Their findings show that tall, lean players like Thierry Henry, Peter Crouch and Ruud Van Nistelrooy, are most successful.
Professor Alan Nevill, of the University’s School of Sport, Performing Arts and Leisure, based at Walsall Campus, obtained official FA Premier League and old first division data to examine the key physical characteristics of top professional footballers.
Player statistics from specific periods in the 70s, 80s, 90s and 2003-4 were examined, using 10 year intervals to avoid potential overlaps of data.
Whether a player was in one of the top six teams of the time was used as a measure of success because, in more recent years, they were more likely to have qualified for European cup competitions.
Professor Nevill said: “The results of this study show that professional footballers are getting taker and heavier per decade, with a small but significant rise in BMI over the four decades.
“Many of the differences in playing position were also anticipated, with goalkeepers, central defenders, and strikers being taller and heavier than players playing in wider positions.”
He said the most insightful finding came from recent analysis where players from successful teams were taller/more linear and younger than those from less successful teams.
There were a number of reasons why this body type was more likely to lead to success, he said.
“Apart from the fact that taller players will be more successful at heading the ball both defensively and in attack, they will be able to close down or limit opposition players’ ability to pass and distribute the ball,” he said.
“Furthermore, taller, thinner people are able to dissipate heat more rapidly than shorter, heavier people.”
He added: “These results suggest that football coaches and talent scouts should pay attention to the body shape when selecting potential players for their squads.”
Professor Nevill carried out the research with Adam Watts, from the University’s School of Applied Sciences and Roger Holder, of the University of Birmingham’s School of Mathematics and Statistics.
The findings have been published in the Journal of Sports Sciences.
Among the successful players included in the study were:
Thierry Henry, Arsenal (2003-04) forward, 1.85m, 77kg
Peter Crouch, Aston Villa (2003-04) forward, 2.01m, 75kg
Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Manchester United (2003-04) forward, 1.88m, 82kg
Professor Alan Nevill is a renowned sports researcher whose work has been published extensively. His main research interests involve investigating, analysing and modelling data recorded in sport, exercise and health sciences.
A copy of the full published Journal of Sports Sciences article, The Changing Shape of “Successful” Professional Footballers, which includes detailed data, is available on request.
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