Saturday, June 19, 2021
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The latest football news from 90 Minutes Online

Xavi and others have proven how small is beautiful

Xavi playing for Spain (courtesy of Wikipedia)Xavi Hernández is, of course, one of the most insanely gifted footballers of his generation. As he prepares for a career swansong in the middle east, we’re reminded daily of his supreme ability. Almost as often, in fact, as we were once reminded of his height - a simple manifestation of genes that remained a novelty (at least to the British press) throughout his career.


Football is one enormous cliche. But ‘footballer type’ cliches are some of the most entertaining. For example, John Terry or Jaap Stam? Commanding. Lee Cattermole or Ryan Shawcross? Committed. Ian Woan’s left foot? Cultured.


As ground-breaking research has shown, women who give birth to professional footballers are blessed with one of about 20 or so different womb ‘moulds’. Consequently, every footballer on earth is spewed into one neatly-labelled category - a quivering jelly of cultured, committed or commanding flesh and bones.


Xavi’s mould? Diminutive. But who else can say they were set with this mould? Ignoring two obvious examples, in Diego Maradona and Romario, we remember here a few players even shorter than Senor Hernandez himself.


Gianfranco Zola

No less obvious than the two geniuses mentioned above, perhaps. But at 5ft 6in, no list of little legends would be complete without the tiny Italian. Zola arrived in England in November 1996, for a £4.5m fee and with his creative reputation already well established. He left Stamford Bridge a hero some seven years and 59 goals later.


His time in England is remembered for two very special goals - an audacious backheel flick against Norwich in the FA Cup, and a wonderful piece of control followed by a whipped near-post finish past Ian Walker, to beat England 1-0 at the old Wembley Stadium.


Kevin Phillips

Considering what he achieved at the club over the next six years, it’s quite unbelievable that Sunderland paid just £325k for the 5ft 6in Kevin Phillips in 1997. In his first season, he scored 29 league goals en route to the famous 4-4 First Division playoff final classic against Charlton. 23 goals in just 26 league appearances the next year launched Sunderland into the Premier League and earned him an England call-up to boot.


Despite Rodney Marsh famously saying Phillips would struggle to score half a dozen, his prolific partnership with Niall Quinn went into overdrive in the 1999/00 season. 30 goals in his maiden Premier League year earned him Europe’s golden boot, and he ended up with more than one in two for the Wearside club.


Astonishing really, and eight England caps was an insult to a wonderful goalscorer.


Javier Saviola

I confess that there’s little more than nostalgia in this one. But fans of Championship Manager games from the early noughties will remember Javier ‘The Rabbit’ Saviola fondly. El Conejo was a phenomenon in his native Argentina by the age of just 19. In three years, he scored 45 goals in 86 appearances for River Plate, picking up two league titles as well as Argentine scorer of the year, player of the year and South American player of the year accolades.


In the summer of 2001, he was an integral part of Jose Pekerman’s Argentina side that won the Under 20 World Cup on home soil. How integral? 11 goals (5 more than anyone else) landed him the golden shoe, as well as the golden ball for player of the tournament. A big money move to Barcelona was sealed shortly after the tournament but, despite notching up 49 goals for the Catalan giants, it was a mixed experience at the Camp Nou.


Aged 33, he now plies his trade in Serie A with Hellas Verona.



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