The difference between insanity and genius is measured only by success.
In attempting to evaluate the rise and fall of a Spain squad who have suddenly become mortal, one must look at the decision-making of the celebrated coach Vicente del Bosque as one of the key reasons behind their quite stunning unravelling at these finals. A 2-0 loss to Chile in Rio signals the end of an era for an exceptional manager and his players. The inquest can begin before Spain conclude their tournament against Australia on Monday.
The Spanish squad that have collapsed so dramatically have revelled in numerous baubles and plaudits over the past six years. It has been a tremendous pleasure to witness for most football fans, but all good things must come to an end. In the world game, what goes up, must come down.
Spain's tiki-taka pioneers fell as hard in Brazil as they had soared in South Africa. Four years between Johannesburg and Rio de Janeiro was as much of a hurdle to overcome as Chile. Not that Spain could not have helped themselves.
With Old Father Time an obvious enemy, it was Del Bosque's loyalty to his old guard that proved to be Spain's undoing.
Before the fateful trip to Brazil, Spain had won Euro 2008 under the late Luis Aragones. Del Bosque continued their timeline of success with his country waltzing to the World Cup in 2010 and Euro 2012 in quite splendid style. Spain were installed as favourites to win back-to-back World Cup trophies here, but Del Bosque men's are the first team to depart the tournament having suffered conclusive losses in their opening two games.
How did it come to this for so many fabled footballers? A collection of reasons, but the success of yesteryear seemed to cloud the judgement of the coach.
Del Bosque failed to heed the lessons of the 5-1 flogging in their opening game of these finals to the Netherlands.
There was talk of four changes being made from that mauling: Xavi, Gerard Pique, David Silva and Diego Costa were all touted to be chopped with Koke, Javi Martinez, Pedro and Cesc Fabregas waiting in the wings.
In the end, Del Bosque could not bring himself to do it. Not to men he had come to rely upon. Only the Barcelona duo Gerard Pique and Xavi were cut with Martinez and Pedro introduced.
It was too little, too late. His decision to stick with an unstable part-time goalkeeper Iker Casillas, who no longer plays Liga matches for Real Madrid, and a rusty striker in Brazil-born Diego Costa, who could also have played for the host nation such was his requirement to increase sharpness, were poor decisions.
Casillas was contributing errors in last month's Champions League final despite Real Madrid's 4-1 win over Atletico, but his astonishing Spanish career is surely over after 156 caps.
As the former Dutch midfielder Clarence Seedorf intimated during his stint as a BBC pundit: "The wrong men were out there tonight. For Spain, there's been some bad choices. They just didn't combine well and you could see them struggle."
Alvaro Negredo and Jesus Navas were dropped from the squad prior to this tournament which did not seem to make much sense to this onlooker, both having played roles in helping Manuel Pellegrini's Manchester City carry off the Premier League.
Instead, Fernando Torres was retained having struggled for league goals at Chelsea. There will be men in the Spain squad who will take their leave of these finals - and probably international football - without playing any meaningful part in the tournament.
And that is where the idea of insanity greets you. To keep doing the same things again and again, and expect a different outcome.
Did Del Bosque truly think only two changes were sufficient for a side mentally wounded by the happenings of that Dutch slaying?
It was more or less the same team. It was the same outcome. Chile looked more like Spain at the previous World Cup than Spain did at this one.
They played efficiently almost knowing that they had Spain's number. When the goals creased the Spanish net, one was not truly surprised.
Eduardo Vargas profited from hesitant defending to find the opening goal on 20 minutes before Casillas was culpable after punching the ball back into the traffic when he could have caught it. Charles Aránguiz bundled the rebound into the net for the second on 43 minutes.
It almost felt that there was a sense of foreboding in the air over the Maracana, a stadium where Spain were plastered by Brazil 3-0 a year ago in the Confederations Cup final.
There was no way back for the Spanish, but there was time for Costa and Sergio Busquets to miss glaring chances in the second half.
You tend to reap what you sow. Del Bosque will surely vacate the position. He has done an admirable job, but this experience will be tinged with regrets. He should have given fresher men a chance to flourish. Spain were leg weary. He went to the well once too often, but there was no more champagne to drink.
We will probably never see as bright an international side as Spain's golden generation - with the wonderful Andres Iniesta and Xavi suddenly vulnerable - again in our lifetime. Mainly because they were like a club side, ripped from the Barcelona vintage of 2009 and 2011 with Lionel Messi the notable exception for a full house.
But this calamity has almost felt like a return to the 1980s and 1990s when Spain frequently flattered to deceive and were guilty of self-harming at these tournaments.
More self-harming has gone on here with Del Bosque ultimately failing to see the merits of self-help.
- Sports & Recreation
- Vicente del Bosque