Footballers come in all shapes and sizes but not many are shorter than Yeferson Soteldo.
The 18-year-old is the biggest and smallest talent in Venezuelan football. He stands at just 160cm tall.
Lionel Messi is short but Soteldo is a full ten centimetres shorter than the Argentinian giant.
If you are 160cm and want to be a footballer you better be clever, you better be tough and you better be good.
Fortunately for Soteldo he is all three.
He plays for Venezuelan champions Zamora FC and is causing quite a stir.
Already a full international he has impressed in the Copa Libertadores and Sudamericana even as his club have struggled and is being closely watched by several European clubs.
Soteldo’s game is all about attacking invention. Despite being the smallest player on the pitch he sees things others don’t. He is imaginative with his passes when space is tight, has an excellent first touch and is comfortable receiving possession even when closely marked.
His freakishly low centre of gravity and quick feet mean he can wriggle and twist past bigger opponents with thrilling regularity. He exudes confidence and plays like a street footballer regardless of the occasion.
A mischievous dribbler, Soteldo can beat opponents without touching the ball – his deceptive body movements bamboozling defenders into moving out of his way. He is surprisingly strong and shows genuine steel whenever opponents try and get physical. It is not easy to rough up this little big man.
Soteldo’s toughness can be traced back to his birthplace.
Growing up in the notorious “El Muertico” district of Acarigua, a place known for drugs and gun crime, he could easily have fallen victim to the many pressures and pitfalls of such an upbringing. Instead he has emerged stronger for the experience.
Soteldo is proud of his neighbourhood and pleased to have come up there. Like many players from disadvantaged backgrounds he has mentioned his austere beginnings as a factor in his rise to prominence.
Knowing hunger in your youth is no blessing but it can put fire in your belly. If channelled in the right way it can inspire you to work harder than others from more auspicious backgrounds.
Many top South American players such as Alexis Sanchez, Carlos Tevez and Arturo Vidal have mentioned the life lessons they took from their impoverished origins. Football is one way out of the ghetto but sadly not an option for many.
Growing up poor places you on a knife-edge. It is easy to take the wrong path when surrounded by disadvantage.
So far Soteldo has only made good decisions in his short career. He was a clinical striker in his early teens and left his first club, Caracas FC in 2012 to join Zamora. After making his debut in 2013 he has established himself as the team’s creative fulcrum in the number 10 or wide attacker in a fluid 4-2-3-1 formation.
His coach, Francesco Stifano, has said that Soteldo can achieve whatever he wants in the game. Streetwise and football-smart he has great natural ability and the character and intelligence to more than compensate for his lack of stature.
His biggest battle will be fighting the prejudiced opinions of those saying he is too small. Football is full of outdated views but consistently excellent performances eventually become impossible to ignore.
Zamora sold another attacking tyro, Jhon Murillo, to Benfica in the summer of 2015 and it would not be a surprise to see Soteldo follow him to Europe. The only question being which league and club would best suit his build and attributes.
Soteldo has fought hard to get this far and doesn’t look about to plateau anytime soon. Invariably the smallest player on the field he is increasingly the most talented too.
How long he will stay with Zamora is open to question but the little man’s skill is beyond doubt.
The smallest star in Venezuela is ascending rapidly and he could soon outgrow his surroundings.