by Satish Sekar © Satish Sekar July 6th 2008
Marcos Senna da Silva got his big break in the summer of 2002. Just over an hour to the north of Valencia, an up and coming club named Villarreal was preparing to make an impression. It wasn’t a much-heralded signing at the time, but Marcos Senna would become a popular and important player for Villarreal – a club with ambition.
They built their team around Juan Roman Riquelme then, attracting players of the quality of the Argentinean attacking defender Juan Pablo Sorín, the Mexican forward Guillermo Franco and Uruguayan strike partner Diego Forlán, among others. Of that impressive quartet, Forlán and Sorín have been sold and Riquelme finally persuaded Villarreal to allow him to return to Argentinean giants Boca Juniors permanently in January 2008.
Franco remains at the club, but new talent arrived such as Giuseppe Rossi. Jon Dahl Tomasson also arrived in the January transfer window of 2007. Both signings became permanent last summer. Franco still faces stiff competition for playing time. Senna extended his contract in 2006. His abilities won him many admirers, including Manchester United’s Sir Alex Fergusson, Luis Aragonés and Arsenal’s Arsène Wenger.
An unexpected run to the semi-final of the 2005-06 Champions League showed how far the unfancied club had come, even though the following season was a let down that left Villarreal in need of the Intertoto Cup as a route into Europe. An early exit allowed them to concentrate on La Liga.
“I want to win a Primera División title with Villarreal,” says Senna. “It is a great club that is growing and is continuing to grow. It would be wonderful to win a title with this club.”
Villarreal worked hard and emerged as the only challenger to Real Madrid who eventually won the title comfortably. It was however, Villarreal’s best ever finish – one that pushed Barcelona into having to qualify for Champions League football. Senna played an important part in the emergence of Villarreal as genuine title contenders.
The Tank’s performances in the engine-room of Villarreal’s midfield had not gone unnoticed at international level either. Senna gained Spanish citizenship in 2005. Aragonés monitored his progress carefully. In March 2006 Senna made his début for Spain against la Côte d’Ivoire.
“When I was chosen to play for Spain it was a dream come true,” says Senna. “I had been trying to play at international level for years.”
Having lost his place, Senna’s form in Villarreal’s unlikely push for the title earned him a recall for the European Championship. He seized the chance and became an essential part of Aragonés’ plans. Senna has sixteen international caps to date including the final of the European Championship.
In October 2004 Aragonés’ misguided attempt to motivate José Antonio Reyes by describing Thierry Henry as ‘negro de mierda’ backfired spectacularly. Aragonés was fined for his comments, but still believes that he did nothing wrong. He eventually persuaded a Madrid court to overturn the fine and part of the verdict on February 7th 2007.1
Many believe that it was a technicality. Aragonés was even seen as the victim by some in Spain who resented being told what to think, but after the shameful monkey-chanting of black England players from all over the stadium came sober reflection. Nevertheless, no less an authority on racism in football than Samuel Eto’o is adamant that Aragonés is not racist.
And Senna is equally convinced that Spain is not a racist country and nor are its fans. His experiences tell him otherwise. “In the years that I have played in Spain I have never experienced racism,” says Senna. “Supporters of other teams accepted me immediately when I play for Spain. I have nothing bad to say about them. They have treated me very well. Thanks be to God I have never experienced strong racism from any of the players, or in any stadium in Spain.”
Big Boots to Fill
Controversial or not, Aragonés has proved that he has no problem selecting black players. No black man had ever played for Spain in the World Cup finals before Germany 2006. Despite his reputation outside of Spain, Aragonés not only selected a black player in his squad – Senna – but an Argentine-born player as well in Getafe’s Mariano Pernía, who joined Atlético de Madrid after the World Cup.
Pernía is far from the first Argentine-born player to represent Spain. The great Alfredo di Stéfano did so decades ago. And Spain also had other foreign-born legends play for them, including the late great Ferenc Puskás and his compatriot Ladislao Kubala, who was recently voted Barcelona’s greatest ever player.
The first foreign-born player to represent Spain was another Barcelona legend. Born in the Philippines, for whom he also played, Paulino Alcántaro Riestrá, distinguished himself for both club and country in the 1920s. And Senna has added to that distinguished list. No doubt others will soon follow.
“The greater presence of migrants in all Western European countries is gradually being reflected in all areas of life,” said Piara Powar – Director of Kick It Out. “This includes sport, where high profile individuals such as Marcos Senna are playing a crucial role in setting out new identities. The presence and efforts of individuals like Marcos Senna will be crucial to achieving change.”
1 See Cracks Open and Cracks and Chasms.