We are deeply saddened that racism has once again blighted Spanish football. On Sunday evening an idiot threw a banana onto the pitch at Villarreal’s Madrigal Stadium. Barcelona’s Dani Alves picked the fruit up and ate it, thereby ridiculing the racist. It is a great pity that it happened to a club like Villarreal which not only had no history of racist abuse, but had adopted a strict ant-racist policy. Time will tell how serious the club is in its efforts to rid itself of such so-called fans. We take this opportunity to republish our interview in six parts with former Villarreal great the Tank, Marcos Senna da Silva.
by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar July 6th 2008
Last year Empower-Sport Magazine published Satish Sekar’s exclusive interview with Villarreal’s dynamic midfielder Marcos Antonio Senna da Silva. Now we update the story and reflect on his subsequent exploits for club and country as well. Nicknamed el Tanque – the Tank – Senna has proved a revelation for Villarreal and Spain.
His international career seemed over after Spanish coach Luis Aragonés failed to call him up during the qualification campaign for the European Championship. Since the dip in form that cost him his place in the talented Spanish side Senna has worked hard and regained his form to become indispensable.
Last season Real Madrid, coached by former player Bernd Schuster, retained their La Liga title. Villarreal’s wily Chilean coach Manuel Pellegrini quietly went about his business while all other challenges faded away.
Villarreal emerged as the only team capable of challenging the Madrid giant and they did it without the creativity, but ultimately disruptive influence of Argentina’s play-maker Juan Román Riquelme – back in Argentina with former club Boca Juniors – or the goals of Uruguayan striker Diego Forlán who was sold to Atlético de Madrid last summer, ironically after a training ground bust-up with Senna.
Despite that altercation Senna played a large part in the unexpected run to second place in La Liga that will see the small club, sandwiched between Valencia to the south and Barcelona to the north, grace the Champions League next season. In their last Champions League campaign they reached the semi-final, going out to Arsenal thanks to Riquelme’s missed penalty.
Villarreal’s Brasilian asset is dismissed by some as just a holding midfielder who breaks up opposing attacks. He certainly does that, but he can play a bit in the other half too. On April 27th 2008 Senna scored a superb and important goal against Real Betis from just inside their half – a goal he described as ‘the best goal of his life.’1
His performances for Villarreal convinced the controversial Aragonés – who stepped down as Spain’s coach in favour of Vicente del Bosque after the European Championship triumph – that nobody in Spain could perform the holding midfield role better than Senna. And he proved Aragonés right.
Senna never managed to play for his native Brasil. He is now exactly the type of player that Brasil’s coach and former captain Dunga desperately needs. Senna’s stock has risen dramatically. While David Villa Sánchez and super-sub Francesc Fàbregas Soler have rightfully gained rave reviews for their performances in the European Championship, along with the ever-dependable Spanish captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas, Senna’s contribution has not gone unnoticed.
He was mentioned in all sensible discussions on the Player of the Tournament award – an award won by Barcelona’s Xavi Hernández. He eased through the qualifying stage without putting a foot wrong. Spain broke Italy’s competitive domination in the quarter-final – a less than thrilling match that went to penalties. Senna was one of Spain’s penalty takers. He dispatched his confidently. Fàbregas scored the penalty that cost Roberto Donadoni his job.
Confidence spread through the Spanish camp. Russia gained confidence too. Inspired by the supremely talented Andrei Arshavin, Guus Hiddink’s side sent Marco van Basten’s gifted Netherlands team home early. Senna’s contest with Arshavin was touted as likely to be the decisive encounter of the semi-final.
It was a complete mismatch. Spain won easily with three unanswered second half goals. Arshavin was anonymous, but credit for that belongs to Senna who quite simply outplayed him and also helped to set some Spanish attacks in motion as Senna not only breaks up the play of the opposition, but can pass too.
Senna was an integral component in Spain’s impressive run to their first final of a major tournament for twenty-four years. They were beaten 2-0 by a great French side led by current UEFA President Michel Platini, Jean Tigana and Alain Giresse.2 So how did a Brasilian boy born into poverty come to be such an important player for another country?
2 Spain has won youth titles and also the Olympic title in 1992, but has never won the World Cup and only won the European Nations Cup as it was called then once – in 1964.