Soccer, unlike baseball or football, is not a sport which lends itself to portly participants. In football the offensive linemen can resemble sumo wrestlers, and no one can argue that baseball’s David Ortiz and Joba Chamberlain are not at least slightly rotund. This largess makes sense when it comes to protecting a quarterback from the blitz or hitting a fastball out of the park. But in soccer, the fluidity of the game dictates that all players save the keepers be in a constant state of motion for all ninety minutes. The general rule of thumb seems to be that soccer players are quite fit—and lean.
As with all other rules, however, this one is not without its notable exceptions. And counting out fat players isn’t just mean spirited—it also risks overlooking some of the game’s greatest and most storied players. For example, one of the first football chants I ever learned was in reference to Chelsea’s Gianfranco Zola: He’s short, he’s round, he bounces off the ground. He’s Franco Zollllaaa! He’s Franco Zolllllaaaa! Meaning this as a term of endearment, the crowd at Stamford Bridge would sing it out whenever the compact Italian striker did what he did best, put the ball in the back of the net. Zola wasn’t really fat, just slightly chubby—yet it did not stop him from winning the FA Cup for Chelsea in 1997 and being capped over thirty times for Italy, appearing most notably in the 1994 World Cup.
The same goes for Mexico’s aged star, Cuauhtémoc Blanco, who’s also a tad more stout then the rest of his teammates. Blanco, who famously executed the Cuauhtemiña, a silly move which involves clamping the ball between two feet and jumping through several defenders, seems to be built like a bulldog, or perhaps a bulldog with an affinity for creampuffs. Yet Mexico always seems to find a way to score when he’s on the pitch, nor did he seem to have much trouble putting away a penalty to give his country a 2-0 win over France in last week’s game.
Then there’s the man with more World Cup goals than anyone else: Brazil’s Ronaldo, who has been ridiculed throughout his career for being less svelte and sleek than he could be. Capped almost one hundred times, he has played in three World Cups and has scored a total of 62 goals for Brazil in international competition. But even these numbers didn’t stop fans during the 2006 World Cup from taunting and jeering him for being overweight. There is even a fairly amusing online game, a remnant of the 2006 Cup that features a bald, sweating Ronaldo—gut busting out his jersey—dodging sodas and cheeseburgers as he frantically attempts to beat Crespo, his Argentinean counterpart.
This time around, Nigeria’s Austin Ejide takes the cake as heaviest player of the 2010 Cup. Weighing in at 101kgs (223 lbs), he is the only player to break the 100kg mark. He also represents an interesting trend in today’s Cup, where many of the heaviest men are the goalkeepers. And this may be true across Europe’s leagues as well. In a recent survey of the body-mass index of keepers in the Barclay’s Premiership, it was shown that the fatter the keeper, the better his performance. Whether this represents a revelation or a statistical aberration, well, the jury is still out. But one thing seems clear enough: Even in soccer, weight ain’t nothing but a number.