Gabriele Marcotti
Thursday November 8th, 2007

Also in this column: McClaren wastes time in L.A. • Hats off to surprising Rosenborg

Two of the biggest lies propagated by the fraternity of ex-players-turned-pundits are that, to play good soccer, "you need to have played the game at the highest level" and "you need good players."

The first part, by now, has hopefully been banished forever. José Mourinho, Rafa Benítez, Sven-Göran Eriksson, Alberto Malesani, Arrigo Sacchi and Carlos Alberto Parreira have, by now, shown that this is purely a myth.

The second part is nothing more than a lame excuse trotted out by panicky, insecure managers of bad teams who either hide behind the "long-ball, kick-and-rush" tactical mantra or the ultra-defensive, "10 guys behind the ball" ethos.

Sure, it's easier to play attractive, entertaining soccer if you have the odd Kaká or Cristiano Ronaldo in your side. But it is by no means a prerequisite.

Take, as Exhibit A, Pasquale Marino, currently coaching Udinese in Serie A. Marino is the antithesis of the old Italian Catenaccio stereotype. Last season he was in charge at Catania, whom he guided to promotion to Serie A.

The club had little money and few prospects of staying up. The "safe" route would have been to pack the team with veteran defenders and holding midfielders, put 10 men behind the ball and pray for the best. Marino doesn't do "safe."

He built a side predicated upon all-out attack. He couldn't afford big names, so he found creative, offensive-minded guys from the lower divisions, like Giorgio Corona and Giuseppe Mascara. He told his midfielders to feel free to attempt the backheel or difficult pass, to not be afraid to give the ball away. And he urged his fullbacks to push on at every opportunity.

The result was a 4-3-3 formation which released all his players' creativity. Suddenly, guys like Davide Baiocco, a thoroughly ordinary veteran midfielder who had yo-yoed between Serie A and B his entire career, were attempting the kinds of things that Ronaldinho or Zinédine Zidane might try. And, what's more, they were succeeding.

Because Marino had uncovered one of the fundamental truths about the game. Most top-flight players can do what Kaká or Ronaldo do. The difference is that the superstars might do it six or seven times out of 10, the ordinary player might manage it once or twice. But if that's enough to create a chance or score a goal, it's more than enough.

Catania proved last season that this approach works. For much of the year it was safely in mid-table. Then, following the tragic death of a policeman in the rioting that followed its clash with Palermo in early February, everything fell apart. Catania was banned from playing home matches and it won only two of its final 16 games. But that had nothing to do with Marino.

He was rewarded over the summer with a move to Udinese which now sits a surprising fifth in Serie A, despite being without the services of its two best midfielders -- Chris Obodo and Giampiero Pinzi -- all season long. He has a far better squad (including Italian internationals Fabio Quagliarella and Antonio Di Natale) in Udine than he did at Catania of course, but his philosophy is unchanged, apart from the fact that he has tweaked his formation somewhat, introducing an equally aggressive 3-4-3.

The players love it. The fans love it. The media are coming around to the idea that ordinary players can, if given the right instructions, do great things. All this comes at a price, of course. When you set out to attack from the very first minute, you can leave yourself exposed at the back. This became obvious in some high-profile defeats, like the 7-0 pounding Catania took at the hands of Roma last year. But so what? The number of points you get for losing by seven is the same as the ones you get for losing by a single goal: zero.

Winning, of course, is the top priority. But how you play the game should come a close second. Marino's teams are living proof that if you have faith in your players and are willing to gamble a little bit you can achieve great things. One can only wonder what will happen if and when he moves to a big club with big-name players.

• You are England boss Steve McClaren. You are the highest-paid national-team coach in the world. Your job is to evaluate English players and pick the best ones to represent your country. You have a potentially decisive qualifier coming up against Croatia, one which could determine your future and your team's future. Do you:

A.) Stay in England and watch games like Arsenal vs. Manchester United and Manchester City vs. Sunderland so you can evaluate the likes of Wayne Rooney, Michael Carrick, Rio Ferdinand and Micah Richards?

B.) Fly halfway around the world, not watch any Premiership games in person and, instead, watch David Beckham play in some freakshow of a kickabout against Anthony LaPaglia?

Whatever sympathy I had for the man has now evaporated. Supposedly McClaren flew to Los Angeles last weekend to evaluate Beckham's fitness. This is absurd on so many levels. He could have sent his fitness coach. He could have realized that watching Beckham play against a bunch of B-list actors wasn't going to tell him anything.

He could have waited a week for Beckham to join the England squad. He could have understood that a 32-year-old man who has played 56 minutes of competitive soccer since August wasn't really going to make a difference to England.

But then, that's why McClaren is McClaren. At least I hope he enjoyed the weather in L.A.

• The sound you hear in the background is me eating my words regarding Rosenborg. Like many, I thought the Norwegians were in the Champions League just to make up the numbers. Instead, Rosenborg has a real chance of advancing to the knockout stage after beating Valencia home and away. Hats off to them.

SI Apps
We've Got Apps Too
Get expert analysis, unrivaled access, and the award-winning storytelling only SI can provide - from Peter King, Tom Verducci, Lee Jenkins, Seth Davis, and more - delivered straight to you, along with up-to-the-minute news and live scores.