by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar July 6th 2008
Marcos Senna da Silva has proved himself to be one of his country’s most important players on and off the pitch. He is part of a long tradition of foreign-born players to play for Spain that includes all time greats Alfredo di Stéfano and Ferenc Puskás, but that was decades ago.
More recently Mariano Pernía was called up by Spain despite his Argentinean heritage. Senna has continued his progress. He was the youngest black footballer to be capped for Spain. So how does he feel about being a black pioneer in Spanish football? “I’m not the first black player to have played for Spain,” says Senna modestly. “Donato was the first.”
Donato Gama da Silva made his name in Brasil with Vasco da Gama. In 1988 he moved to Spain, playing five seasons for Atlético de Madrid. He won the Copa del Rey (King’s Cup) there twice. Aged 30 Donato moved to Deportivo La Coruña. He took Spanish citizenship in 1994, winning twelve caps for his new country, including becoming the first black player to represent Spain in the finals of a major tournament – the European Championship in 1996.
He scored three goals in his international career. In the season of 1999-2000 Donato helped the Galician side to the Primera División title. He hung up his boots aged 40 after a 23 year career. On his retirement he held the record for most appearances made by a foreign-born player in La Liga at 466. In 2002 Donato broke a 43 year-old record by becoming the oldest goal-scorer in Primera División history.
Donato opened the door for talented black players. Vicente Engonga would soon follow his example. Born in Barcelona, Engonga traces his ancestry to Equatorial Guinea. He surprised many by earning a place in Spain’s squad for the European Championships of 2000 aged 34.
An obdurate defender Engonga played for several clubs including Valencia: Mallorca and Celta de Vigo. He also played in England for Coventry. Engonga represented Cataluña as well. Like Donato before him Engonga made it easier for talented black players to gain international recognition for Spain. Both Donato and Engonga were in their 30s when they won their first cap for Spain.
To Encourage the Others
Senna made his international début aged 29. He turns 32 on July 16th – Senna has 16 caps to his name, including the most important in recent Spanish history. He is the most capped black Spanish international and in a rich vein of form. He is also the first black footballer to represent Spain in the finals of two major tournaments.
Senna is also the first black man to play for Spain in the final of a major tournament and obviously is the first black player to earn a winner’s medal in a major competition for Spain. Senna’s performances in the European Championship earned him a spot in the squad of the tournament and he was the choice of Player of the Tournament of some pundits. The official award went to his team-mate Xavi Hernández.
Senna is undoubtedly a pioneer for black footballers, especially in Spain, but again he is modest about his achievements. “There is no doubt that my selection for the national team is a good thing and will encourage other black players,” says Senna, “but I believe that if a black player is good enough he will be chosen for the national team.”
Senna has become an integral part of Luis Aragonés’ plans. He was one of the first names put down on Aragonés’ team-sheet throughout the European Championship. He is the highest profile black Spanish footballer, but while others have been on the receiving end of racist abuse those experiences do not reflect Senna’s time in Spain. Nevertheless, he doesn’t dispute that it has happened.