Given how much we the media, and the players themselves, talk about the hunger to become champions and how rocky the path to nirvana can be, it's odd how little is discussed about the cost of trying to stay there.
Vicente del Bosque made a throwaway remark the other day which put the spotlight on the concept of expectations and how they can change between feast and famine. Once Spain beat Croatia 1-0 and qualified for the quarter-finals, the coach remarked that his players were the only ones of those who had progressed not to embrace each other and show their relief at having done so.
His point was a constructive one – the players took moving forward as a) no more than the target they had set themselves and b) a very small step on the road to winning this trophy. Not complacency, not disregard for an achievement – just enormously high standards.
So once Spain saw off France to reach the last four the media were, of course, very keen to know how much celebration that achievement had been worth. Two years ago in South Africa it had been pretty intense fiesta time (with the players being allowed to party the night away) after the quarter-final and semi-final victories over Portugal and Germany.
And there was added piquancy to the enquiries given that some Spain fans, who had travelled far and sacrificed much to be in Donetsk, were critical of how much acknowledgement their heroes gave them at the whistle.
Assistant coach Toni Grande said there had been some noisy revelry in the dressing room but, to be fair, the impact of getting to a semi-final was now less momentous than it once was. Only winning the tournament would bring nirvana and unleash a torrent of joy.
Their harshest judges might wonder whether this more laconic greeting for a significant feat was a good signal or not. What I believe is that these players have so rigorously set themselves the high water mark of lifting the trophy that nothing else will properly satisfy them. Relentlessness, even ruthlessness, is the mark of champions.
As for the supporters, I think they were victims of Spain's players being tired, tense and businesslike. Cesc Fàbregas pointed out: "Sometimes there's so much tension you can forget the fans. They make huge efforts to follow us and it won't happen again."
There was a day when La Roja's fans, too, would simply be happy with a triumph over France and a place in the last four. The value of fame, success and the hunger for more can come with a price tag attached.
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