Marcos Senna is a name synonymous with La Liga side Villarreal FC. Having spent close to two decades at the club, the 46-year-old is a club legend in the town of hardly 50,000 people.
The Brazil-born player played an equally important role on the international stage, playing as a central midfielder for Spain alongside Xabi Alonso.
The man who lured Senna into the team was the then-head coach of the Spanish National team, Luis Aragones, one called the ‘father of the successes for the National Team’ by Spain’s World Cup-winning coach Vicente Del Bosque.
Aragones – credited for being one of the early advocates of tiki-taka in the national team – had been looking for a player for the FIFA World Cup who could deliver quick spot passes, play one-touch football and dominate the midfield.
Bringing the criteria to modern football’s context, he was looking for a Sergio Busquets in 2006.
And Senna fit the bill perfectly.
“I was 29 at the time and there was an opportunity to play in the World Cup. In Brazil, my country of origin, it would have been very difficult to play because they already had a (set) national team and the trainer (head coach) then was Carlos Parreira.”
Aragones (Spanish national team coach), at that time, asked me if I would like to play for the Spanish national team and I did not think twice,” Senna said.
“It was an opportunity to play in the World Cup, something one should not miss and I played in the World Cup.”
Senna – Spain’s solution for a midfield pivot
Senna became Spain’s answer in the central midfield, who not only played the role of an extra defender during opposition attacks but also surprised with his goal-scoring skills with a wonder goal with Villarreal against Real Betis in April 2008.
Getting the ball in the midfield in the 16th minute, Senna took an innocuous kick to see it dip just on time, beyond goalkeeper Casto into the net.
As the Yellow Submarine won the match 1-0, he called it “the best goal of my life”, further adding, ‘I hope Aragones watches it.’
Senna’s story has been very different to Brazil-born striker Diego Costa, who played for Spain in the FIFA World Cup 2014.
Unlike Costa – who had played two international friendlies for Brazil – Senna never played for the Selecao when he was ‘invited’ to play for La Roja.
At the 2006 FIFA World Cup, Spain progressed to the round of 16 with the Villarreal captain in the middle of the park. Along with Alonso, Senna created the perfect double pivot, which fit well in a 4-2-3-1 shape and also in a 4-2-2-2 formation.
Spain reaped its benefits in the European Championship two years later, in 2008, when it limited the then World Champion Italy to a goalless draw in the quarterfinals, eliminating it on penalties.
Aragones’ side won the EUROS that year – Spain’s first European title since 1964 and the first international title since 1992 (Olympic Games gold medal).
While a young and faster Sergio Busquets replaced Senna in the National team for the 2010 FIFA World Cup, Senna continued to be a leader for the Yellow Submarine.
With 259 appearances for Villarreal, Senna has the second-highest number of appearances for the club in La Liga.
“I had quite a few (memorable) moments here,” said Senna, who has spent about 18 years at the club and currently is a member of the club’s institutional relations department.
“If I have to choose the top three, the first would be when we reached the Champions League semifinal.
The second would be when we were promoted (to La Liga) from the second division and the third would be when we were the runner-up to Real Madrid in the 2007-08 season,” he added.
Breaking the La Liga triumvirate
The midfielder was one of the few players who could break the domination of the La Liga triumvirate – Real Madrid, Atletico Madrid and Barcelona – in the national team during Spain’s golden age.
“When I arrived at the club, it was 2002. In my case, I came from Brazil and I was adopted by Spain. I didn’t expect to be at the club for 20 years as I said before, it’s my family and I really feel at home here,” he said.
“A lot of Villarreal players have played for the national team, including myself. Santi Cazorla, Bruno Soriano, and Joan Capdevilla have all played for the national team and we won the Euro and the World Cup.”
Villarreal made history in 2021 went it beat Manchester United in the Europa League final to win its first-ever European title and the club continues to be one of the most promising academies for Spanish players.
Manchester City midfielder Rodri is a product of the club’s academy alongside Villarreal defender, Pau Torres, both of whom are regulars in the national team now.
“I think Villarreal also has a great generation of players who will be able to play for the national team in the present and the future. For example, Pau is someone we can consider a veteran of the national team.
Also, we have Alex Baena, who is playing well and is catching the eye of the coaches. He has played very well in the league matches. Hopefully, he will be called up for the national team soon,” said Senna.