Team spirit, togetherness, camaraderie – all words that have pretty much the same meaning when talking about a football team, and all qualities that are unanimously considered vital ingredients of any successful side.
Unlike skill, potency, solidity, age or speed – factors that can be judged by the analysis of statistical evidence – unity cannot be measured scientifically. No matter how much a player insists the team is "one big, happy family", no matter how much laughter there is on the training ground, it is impossible for outsiders to know if the camp really is a happy place and the team really united.
Yet having witnessed France's arrival in Donetsk last night, and having had the opportunity to listen to, speak with and interview some of the key figures in the set-up this morning, I have every reason to believe that this particular group of players is genuinely a very happy bunch.
It is obvious they are thrilled to be here and eager to start writing a new chapter in French football. "We're really relaxed – there's no pressure," Franck Ribéry told us this morning before settling down for an interview. "The atmosphere is great." The camera was not rolling. Ribéry had no need to toe a party line. He was simply in a good mood, happy to finally be in Ukraine and had no qualms in telling us.
Laurent Blanc also looked as content and as relaxed as I have ever seen him. He has already participated in three UEFA European Championships as a player, yet struggled to hide his enthusiasm when talking about the challenge of pitting his wits against some of the shrewdest footballing brains around.
Hugo Lloris was laid-back as well – but then again the Olympique Lyonnais goalkeeper always is. Yet his reaction to our interview being interrupted by an explosion of church bells was telling: rather than displaying any frustration at having to stop mid-sentence, Lloris burst into laughter and questioned our wisdom of choosing an interview room situated next to a church.
The scenes we witnessed this morning contrast sharply with memories of Knysna, France's base for their disappointing 2010 FIFA World Cup campaign. "We're far better off here," Ribéry said. "There's no comparison. Our living quarters are much more welcoming and everyone is together. It's going to be good." France have arrived, they are happy to be here, and will be trying hard to stay as long as possible.
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