Soccer — now there’s a sport where short guys can really shine!
Yes, the average pro footballer still clocks in at about six feet tall (and goalies even taller than that), but that’s nothing compared to the giants you’ll find in basketball, American football, hockey and even on the baseball diamond.
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While size and physicality are valuable in almost every sport, no contest rewards agility, toughness and technical skills quite like soccer does. Which makes it the perfect outlet for exceptional short athletes.
The 15 Shortest Soccer Players of All Time
Here’s the list…
1. Élton José Xavier Gomes
A midfielder with an absolutely minuscule frame, you won’t find many shorter pro athletes than Élton who aren’t jockeys!
Known as an outstanding dribbler capable of slicing through even the toughest defenses, Élton has carved out a lengthy and ongoing career as a dynamic scorer. He even helped Saudi Arabian club Al-Fateh capture its first ever title in 2013.
Though he hasn’t reached levels of fame that reach beyond the soccer community, fans of the game know all about Élton’s heart and talent.
2. Daniel Alberto Villalva Barrios
Locked in a heated battle with Élton for the shortest footballer of his generation is Villalva, the 5’1” sparkplug who currently plays forward for Veracruz.
Villalva was born to play soccer, getting his start on a high-level youth team at just the age of 10. Before he even turned 17, he made his pro debut with the River Plate football club. He scored his first pro goal just a few months later.
Soon enough, he was a bona fide star, making the most of his diminutive size and becoming a fast fan favorite.
3. Marcin Garuch
Garuch, the Polish midfielder, currently plays for Miedz Legnica and is one of the smallest active footballers in the world.
He has extraordinary technical skills and quickness to make up for his lack of size, and he’s known as a deadly passer and distributor.
4. Jafal Rashed Al-Kuwari
Finally, an old guy! Though Al-Kuwari retired in 2009, he left a substantial impact on the international game of soccer as one of the shortest players to ever compete.
Another fierce and dynamic midfielder, Al-Kuwari is probably best known for his time captaining the Qatar national team from 1992 to 2002. These days, he’s a spokesman for the Al Sadd football club in Qatar.
5. Samuel Peter Lee
The Liverpool Legend, Sammy Lee enjoyed a long and decorated career as one of the smallest soccer players in the entire world — and a damned good one!
The midfielder spent most of his playing years with Liverpool, but hopped around to a few different clubs in his heyday. He even spent a few years with the England national team and went on to become a successful team manager and caretaker.
6. Benedict Vilakazi
If they weren’t mostly midfielders, these 5’1” guys could have gotten together and fielded a pretty fierce squad!
Vilakazi, another honorable mention in the race for shortest footballer of all time, was known as “Little Napoleon” by his South African teammates in reference to his tough leadership. And he was tough on the field, too, known for a physical and intense style of play.
While exceptionally talented, much of Vilakazi’s later career was unfortunately marred by legal trouble and disciplinary issues, but he still earns a spot on our list for going toe to toe with much larger athletes throughout a successful stint in the pros.
7. Madson Formagini Caridade
The Brazilian Madson, though short in stature, has held up exceptionally well over a long career.
He kicked off his youth career in 2004 with Volta Redonda but didn’t last long before catching the eye of decision makers at the next level.
Madson began his senior career in 2006 with Vasco da Gama and has since played all over the globe, developing a reputation as a relentless attacker and exceptional set piece artist.
8. Maximiliano Moralez
Moralez bounced around international leagues for years after beginning his senior career in 2005.
Though he stands just 5’3”, it seemed everyone from FC Moscow to Atalanta B.C. wanted a piece of the talented attacking midfielder nicknamed “Frasquito.”
In 2017, he ended up earning a coveted spot on the New York City MLS club and has quickly left many of his taller opponents wishing he had stayed abroad!
9. Levi Porter
One of the great English wingers of his era, Porter was entrusted with a spot on the English national team when he was just a teenager.
From there, he went on to author a sterling (and still-going-strong career), known as an outstanding ball handler, passer, and team leader.
For a time, he was the shortest player in the entire Premier League, but easily earned a reputation not to be overlooked.
10. Rui Gil Soares de Barros
Everyone from Portugal knows Barros, the 5’3” attacking midfielders that owns not only an exceptional Premira Liga statsheet, but a wonderful run on the Portuguese national team as well.
During the 1987-88 season, Barros helped FC Porto complete one of the best seasons in club history — including a number of international cup wins — and was named Portuguese Footballer of the Year for his efforts.
11. Diego Maradona
Maradona was known, in his time, as a human highlight reel.
An exceptional dribbler with amazing agility, Maradona could split defenders with ease, racking up goals and assists throughout a magnificent senior career.
He also piled up a whopping 91 caps, playing in four FIFA World Cups and performing his best under the brightest spotlights.
After all of that? He’s probably best known for his “Goal of the Century” in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal, considered by many to be one of the best goals of all time.
12. Jorge Campos
While soccer can be a short man’s game at times, goalkeeping is the exception. To be a great goalie, you have to be over six feet tall.
At least, that’s what people thought until Jorge Campos showed up.
The Mexican footballer absolutely dazzled inside the goal, churning out amazing athletic saves with ease and regularity. He was also a great strategist and leader, causing soccer fans to remember him as one of the greatest goalies in history.
Did we mention he was only 5’6”, more than six inches shorter than your average goalie?
One of the all-time greats, regardless of height, position or era, Xavi belongs on every pro-soccer best-of list imaginable.
A brilliant tactician, the Spanish midfielder racked up more pelts on his wall than just about any of his contemporaries. He won a Silver medal, a FIFA World Youth Championship and nearly snagged a FIFA World Player of the Year in 2009 (coming in third).
At 5’7”, Xavi stands a few inches taller than the shortest professional soccer players ever, but he was still considerably undersized — you just wouldn’t know it by looking at his career statsheet.
14. Lionel Messi
Widely considered in the top handful of best soccer players ever, if not the very best, Messi has an absolutely fascinating backstory.
Outrageously talented from the get-go, it looked like Messi’s career would be over before it even started. Doctors discovered at age 10 that he had a growth hormone deficiency and would grow up far too small to be a professional athlete.
Messi’s talent was great enough, however, that Barcelona eventually ponied up the money for special hormone treatment.
Even still, he only stands at 5’7” today — and a slight 5’7”, at that — but his legendary career and outrageous laundry list of accomplishments have left his unlikely backstory as nothing but a footnote.
A true legend and underdog hero, Garrinca is easily one of the greatest players in the history of the sport — and was lucky enough to play alongside Pelé. Imagine the dominance!
During a magical stretch with Brazil, Garrinca led the national team on three World Cup crusades, including two tournament wins. He also cemented his place as the best dribbler of all time, a magician with a soccer ball and one of the most creative and artistic players to ever play.
Garrincha was undoubtedly undersized, but used his short stature to exploit opponents who couldn’t match his body angles and explosiveness. He innovated the game and paved the way for the horde of talented short players that came after him.
It’s no wonder Brazilians called him “Joy of the People.”
Short athletes are uniquely suited to succeed in soccer, perhaps more so than any other professional sport.
While you can always find undersized marvels in any athletic competition, pro soccer seems to be filled to the brim with incredible players under 5’8”. In fact, some of the best players in the history of the sport were only around 5’7”!
The best short soccer players are often imaginative, team-oriented, extremely technically-sound players — not necessarily genetically blessed. That kind of hard work and dedication to a craft is something all of us short guys can strive for.
Did we leave anyone out? Who are your favorite short soccer players? Tell us below in the comments!