Spain — world champions. Top of the world. The crowd watching their victory parade in the streets of Madrid was estimated to number between 500,000 to 2.5 million, and about 300,000 filled the Explanada del Rey to hear them speak at the end. The next days they would appear in an article in the local paper entitled “The Kings of the Universe.” Each player’s bonus was over $750,000. Riding this unbelievable high, it’s interesting to hear one recurring word in their speech: “humility.”
Iniesta appears on the cover of El Mundo magazine with the words “And a virtue: Humility.”
This is the man who scores the winning goal in the World Cup final, but after that he’s just Andrés from the block. He famously said, when a microphone was thrust into his hands the day of the victory parade,
“If I knew (I’d have to speak), I wouldn’t have scored the goal.”
This thread runs through the entire team. This is from July 11, before the final, courtesy of lamadridista’s excellent blog covering the Spanish national team, conlaroja.wordpress.com. It’s from a larger Q&A, here we can see what other players say of themselves:
8. What is your best virtue?
Pedro: People say it’s my humility. I would say it’s my friendliness.
Capdevila: You should ask other people, but I think it’s my humility.
Navas: My humility.
Reina: If it’s a virtue, that I’m a normal guy, I would say.
Mata: My sincerity.
Torres: I don’t know what to say about myself, I don’t know myself (laughs). People say my humility but I believe we’re all humble in our own way. I try to stay close to my family and friends. [Interviewer: success hasn’t changed you, that’s a virtue.] For a footballer, it’s important to differentiate between your professional and personal lives, they’re independent things and you shouldn’t let good or bad things affect you because the person should always stay the same no matter how much or how little success you have.
Albiol: Humility and simplicity, which my parents instilled in me.
Sergio: You should ask other people, but I think it’s my consistency and my heart.
These guys are so humble, it hurts them to say they’re humble. Instead they say, “you should ask other people.” But wait, there’s more. Another conlaroja post, this one covering the equipment managers. These guys wash the practice gear, lay out the uniforms, and handle special requests for the players. If anyone knows the “dirty laundry” and is subject to mistreatment, it would be the guys who pick up the towels and wash the jocks. What is their lowdown on the players? How do the big stars treat the support staff? It’s here and this is a sample:
“Albiol, Iniesta & Pedro: simple and humble.”
Phil Jackson writes about having to instill an ethic of selflessness with the Bulls in his book Sacred Hoops. He knew that a team with ‘Michael Jordan and four guys’ would never win, could never win. By adopting a system of play where the ball could move to any player and that player could score, they became a dynasty. When I read this, I think of Spain’s “tiki-taka” play.
I confess: I am fascinated by this dichotomy. How can the most successful athletes in the world be the most humble? (Kipling writes, “If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster / And treat those two impostors just the same”). And how can humility (having a modest opinion of yourself) contribute to making you more successful? And how does increased success, affluence, and adulation not change your sense of humility?