How hard is it to repeat?

The soccer gods really have it out for Spain. They have just become the first defending World Cup champion to be eliminated after the first two matches of group play. Spain and a good part of the world I believe were shocked by the sudden fall of the Spanish national team that was so dominant four years ago. It was not gradual either. Spain entered this tournament still maintaining the number one rank in the world. Suddenly, they have dropped two games by a combined score of seven to one. They were simply blown out of the water by Holland and Chile and it truly looks as if an era has ended for Spain. Andres Iniesta will not be returning, neither will Fernando Torres, Sergio Ramos, Iker Casillas, Pepe Reina, Xavi Alonso nor David Villa. This team is going to most likely be decimated.

However, this is not unheard of in international soccer anymore. At three of the last four World Cups, including this one, the defending champion has failed to make it out of group play. France, Italy and now Spain have all failed to return to the same form they were in during the previous championship campaign. It is shocking how quickly teams can fall apart.

Believe it or not, over the same time frame (twelve years) the NFL has seen similar problems. Of the twelve Super Bowl winners, starting with the 2001 New England Patriots all the way to the 2013 Baltimore Ravens, only six of those twelve teams even made it back to the playoffs the next year. Additionally, only the Patriots won back-to-back championships in 2003 and 2004. Those six unsuccessful teams fell apart over the course of less than a year and failed to even make it back for a shot at another championship.

Baseball has a very similar story. From the 2001 Arizona Diamondbacks to the 2012 San Francisco Giants, only six of those twelve teams have made it back to the postseason the following year. None of them have repeated as champions. Again, only half of the teams who win a championship one year even make it back to the playoffs the next year. Baseball only has 10 of its team making the playoffs, the fewest of any major sport, making it even harder to make it back to the playoffs the following season.

I was surprised to see this trend across more than one sport. A lot of the issues with repeating as champions can be traced to lack of desire or drive. That edge you have when seeking that championship the first time around fades often times going into the next campaign as teams become complacent and rest on their laurels. Another key aspect is players looking for more money. This happens more in the NFL and MLB than in international soccer. Players who have a successful run in the playoffs look for more money and often become unaffordable.

This doesn’t completely explain the ass-kicking Spain got in the first two games but it certainly helps to identify where the issues may have started. Let me know your theories as to why the Spanish fell so far so fast.


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