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Fair warning: this debate has nothing to do with the fairer sex. OK, now that I've lost ninety percent of my audience with the first sentence, let me explain to the rest of you that what it does concern is the sporting world's predilection with size. None of them coming back, then? Bugger. Our fascination with BIG is having a major impact on sport. Unfortunately, that impact may prove damaging in the long run. It is already wreaking havoc in America. All four of the major team Illustration: GANT POWELL >

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sports on the other side of the Atlantic, those being baseball, basketball, gridiron football and ice hockey, are afflicted with serious dilemmas stemming directly from the increase in the size, strength and speed of their athletes over the last two decades. Two important factors have ganged up to lead American (and Canadian) sport down a blind alley. One pill makes you larger First, sports science, funded by the exponential growth of sport as a marketing tool, has made tremendous advances with regards to training methods, nutrition, medical procedures and rehabilitation. The USA's consistent haul of medals in

the Olympics bears this out. Where would Sugar Ray Leonard, Michael Phelps, Carl Lewis and Mary Lou Retton be were it not for the ubiquitous Wheaties box? Lance Armstrong owes much of his success to the sponsorship of the US Postal Service. Tiger Woods, who not only advanced the cause of minorities in golf but in athletics as a whole, is supported by his relationship with Nike, the same company which welcomed Wayne Rooney to its Oregon sports complex, last fall, to rehabilitate a persistent ankle injury. Elite athletes make most of their money not from their sport of choice but from lucrative endorsements. Yet those marketing dollars depend upon performance. If you're at the top of your game, the

world will camp at your doorstep. Thus, health and fitness are actually a higher priority than technical skill if an athlete is to maximise his or her earning potential. It's such a priority, in fact, that sports science has been used to cut corners. Every major American sport has suspended athletes for using steroids or other performance enhancing drugs. Surprisingly, baseball, which demands far more technical proficiency from its players than athletic ability, has been hit the hardest. Hall of Fame candidates Roger Clemens, Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro and Manny Ramirez have all had their legacy threatened by positive tests or seri-

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ous allegations of steroid use. Home run king Barry Bonds was recently convicted of obstructing justice (for refusing to co-operate fully) while being acquitted of four counts of perjury for allegedly lying to prosecutors investigating the wide-reaching BALCO Labs scandal. Olympic athlete Marion Jones served time in jail after being found guilty of similar charges. All-Star third baseman Ken Caminiti admitted to having used steroids for several seasons, beginning in 1996, and died shortly after his retirement, overdosing on a cocktail of cocaine and opiates. Caminiti was alleged to be suffering from severe depression, understandable when you have severely altered your body chemistry for several years, hoping

to prolong your career and the fame which comes part and parcel, only for it to all come crashing down before you're prepared to move on.

sick, and I'm scared. Ninety percent of the athletes I know are on the stuff. We're not born to be 300lb (140kg) or jump 30ft (9.1m). But all the time I was taking steroids, I Gridiron football star Lyle Alzado knew they were making me play died of a malignant better. I became very brain tumor in 1992. Ninety percent of violent on the field He was forty-three and off it. I did things athletes I know are and had only been only crazy people do. retired from the on the stuff.  We’re Once a guy sidegame for seven not born to be swiped my car and I years. Although othout 300lb or jump 30 ft. beat the helllook of ers denied his asserhim. Now at tions, he claimed me. My hair's gone, I that his condition was the direct rewobble when I walk and have to sult of continued use of anabolic hold on to someone for support, and I have trouble remembering steroids. things. My last wish? That no one else ever dies this way." "I started taking anabolic steroids in 1969 and never stopped. It was adGiven that it’s almost twenty years dicting, mentally addicting. Now I'm

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after Alzado's death and professional sports are still arguing over drug testing with their players, his wish is unlikely to be granted. In American football, steroids are obviously used to build up the body, so that it can take and dish out more punishment in what is a very violent game. However, the drug is thought to have become so prevalent in baseball more for its incredible recuperative powers. In either case, athletes have been driven to cheat by the desire to maintain their flamboyant lifestyle. The competition, money and fame are just too difficult to leave behind. The spectre of chemically enhanced athletes hasn’t spilled over into European football in the way it has in

cycling, track and field, and other Olympic sports. The signs are there, however, that UEFA, despite having been proactive in adopting stringent testing procedures, had to do so out of necessity and that they cannot afford to let up their guard, even if they have a jump on the problem. Kolo Toure, the Manchester City defender who dipped into his wife’s stash of diet pills to battle his weight problems, serves as a warning that temptation hasn’t been wholly discouraged, while Adrian Mutu’s cocaine addiction hints that the more traditional drinking culture pervasive throughout the game, with athletes, pundits and fans alike, is crossing over into more dangerous areas.

Even the strange treatment offered at a Serbian clinic, where athletes such as Robin van Persie have gone to have fluid of horse placenta dripped on their injuries, has a connection to the issue of anabolic steroids, which are derived from the proteins contained in horse semen. I’m not a bio-chemist but it seems to my lay mind that there can’t be much difference between two substances involved in equine birthing, even if one is taken from the stallion and the other from the mare. Given that it took decades to learn the full effects of steroids on the human body, it would seem prudent to proceed very slowly with the development of placenta based treatments for football players.

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One pill makes you small While athletes in American sports have been seeking out the best and worst that science has to offer, increasing their size, strength and speed, the arenas in which they play have been shrinking, or at least not increasing proportionately to accommodate the growth of their practitioners. Thus, the effects of uber-developed muscle, force and movement have been amplified by the lack of space in which these American gladiators can operate. The result is, naturally, an increase in violent collisions, injuries and reckless play. Unsurprisingly, fans have bought into the increased mayhem in a big way. Yet, for NFL and NHL players the cost

of entertaining their supporters has, in more and more cases, become a significant decrease in life expectancy. Both gridiron football and hockey are dealing with the frightening effects of concussion on their athletes. An NFL field is 120 x 50yds (including the end zones). An NHL rink is 200 x 80yds and enclosed by a 42 inch high wall, topped by glass barriers at each end. In football, virtually every player on the field is expected to collide with an opponent on each play. In hockey, the players rotate on and off the ice in 30-45 second shifts, during which time, they are coached to take at least one shot and make a minimum of one bone-jarring check. In both cases, when looking to incapacitate an opponent, the head is a

very inviting target. Now factor in that the average player has grown 4-6 inches and put on roughly 30lbs in the past three decades, that coaching and sports science have evolved the pace of both games to sixty minutes of continuous hyper-drive and that, as a result of that combination, there is far less space to operate on the playing surface. Unsurprisingly, serious injury is on the rise in both games. The situation has become so dire that the US Congress has stepped into the debate. The NFL, which has long put off serious research into the effects of concussion, is now having to play catch up. Retired players are dying prematurely at an alarming rate. It has reached the

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point that one former star, Dave Duerson, committed suicide to end his misery – but shot himself in the chest so he could donate his brain to researchers.

The NHL, which, as a bi-national league is less concerned by the authority of Congress, has not suffered as seriously from the effects of conThe difference between American cussion. Players have not died but sports and football, of course, is that more than one major the beautiful game star has had their cais hands off. In only reer curtailed. The The English game is using one’s feet, it is most notable is Eric as close as football rare for players to Lindros, who was ex- comes to the ethos knock heads. It pected to inherit the does occur on 50/50 of American sport mantle of best in the headers but is game from Wayne hardly predominate. Gretzky and Mario Lemieux. InYet, there are issues with size in stead, a series of vicious hits left him football. on the injured list much more often

than he was on the ice. This year, the Pittsburgh Penguins lost the latest darling of the sport, Sydney Crosby, to concussion in December. He did not return all season and, while now skating on his own, has yet to be cleared by specialists for physical contact.

And the one that Blatter gives you... Compare the styles of play in the Premier League and La Liga, for instance. The English game is as close as football comes to the ethos of American sport. Work ethic defines play in the Premier League. Ask Dimitar Berbatov what Man United fans think of players who hunt patiently for time and space, blending into the background until it’s time to strike, as opposed to human Tasmanian Devils such as Carlos Tevez, who are prepared to run down anything that moves, be it a lazy back pass, unwary goalkeeper or simply a squirrel which has wandered into the wrong six yard box at the wrong time. A

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Premier League match is all about harrying your opponent refusing to allow them any time or space. The Primera Liga is less bloodthirsty. No one is any better than closing down time and space than Barcelona, but they prefer to be elegant and refined in going about it. Ironically, however, that elegance cannot be achieved if you do not have room to operate. How do Spanish clubs solve this paradox? Well, a typical Premier League pitch is 105 x 68’, although one or two are a bit more cramped. A La Liga surface is 107x72’, however. Wow, you say. Big deal, two feet longer and four more in breadth. So what?

Actually, the difference amounts to an extra 564 square feet, or almost eight percent more space in which to work your magic. If it still doesn’t sound like much, take a look around your flat and imagine what you could do with an extra salon or two bedrooms. One thing you might be able to do with the added space is hide from Nigel de Jong. Or Karl Henry, Ryan Shawcross or, as Andrew Thomas will get into later, Jack Wilshere. You see, while football players aren’t growing at the rate of American athletes, they are still getting bigger, faster and better conditioned. They are also being encouraged by managers, supporters and media to transfer all that new power into la-

tent aggression. Tackles are coming fast and furious in the English game, with its comparatively small pitch. Is it just me, or does a rough average of one broken leg per month not suggest a problem? Football has two intrinsic qualities which offer a measure of immunity from the fascination with size. One, as already mentioned, the game is played with your feet, and two, the playing surface is overly spacious. In baseball, basketball, gridiron football and even hockey, the use of your hands naturally gives tall players an advantage and the close quarters aid give more impetus to a powerful build. In football, it’s naturally easier for a compact player to control the ball with his feet and large, bury defenders are continually

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exposed by quicker, smaller attackers. At the moment, Barcelona provide the ultimate in small attacking football. To beat them, you have two choices. Option one: build a better La Masia and grow your own new and improved Xavis, Iniestas and Messis, which would take at least a decade. Good luck with that. Option two: hire Jose Mourinho, buy tall players with speed and skill and taller defenders with speed and aggressive tackling. This known in the football world as negative football. That’s life, though. Negative players cancels out positive ones, ugly play

mars its beautiful rival. In Spain, that extra space makes it more difficult for negative play to gain a foothold. In England, the crowded pitch allows it to thrive. Of course, for English fans, the price for their style is that they struggle internationally, where officials aren’t as tolerant of bullying tactics. It would be interesting to see what would happen in English football if they increased the size of the pitches at every level. So, while the beautiful game is ahead of the sporting curve in being accessible to players of any culture, nationality, race, creed or body type, has different issues and faces different challenges, it too must come to grips with the fact that size matters. ■

Martin Palazzotto Associate Editor WORLD FOOTBALL COLUMNS > @wfcolumns > Once a stunning example of male physiology,  Martin  has  let  himself go with age, although his celebrity has kept the women flocking to his b e d .   Oh,  wait.    That's  Arnold Schwarzenegger.  Never mind.
This is an extract from Issue One of Man and Ball magazine: Let Sleeping Gods Lie. This issue introduces Nigel and features stories on German football since reunification,  African  Arsenal  fans,  an  unsung Dutch legend, and seven other intriguing articles. It can be downloaded in its entirety HERE >

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