This story begins in the 1970s and with Heraldo Bezerra. Bezerra played for Atletico Madrid and won four major titles yet what makes this player unique, is that he was the first Brazilian national to represent La Roja. Whilst this switch remained an anomaly for many years, it set in motion an idea that leads to a very special footballer.
The migration of footballing talent from Brazil led to Spain capping their first black player in the 1990s, Donato. Later, this culminated in the more recent Spanish superstars Diego Costa and Thiago Alcantara – the latter whilst born in Italy and who now represents Spain has two Brazilian parents and his brother Rafinha has been capped for Brazil at international level. However, the name which encapsulates the technical flair, revolutionary style and class of a Brazilian turned Spaniard, lays at one man’s feet. Marcos Senna.
Born in São Paulo, Senna achieved much in his homeland before making the move to Spain. After rising through the youth of Rio Branco, a couple of transfers led him to Corinthians where they won the Campeonata Paulista and Brazil’s Serie A in 1999. Senna also achieved glory in the inaugural Club World Cup in 2000 which included the likes of Manchester United and Real Madrid.
Yet it would be another two years and two more clubs before the move to Europe materialised. But when the move did eventually come, Senna would go on to become a club legend and European champion.
Speaking to FIFATV, Senna said: “I didn’t know Villarreal, or where I was coming to. Today, everyone knows who Villarreal is and I am proud to be part of its rise.”
Whilst Senna’s arrival was not huge news at the time, the club, known as The Yellow Submarine began investing and year on year more talent joined. Juan Roman Riquelme and Diego Forlan become the poster boys of a new era, one which culminated in a Champions League semi-final after finishing third in La Liga to qualify.
Senna had fast become the fulcrum of the Villarreal midfield and even though injuries threatened to curtail his European journey early, the now Spanish citizen had become widely regarded as one of Spain’s top midfielders.
Naturally, with success comes interest and in 2006 Manchester United seemed destined to land Senna. However, with the Red Devils chasing other targets, both Senna and Villarreal, who notably were open to making the deal happen, grew tired, and later United’s advances were rebuffed with the midfielder signing a new 3-year contract shortly after.
From this point on, Senna never looked back and would go on to make 357 appearances for the Castellón club, eventually inheriting the captaincy from the departing Quique Álvarez.
Senna’s style was revolutionary for the deeper central midfield role. Instead of the typical destroyer, Senna used his exceptional football brain, positional awareness, and timing, to steal the ball from players before either passing through the lines to his teammates or using a velvet touch to outwit the opposition and make space.
Additionally, he could strike a ball. Curling free-kicks, edge of the box screamers and most well-known of all, a wonder-goal against Real Betis from inside the centre circle. A goal Senna described as “the best goal of my life.”
Senna’s use of both feet would be something to inspire a young Santi Cazorla to train hard on using the gift of ambidextrous coordination to separate himself from other Spanish midfielders.
It was this technical ability which allowed the midfielder not to feel out of place when called upon to represent the national side. Senna played in every match of the 2008 Euro success, an amazing achievement when you consider Spain had a midfield selection of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Cesc Fàbregas, Xabi Alonso, Cazorla, Rubén de la Red and David Silva.
It would take arguably Spain’s best defensive midfielder ever, Sergio Busquets, to knock Senna off his perch and end his time with the national team, stopping just short of a World Cup winner’s medal.
This writer spoke to La Liga Weekly host Jon Driscoll about Senna, who summed him up brilliantly. “Fantastic player – a real strong character, a proper leader, but also technical enough to play with Xavi, Iniesta, and co. An underrated influence on Spain as they developed into the best in the world.”
Senna departed Villarreal after seeing them relegated and then aiding in their fight back to the Primera Division. He left as a hero at El Madrigal, a cornerstone to Villarreal’s 21st-century origin story. Not as a legendary goal-scorer or winner of countless trophies, but as a figure of football mastery in the club’s rise to European recognition.