etc play in the EPL and gliks, s caldwell, crainey etc were there last season.. we have headed in a better direction with repect to talent pool. we have to be brutally honest though levein in the first instance was not ready for international management and blew it early on. it was mainly fear that meant we drew at hampden against the czechs tho.

  • Comment number 39.

    hey jim its looking like kenny miller is doubtful what you suggest swanson upfront !!!!!

  • Comment number 40.

    i actually meant ross wallace not lee.. oh and sold his soul.. S fletcher, S dobbie in epl too as i'm sat here waiting for 180 seconds to pass. naismith and mcgregor could too for sure

  • Comment number 41.

    Big Fletcher is scoring for Wolves. Time he was allowed back.
    I look forward to letting our new generation of attackers have free reign against Liechtenstein. No matter what happens next week, we need to be ready for the WC campaign. Levein cannot screw that up with a poor start.


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