Does size matter?

Being a small nation has it's advantages in international football

The two smallest nations in the South American confederation contested the continental final last night. With Uruguay defeating the slightly larger Paraguay 3-0.  Admirable, incredible, impressive… but let me suggest a slightly different theory. Being a small nation has it’s advantages in modern international football.

The basic problem in today’s national team is lack of training time. Managers often still think like club managers. They select the players they would like most in an ideal world. But don’t have sufficient time to create a unit out of them. This problem can be overcome in two ways. If you are lucky, like Spain, you have a single club dominating the national squad. Alternatively, long term stability in the squad can bring some cohesiveness to the team.

It doesn’t really help an Argentinean or Brazilian manager that every season they have 2-3 new superstars with the press campaigning for their selection. It is quite obvious that a Brazil D would easily demolish Uruguay B. But Uruguay A has the togetherness of a club that Brazil A lacks. Here is another stat – Uruguay selected 15 players with 30+ international appearances for the tournament. Argentina had 9, Brazil only 7.

We are seeing this phenomena in European football too. With Slovenia (2-million people) and Montenegro (650,000 people) enjoying good campaigns. Estonia, Bosnia are also having good runs while Croatia is already somewhat of a powerhouse.

My partner to this blog wrote about a “Sparta effect” – a tradition of excellence. That may be true for Croatia. But Slovenia doesn’t have a single player in La Liga or the EPL. Most of the Montenegro squad plays in Eastern European clubs. Paraguay’s top players play for Zaragoza or Blackburn Rovers – and would not a get a look from the Brazil selectors. But these teams or more like clubs than national selections – and that’s their big advantage.

A journalist from New Zealand (population 4.4 million) once gave me a good insight about the unparalleled success of the All Blacks in world rugby. He said that in such a small nation everyone is close enough to national selection to keep him motivated. And close enough to the people to care just a little bit more.

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