Appearances Can Be Deceptive
Francis Cornejo, a youth coach at Argentinos Juniors and revered in Argentina as the man who discovered Diego Maradona, recalls that the legendary player was put through many a tough test due to his stature. When Maradona was eight, a friend took him for a trial at the club and his ability was soon plain to see, despite his lack of height. “Apparently, other teams like Lanus or Remedios de Escalada didn’t want him because of his size, so he came to Argentinos.”
While Cornejo insisted that Maradona should join the youth ranks of Argentinos Juniors, others could not understand his faith in a player so short. “When Diego arrived on the scene, everyone started talking about his talent. People are always envious, they said to me, ‘He’s very small and we already have lots of his type.’ I thought he was a genius from the very first moment and I looked after him,” says Cornejo.
Pele, on the other hand, had no trouble: “I didn’t have any problems when I started out because I scored a lot of headers despite my height and continued to do so throughout my career.”
Nevertheless, there are many players who encountered the same problems as Maradona early in their careers, such as 1.70m-tall Valencia and Spain midfielder David Silva, who was rejected by Real Madrid at the age of 12. Messi, who is nicknamed “The Flea” on account of his height, is another player who was never destined to be tall. After playing for Newell’s Old Boys in Rosano at youth level, he was on the verge of a transfer to River Plate but was diagnosed with a growth deficiency that required treatment costing EUR 900 a month, which the club was not prepared to pay. In the end, he moved to Barcelona, who agreed to take over payment of the costs. Legendary AC Milan defender Franco Baresi, meanwhile, only joined the club because he had been rejected by eternal rivals Inter as a boy on account of his height. Romario was also initially rejected by Vasco de Gama for being too short, but the club soon saw the error of their ways once “Baixinho” [shorty] had begun to shine in the Olario youth set-up. Even Gerd Muller (1.76m) the legendary 1970s German striker nicknamed “Der Bomber”, was passed over early in his career because he was considered too short and stout.
“I don’t want that little elephant among my thoroughbreds,” said one coach . when he saw him early in his career. “Der Bomber” went on to win the 1974 FIFA World Cup™, scoring in the final. Appearances can be deceptive.