Think you need stars? Take a look at this Italian squad
Posted: Thursday November 8, 2007 1:25PM; Updated: Thursday November 8, 2007 3:56PM
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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.