Goalkeepers Under 6ft – Can They Make It In The Pros?

This is a topic that I wanted to cover for quite a while. Mainly, because I happen to be a goalkeeper that was under 6ft tall trying to make his way in the pro game. There are certain instances where you certainly feel at a disadvantage. With the benefit of hindsight though, there are certainly plenty of things that I would have done differently. Therefore, I am going to be making some suggestions about how you could find your way in the pros even if you’re a little shorter. Also, of course, I’m going to be looking at examples of players that did make their mark on the pro game. These goalkeepers under 6ft tall do have a couple of things in common. Yet, I also feel styles do come into play. 

Something to keep in mind is that different leagues are going to have their own set of standards. The way that the game is played in certain countries at least at the pro level can benefit or severely damage the chances of a goalkeeper under 6ft tall of being successful. This is something that you can pretty much notice, just by looking at the types of keepers that teams from these countries have on the roster. Yet, as we’ll see there are particularly two goalkeepers that I want to talk about that broke the mold. By being shorter goalkeepers that tried their hand at these tall guy leagues. 

Can Goalkeepers Under 6ft Make It In The Pros?   

Goalkeepers under 6ft can they work in the pros? The quick answer is yes, as we are going to see in a bit, there are very clear examples of this happening. Now, there is an argument to be made that a goalkeeper under 6ft making it in the pros is going to be more and more rare as the years go by. I wouldn’t disagree with that. There are a lot of scouts out there that have a height bias. They are usually not going to be picking a goalkeeper under 6ft at an open trial. Therefore, the best way to be able to make it as a goalkeeper under 6ft tall in the pros is to be a homegrown player. Start out at a club at a very young age and essentially go through the development process.  

What if you’re 17 or 18 years old and you are not at a club moving up the ranks? I would say that no matter how tall you are if that’s the case for you, you need to be working out sending videos everywhere. Especially if you are on the outside looking in at 17, 18, 19, 20 years old. What you’re going to want to do is develop and showcase skill sets that can set you apart from other players. Right off the bat, you’re going to want to show that you can jump really high. Also, showing that you’re comfortable with the ball on your feet is a good way to try and overcome the height issue. 

Goalkeepers Under 6ft – The World Cup Winner : Fabien Barthez 

For some of the younger members of the audience the name Fabien Barthez is not going to be one to ring a bell. However he essentially burst on the world stage in 1998 as he won the world cup with France being the starting keeper for the entire tournament. Fabien was already a veteran of the french league playing his club football at Monaco at the time of the world cup. You could say therefore that he wasn’t someone who came from nowhere when he was called up to play for the national team in that World Cup. The record shows that he is 5’11 if he’s 5’11 I’m going to write down on my stat sheet that I’m 6’5. There’s no way he is that tall. 

What Barthez brought to the table was unbelievably quick feet. You’re going to see that with most of these goalkeepers under 6ft. They play with their feet well, they have spectacular save abilities and they like to play off the line quite a bit. There’s a reason why Barthez played off the line quite a bit. It’s simple, if you’re smaller you need to be closer to the shooter to be able to close off the shot angle better. When you’re a bigger guy you cover up more of the goal even if you’re further away. Barthez brought that skill set to the french national team for well over a decade. 

In 2000 Barthez did the unthinkable as he signed with a top Premier League squad in Manchester United. Why was this unthinkable? Well mainly because the type of football that is played in the UK doesn’t really benefit the short goalkeepers. You’re asked to deal with a lot of crosses. If you’re too short having to come out and cut a cross while being able to withstand a beefed up striker coming at you is not easy under 6ft. He had about a decent year or so in Manchester. Yet before his exit in 2004 he had been relegated to the bench. Even though his time at United wasn’t great he is a world cup winning goalkeeper and a world cup runner up!    

Goalkeepers Under 6ft – The One Who One Everything : Victor Valdes 

Is Victor Valdes really under 6ft tall? Well that really depends on who you believe. There are sources where he is listed around 5’8 and in some other records he is listed at 6ft flat. Usually when you see that though, a goalkeeper being listed right 6ft his probably a cut below that. A lot of times the listing will do them a bit of a favor in adding a couple of inches to make sure that they don’t run into the height bias that I was mentioning a bit before. In any case, it’s clear that Victor Valdes is not necessarily a tall goalkeeper by any standard. 

If you’ve read my article on goalkeeper at Barcelona, you know that Valdes was never my cup of tea. One of the things that I held against him was the fact that he was very inconsistent in general. Making plenty of mistakes on a Barcelona team that got maybe 3 to 4 shots on goal in the whole game. At times that made his shortcomings a bit more evident. Since, he didn’t get a huge workload, but still managed to concede a couple of goals. Towards the end of his stay at Barcelona he seemed to be much more confident, playing more off the line than he had in previous years.   

Everything went downhill for him post injury particularly because he was essentially reluctant to resign with Barcelona and ended up signing with Manchester United of all clubs. In his stay in Manchester, the musical chairs in the manager position, his injury, and the fact that like for me Valdes was not Louis Van Gal’s cup of tea ment he was relegated to the third option at goalkeeper. Just like with Barthez the move to the Premier League may not have been the best idea. Goalkeepers of a short stature are asked to do things in the premier league that more often than not don’t promote their skill sets. These two guys could have used a better promoter surely! 

Goalkeepers Under 6ft – The Eccentric One : Jorge Campos  

His goalkeepers jerseys were worn throughout the world. The fact that he would take off and try to dribble past players and head towards goal made him one of the most watched players of his era. All of his antics as well as the fact that he could go from goalkeeper to center forward in the middle of the game at times made people overlook the fact that he was well under 6 feet tall. On a personal note, he was one of the goalkeepers that were “in style” when I was growing up and trying to play in goal. As time went on though, I started noticing a lot of his technical deficiencies.      

If I had to tell the truth about Jorge Campos as a role model today for shorter goalkeepers I would say leave him in that untouchable realm. There is no question that he was never deemed good enough to play at the levels that the two other goalkeepers that I just talked about played in. There’s a reason for that. Honestly, he was more show than play, at least between the sticks. His diving style can be described as unorthodox if you’re being kind. The truth of the matter is, if you want to dive like that today in any serious goalkeeping academy they’ll let you know you’re doing it wrong.  

Without a doubt though, he had the best feet out of anyone on the list. In fact, I would argue that no other goalkeeper that has ever played in the professional ranks could make a transition to forward and be the league’s top goal scorer. Yes, Rogerio Ceni scored more goals than Campos. Kicking free kicks and playing striker are two different things. How did this man at well under 6 feet become a renowned goalkeeper? He was himself. The jerseys, the style of play, everything was unique. At the level that he played he was able to be effective.         

Goalkeepers Under 6ft – The Crazy One : Rene Higuita   

Campos was unique, Higuita had a couple of screws loose in his head. I mean that in the best way possible. The way that these two played though, was awesome for the crowd. It’s not a surprise that the most famous play that Higuita had in his career involved him taking the irresponsible risk of doing a scorpion kick to make a save. As with Campos, I don’t feel that the formula that they used to make their way into the pro game is replicable. Especially with how the position of goalkeeper has evolved in the last few years. You want the guy who can be serious and stay cool under pressure. Some of us crazy people that relish the old days are not as relevant anymore. 

Another thing that is important to point out about Higuita, is the fact that the leagues that he played in facilitated his style of play. The same thing can be said about Campos. We are talking about the Mexican and South American leagues where some of the most important chances came from playing through balls. Being a sweeper keeper and being good in 1v1 situations really helps you make a name for yourself when you’re dealing with this style of play. With Campos and Higuita, you got the sweeper keeper in full swing on the best days. Yet, you’d have to deal with them taking one extra risk that led to a goal on a pretty consistent basis. 

Goalkeepers Under 6ft – The Consistent One : Oscar Perez  

Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Chiapas, 21 de octubre de 2015. Oscar Pérez durante el partido correspondiente a la Jornada 17 del torneo Apertura 2015 de la Liga Bancomer MX, entre los Jaguares de Chiapas y los Tuzos del Pachuca, celebrado en el Estadio Zoque “Victor Manuel Reyna”. Foto/Imago 7/Carlos Morgan.

Oscar Perez known as “El Conejo” or “The Rabbit” is well, well under 6 feet. He’s around 5’6 at his tallest. Remember I mentioned that a lot of times some of these goalkeepers get some extra inches added onto their height. There are some reports that he is even shorter than that. Out of all of the goalkeepers on the list to me, the way that he made it to the pros is one of the most replicable careers. This is not to say that he was not spectacular. At that height he could jump and literally kick the crossbar with his foot. Just to give you an idea of how high he could jump.

The skills that he had are very similar to what we see from Barthez. In that he would be right up on you in 1v1 situations. Yet, he was still able to cover the goal between the sticks when he needed to. A lot of the guys on the list lacked good hands. That was not the case for Perez. He was also not the risk taker that Higuita and Campos were. Although, he had a decent game with his feet. The reason why I say that he is consistent is because he played until the ripe old age of 46 at first division club.

Can A Goalkeeper Under 6ft Really Make It In Pros? 

MADRID – APRIL 8: Fabien Barthez of Manchester United clears the ball during the UEFA Champions League quarter-final first leg match between Real Madrid and Manchester United held on April 8, 2003 at the Santiago Bernabeu Stadium, in Madrid, Spain. Real Madrid won the match 3-1. (Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images)

I mentioned that a lot of scouts are going to hold your height against you. That’s all that they are going to see and there is not much that you can do about that other than move on to another scout. If you can cross that barrier there are different things that you can showcase. You need to be good with your feet, and having good hand security can be a very important ally. From there, 1v1 situations also have to be your bread and butter. Mainly, because there is a chance that you could have some trouble cutting crosses. 

The game is without question moving away from shorter keepers. There is no reason to lie about that. For example, with Valdes, it made no sense to want to try luck in the Premier League. UK football is perhaps the least friendly to shorter goalkeepers. Yet, Spanish, Portuguese, and many latin american leagues can still welcome some of the shorter goalkeepers out there. You can look at the glass as half empty or half full. As I mentioned, some scouts are going to write you off because of the height issue. Yet, if you work on different aspects of your game you can stand out amongst the prototype tall, even at times unathletic goalkeepers that are trying their luck as well.