Alan Shearer aside, not many players have risked incurring the wrath of Sir Alex Ferguson by resisting his overtures to join Manchester United, particularly whilst at the peak of their prowess. One player who was bold enough to go where so few braved, was Villarreal legend, Marcos Senna.
In the summer of 2006, with Senna aged 30 and four years into his career in Spain, Manchester United made enquiries about his services. Senna was said to be keen on making the switch to Old Trafford, but then Ferguson got word that his number one target, Owen Hargreaves of Bayern Munich, might be available and so switched his attentions elsewhere. When the move for Hargreaves broke down, United and Fergie came back looking to do a deal with Villarreal for Senna only to be told that neither player nor club was interested.
Thus it came to pass that Senna would stay at Villarreal for a further seven years until he finally left for America and New York Cosmos in 2013. By that time Senna had well and truly cemented his place as a legend for the Spanish club.
Born in Brazil in 1976, Senna was a late bloomer. Although playing for several years in his native country, it wasn’t until his transfer to Villarreal from São Caetano in 2002 at the age of 26 that his career began to take off.
A holding midfielder, Senna made his reputation as a player providing cover in front of the defence. His playing style was such that rather snap around at opponents’ heels aggressively as others have done in the role, he instead concentrated on using his tactical awareness and reading of the game to break up opponents’ play by solid positional sense. In doing so, he was able to perform a role in protecting the centre backs behind him.
It was the appointment of Manuel Pellegrini as Villarreal manager in 2004 that saw Senna’s importance to the side start to gain recognition, and, in turn, see his career begin its upward projection. Under a more possession-based style of football introduced by Pellegrini, Villarreal depended on the guile and composure of Senna more than ever before.
Villarreal finished third in La Liga in 2005, and after defeating Everton in a qualifier, competed in the Champions League for the first time. Taking well to European football, the club progressed unbeaten through the group stages before victories on the away goals rule over both Glasgow Rangers and Inter Milan set up a last-four clash with Arsenal.
Desperately unlucky to lose to Arsenal 1-0 on aggregate, Villarreal’s European adventure finally came to a halt, but Senna’s performances were sufficient for him to gain international recognition for the first time as he approached his 30th birthday.
Although born in Brazil, Senna qualified to play for Spain after taking out citizenship. He was drafted into Spain’s 2006 World Cup squad for the tournament held in Germany and kept his place through the successful 2008 European Championship-winning campaign.
For all his success at international level, it was back at the Yellow Submarine that Senna shone brightest. As his career continued, he continued to grow and blossom as a player well into his thirties. More recognised ‘star’ players at Villarreal such as forwards Juan Román Riquelme and Diego Forlán, as well as captain Quique Álvarez all moved on, and so Senna was appointed club captain. It was an honour that was both richly appropriate and deserving for the man who had started life in such humble surroundings in Brazil.
A devout Christian, Senna was tee-total throughout his career and lived and played as an example to others. When Villarreal fell on hard times after their magnificent second-place La Liga finish in 2008, many other players bailed out of the club. Not so Senna. When relegation was confirmed in 2012, the majority of the side left for greener pastures, but still Senna stayed and so further cemented his legend.
Senna’s talents as a player included the ability to play with either foot and being a dead ball specialist. Scoring regularly both from the spot and from free-kicks, Senna had a cultured style of striking the ball leaving opposing goalkeepers grasping at thin air.
The last two years of his career were played out with the newly reformed New York Cosmos before Senna finally retired from football at the age of 39. He was awarded a testimonial by Villarreal in recognition of his services for the club and in 2016 returned to the club in order to work in an ambassadorial role. Since retiring he has also set up the Marcos Senna Foundation, which aims to help disadvantaged communities in Brazil.
Although, indeed, it is normally the flamboyant types – the goalscorers, goalkeepers, or high profile midfielders – who take the plaudits and thus end their careers with legendary status being bestowed upon them, the case of Marcos Senna is proof that just sometimes this trend can be bucked.
Nobody connected with Villarreal will ever forget the contribution made in Senna’s 11 years at the club.