For all of the differences in these three regions, fans of all clubs have come together to watch the national team of Spain play in the past five years. Their playing style has changed since the European Championship of 2008 to the World Cup in 2010 and to their most recent success of back-to-back European Championship victories. With the changes in style came a five-year management span under Vincent del Bosque, showing the maturity of these players that has helped Spain's regional borders.
Though many of the most talented footballers play for Spain, managing the squad is one of the most difficult positions to be in, as the atmosphere has to allow the majority of players who represent Catalonia, the Basque Country, and Castile to forge a bond and forgo the way their clubs have interacted. Spain's national team has pulled fans together not only before the 20th century but also for the success that the team has achieved between 2008 and 2012. When representing Spain at the 1992 Olympics, Pep Guardiola, arguably FC Barcelona's greatest coach, did not believe that his fellow Catalans would support the national team, the 95,000 people in attendance plus the King and Queen showed otherwise.
In 2008, the Spanish national team coach Luis Aragones first started to call the team La Roja, sparking much controversy with the name because during the war, a Rojo was someone who was anti-Franco and Real Madrid played in all white, a stark contrast to Spain's bright red. After winning the tournament, Catalan Xavi Hernandez of FC Barcelona celebrated while wearing a Spanish flag around his body. Though maybe too far over the line for some nationalists, Xavi showed that the national team brought together many players and fans from all over the country.
Two years later at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, celebrations spread out across the country when Andres Iniesta scored the winning goal in extra time against Holland. Isolated accidents occurred in the Basque country as well as in Catalonia, but the general theme across Spain was unity and celebration.
Worry about the national team's future arose when the November 2010 El Clasico arrived, in which FC Barcelona walked away with a 5-0 score line. Tempers flared as players argued countless times and ended with Real Madrid's Sergio Ramos forcefully pushing FC Barcelona's Carles Puyol and Xavi Hernandez. Only that summer had many of these players won the World Cup together.
Spain has been at work for five years repairing damages done decades before these players were born, but the work is coming to fruition as in 2011, ETA offered to stop its terrorist activities.
The difference in the two years between 2010 and 2012 tells a deep story in Spain. Fourteen and a half million people watched the World Cup final between Spain and Holland, showing many had put Spain over their regional differences for that time. In 2012, more than eighteen million viewers watched the semi-final between Spain and Portugal, indicating that the National Team's success is slowly mending differences and uniting Spaniards, even if it occurs only when these players wear the traditional red of Spain.
While Spain has been fractured for many years with all the regional differences, football has united the people, which is a rare occurrence in Spain. Even amidst the current economic crisis that resulted in the Spanish government requesting a European bailout, the Spanish national team helped ease tensions and stress during the 2012 European Championship tournament.
FC Barcelona and Real Madrid still stand apart from each other with their fierce rivalry that will never end, but the players have forged strong friendships through their journeys as teammates while representing Spain all over the world. Athletic Bilbao represents the culture and traditions of a historically old region and although not locked in a battle of pride that occurs every football match between Real Madrid and FC Barcelona, these three clubs have shown more than just spirit or beautiful football to their fans.
Though the national team's current run of success has no doubt lifted the mood in the country, one must wonder if Spain has gotten past the point of turning back into a politically divided country. There are cycles in life, especially football, and as the performance or length of the cycle reaches the peak success, failure must follow as the cycle restarts as a new foundation is built. At the end of this current cycle that the national team is experiencing, Spain will have to endure a period of time without success that could put pressure back on conflicting regions as the common point has been lost. When that time comes, the country will have to mirror the maturity of the Spanish players as they have shown that people from a different culture or with radically opposing ideas can still work and thrive together, giving hope that someday in the future, Spain will be without the political problems it faces today.