The two footballers most indelibly associated with the World Cup are, by common consent, the two greatest of all time. There is Pele, the only three-time winner and the talisman of the team of all talents: the Brazil 1970 side that tops many a poll designed to find the international game's finest side. There is Diego Maradona, scorer of arguably the outstanding goal in World Cup history and the man who, in 1986, came as close as anyone ever has to winning the most prestigious team prize of all single-handed.
Apart from the divine duopoly, World Cup glory, as a quick trip through the tournament's archives shows, tends to go the way of the sport's premier players: Garrincha, Jairzinho, Bobby Moore, Bobby Charlton, Gerd Mueller, Franz Beckenbauer, Dino Zoff, Lothar Matthaeus, Romario, Ronaldo, Zinedine Zidane, Andres Iniesta. It is a roll call of the remarkable, an inventory of the incredible.
And so it conditions us to assume the modern-day luminaries will dominate in Brazil. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the 21st century versions of Pele and Maradona; Neymar might be anointed the third member of an elite trinity if he inspires Brazil to victory. A generation of Germans, such as Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger, know that, if one emulates Iniesta by delivering the goal that conquers the world, he will secure his admission to the pantheon.
So we focus on the great and the very good, looking for them to replicate their displays for club and country on the grandest stage. Yet World Cup success depends not just on the footballing deities but in the mere mortals who, for a heady few games, reach levels they have never done before or since.
So the 23 managers in Brazil should be searching for their Salvatore 'Toto' Schillaci: Italy's one-hit wonder. It is the quest to find a player who has the form, fitness, confidence, momentum and opportunity to perform above himself when it matters most. World Cups don't always reflect a career, as Schillaci shows. The bare facts are that he scored only seven international goals; six of them came at Italia '90.
In many respects, Schillaci was the least distinguished of strikers in the Azzurri's squad -- the others were Roberto Baggio, Roberto Mancini, Gianluca Vialli, Andrea Carnevale and Aldo Serena -- but substitute became starter, scorer and Golden Boot winner. Italian managers like to use the word "moment" and, for a month in his homeland, Schillaci was in a magical moment.
The Sicilian was only prolific for one season in Serie A. Four years after his magnificent month, when Italy reached the final in Los Angeles, he was headed for lucrative exile in Japan. But he was briefly brilliant, and it coincided with a World Cup.
Sixteen years later, Italy's triumph featured many players who sustained excellence over many years: Gianluigi Buffon, Gianluca Zambrotta, Alessandro Nesta, Fabio Cannavaro, Andrea Pirlo, Gennaro Gattuso, Francesco Totti and Alessandro del Piero. Alongside them, however, was the 2006 Schillaci, the man who timed his ascent impeccably: Fabio Grosso. The Palermo left-back did not even appear in the group game against the United States but began the other six matches when Italy conceded only once. At the other end, he scored the crucial extra-time opener in the semifinal against Germany and converted the last penalty in the final shootout against France to seal his place in history.
Grosso possessed a fine left foot and later won Serie A with both Inter and Juventus but, tellingly, wasn't an automatic choice with either side. He only ever played in one World Cup and wasn't an obvious candidate to become a world champion. But when he was thrust to prominence, he was immaculate. He illustrated that World Cups aren't always about four years of preparation but five weeks of personal perfection. They are not about those who are, objectively speaking, the better players but those who are scaling peaks they would never normally threaten to climb.
Consider Kleberson. He wasn't capped by Brazil until 2002, and six months later, he was a World Cup winner. Indeed, he came into the first-choice team only in the quarterfinal; in effect, he was a world-beater for three games (and, as Manchester United can testify, he certainly wasn't one in his subsequent spell at Old Trafford).
Indeed, 2002 was perhaps the tournament of the Schillacis. As the favourites foundered, others flourished: many of the Senegalese and South Korean success stories had not respectable careers but remarkable months. There was a clear difference between their temporary, terrific form and a comparative lack of class.
England's Nicky Butt would have been on the bench if Steven Gerrard had been fit; instead, Pele -- who admittedly has an uncanny habit of being wrong -- acclaimed him as his player of the tournament at one point. Trevor Sinclair was not even in the initial squad -- collecting air miles by the thousand as he flew in and out of training camps -- yet circumstances rendered him the first-choice left winger. He might have ever won only 12 caps, but, unlike many a footballer with a far longer international career, he excelled at a World Cup.
So the challenge for managers is in part to ignore the normal criteria: Perhaps selection is not about reputation or rewarding those who helped them qualify, about implementing strategies that were carefully planned over months or picking those who should figure far into the future. It is not even about talent. It is about identifying players who are briefly brilliant -- the short-term superstars.