Despite the hundreds of Brazilian players that have made the move to Europe this past decade, there can be few who have adapted as well to life as Marcos Senna. Indeed, the Villarreal defensive midfielder, who has been gracing La Liga since 2002/03, has fully embraced Spain and its customs, and has seen his career hit ever greater heights as a result.
“For players leaving Brazil to live in another country, it’s vital they have a long-term approach to the move and are prepared to make some changes to their way of life,” Senna told FIFA.com, just days after making his 220th competitive appearance for El Submarino Amarillo, thus breaking the record previously held by Argentinian left-back Rodolfo Arruabarrena. "The quicker you embrace that idea, the easier everything ought to be."
To say that Senna was ready for his own move to Spain is something of an understatement, with the tactically astute competitor already picturing life in La Liga three years prior to joining Villarreal. “I came over here in 1999 with Corinthians to play in the Trofeo Teresa Herrera (pre-season friendly tournament)," he recalled. "What with the good weather, the beauty of La Coruna and the style of football being similar to Brazil, I remember thinking that playing in Spain would be ideal.”
His judgement proved to be sound, with Senna going on to thrive in the Villarreal engine room. And once he had gained Spanish citizenship, he caught the eye of then Spain coach Luis Aragones. “I knew that I was unlikely to get a chance with Brazil,” he said of his decision to turn out for La Roja, a choice vindicated by his key part in victory at UEFA EURO 2008, Spain’s first major trophy since 1964.
“The situation is changing all the time but, in general, it’s hard for a player to break into A Seleção if they’ve not proved themselves in Brazilian football first,” said the 34-year-old from Sao Paulo state, who is a product of the Rio Branco de Americana youth system.
“For example, I never quite established myself at Corinthians. I moved to Spain after reaching the final of the Copa Libertadores with Sao Caetano, who aren’t a big-name side, and on top of that I signed for Villarreal, who at the time weren’t a high-profile team either. At the end of the day, being able to play for Spain was really fulfilling, and I’ve no regrets about not having played for A Seleção. None whatsoever.”
One thing he does regret, however, was the decision of Vicente Del Bosque - Aragones's successor - not to take him to the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™. “Did that hurt? There’s no doubt about it, it hurt a lot,” revealed the 34-year-old, who had been confident of making the cut after being selected for a friendly with France in March.
“Listen, I’m not going to say that I was 100 per cent sure I’d go, because that’d seem presumptuous, but I was 90 per cent certain. I’d even tried on the clothes I’d be wearing to travel with the squad. My hopes were that high.” Senna’s spot nevertheless went to Athletic Bilbao youngster Javier Martinez.
“I admit I hadn’t had the best of seasons prior to the World Cup," he continued. "But to be overlooked in favour of an uncapped player whose performances, if we’re honest, hadn’t been that outstanding, was tough to take. But you’ve got to be patient. You never know what’s going on in a coach’s mind when he makes these choices.”
Even in the face of this setback, it cannot be denied that the balance of Senna’s time on the Iberian Peninsula has been overwhelmingly positive: “It’s quite hard for me to talk about adapting to life here, because I had no problems at all. I’ve felt right at home from the off.”
And given his resounding importance to that EURO 2008 success, as well as his loyalty and consistency at Villarreal, Spanish football fans will be sure to make him feel equally at home for a long time yet.