Marcos Senna interview: Ex-Spain midfielder striking the beat of unity

Photo courtesy of the New York Cosmos. By Mike Stobe / Getty Images
Photo courtesy of the New York Cosmos. By Mike Stobe / Getty Images

A European Championship winner in 2008, it is the New York Cosmos who now get to make the most of former Spain midfielder Marcos Senna’s talents, although he is pretty sure where his path would have led him had it not been for the footballing light guiding the way.

The most largely unforeseen development of the 2014 World Cup so far has been the exit of Spain, eliminated before they even got to play their final group game. ‘La Roja’ had in the past few years exerted the kind of dominance over international football that every nation dreams of. The 2010 World Cup triumph in South Africa came in the middle of the European Championship successes of 2008 and 2012.

Lifting the World Cup in front of 84,490 after Andrés Iniesta’s extra-time winner at Soccer City, Johannesburg was something incredible for the people of Spain. It is the pinnacle of the sport, but Spain’s triumph in the Euros two years earlier was more fervently celebrated by the players as they finally laid to rest 44 years of frustration in the quest to win a major tournament.

Fernando Torres, fresh from a sensational first season with Liverpool, got the headlines in the Euro 2008 final with the solitary goal to see off Germany in Vienna. However, any successful team in the upper echelons of the game needs a system that works from front to back.

Spain coach at the time, the late Luis Aragonés, had in Marcos Senna a player roundly appreciated by his teammates, none more so than the magical midfield talents of Andrés Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fábregas and David Silva, freed up by his unwavering work. The likeable number 19 performed the less spectacular duties but did not fall under the radar for very long, winning sizeable praise for his contribution and being named in the UEFA Team of the Tournament.

Despite his achievement with Spain, Marcos was actually born in São Paulo, Brazil, and received Spanish citizenship in 2006. The former Corinthians man enjoyed 11 years with Villarreal, reaching the Champions League semi-final in 2006 and leaving a huge mark on the club thanks in no small part to his leadership and his eye for a jaw-dropping strike.

As with so many of his fellow players, it is far from easy for him to comprehend his life without football. The 37-year-old is however someone who loves the integration of cultures, and if the beautiful game had not taken him in he feels sure that he would still be immersed in something that brings people together in a stunning and glorious way.

“(I enjoy) all music, but especially samba music from Brazil,” he said. “Music is important to me.
“If I wasn’t a footballer, I would be involved in music somehow.”

Arriving at Villarreal in 2002 after an appearance in the Copa Libertadores final with São Caetano, Marcos would cement his place as a true favourite at El Madrigal. In his time with ‘El Submarino Amarillo’, he played in well over 300 games and scored 29 goals, including a sensational effort from inside the centre circle against Real Betis in April 2008.

He captained the club, helping the Valencian side to their best ever finish as they achieved a La Liga runners-up spot under Manuel Pellegrini in 2008. Marcos also played his part in their promotion back to the top flight in 2013 after one season back in the second tier.

Although his entrance to the international football arena came with a nation on a different continent, Marcos maintains his connection with Brazil. He describes the genre he loves from back home as ‘in his blood’ and it was one from this style that was the first into his collection.

“I was 15 years old when I bought my first record. I don’t remember the exact artist but I know it was samba music.
“I listened to all types of music as a child, but mostly samba.”




Marcos’ time with Villarreal drew to a close in 2013 and his next port of call was to be the U.S. It was muted at the time that he was to join a Major League Soccer team, but he would actually move to the New York Cosmos of the North American Soccer League.

The original Cosmos (1970-1985) were headline makers in the game once upon a time, playing host to worldwide stars such as Pelé, Franz Beckenbauer and Johan Neeskens before they ultimately disbanded. The club returned in 2010 and last August’s win over the Fort Lauderdale Strikers was the Cosmos’ first game since September 15th 1984.

Marcos was undeniably a huge acquisition for the team and he proved emphatically that the sparkle has not faded from his play. The Cosmos were Fall Season winners of the NASL and they secured the big prize, the 2013 Soccer Bowl, by defeating Spring Season champions Atlanta Silverbacks. That success in November marked their sixth NASL title, but their first since 1982.

The only goal of the game against Atlanta came via a fantastic finish from the edge of the box from Marcos after an assured first touch to set himself. He was the team’s top scorer with six and was named their Player of the Year as well as being chosen by the league’s coaches in the NASL Best XI.

He extended his contract with the club to July 2015, citing his own happiness and that of his family, as well as the good condition of his body as principle reasons to stay. The American adventure has been good to him so far and he has even added Katy Perry’s song ‘Dark Horse’ to his list of favourites in recent times!

Even with his standing in the game though, he lets others in the ranks put together the Cosmos’ playlist before a match.

“I’m never the team DJ. The guys who usually control the music are Stefan Dimitrov, Dane Murphy, Jemal Johnson, and Hunter Freeman.”

A Christian who has always tended to stay in rather than going out drinking, his Spain teammates joked ahead of the Euro 2008 final that they would make him drink until he was sick if they won. An uncomplicated approach is the kind he favours and aside from the spectacular goals in his career he has generally been the one to allow those ahead of him on the field to prosper.

Marcos is a lover of music but if he was to be involved in it down the line he would steer clear of the microphone. He has managed to dodge being made to perform for his colleagues over the years, either on karaoke or as part of an initiation.

“Luckily I’ve never had to sing in front of the team because I can’t sing!”

Among the many to have discussed football and music on here is one of the game’s most respected journalists, Spanish-based Graham Hunter. Author of ‘Spain: The Inside Story of La Roja’s Historic Treble’, he recalled once how Marcos decided to ignore a Villarreal director’s warning to him that the number 19 shirt at the club was cursed. His early career at El Madrigal was hampered by knee injury but he went on to make a mockery of that curse claim.

Following the Cosmos’ success last November, they headed to Spain to take on none other than Villarreal in a tribute match for Marcos at his old stomping ground. He looks back at those days with Villarreal and remembers two of the leading attacking talents who also helped dictate the atmosphere before a game, as well as the defender who did so for Spain.

“For Villarreal, it was Giuseppe Rossi and (Juan Román) Riquelme who controlled the music. For the Spanish national team, it was Sergio Ramos.

“All of (my career teammates) have been very bad singers!”

Currently, Marcos is recovering from a groin injury but he has played seven games, with a goal and an assist, for the Cosmos so far this time around. Led by Giovanni Savarese, the team has just concluded its nine-game Spring Season, sealing 2nd place just a point behind Minnesota United.

The Fall Season will get underway on July 12th in a home date with San Antonio Scorpions at Hofstra University’s Shuart Stadium. This Tuesday (June 24th) saw the Cosmos edged out 2-1 after extra-time in a U.S. Open Cup game away to the Philadelphia Union of MLS. There were three red cards (two for the Cosmos) late in the fifth round match and it ended their run in the competition, which included beating another MLS side, the New York Red Bulls.

Ex-Red Bulls defender Carlos Mendes captains the Cosmos but Marcos certainly offers his immense know-how too. Also a big fan of New York native and legendary actor Denzel Washington, Marcos has strongly taken to his surroundings since joining the Cosmos and with the on-field harmony it has been an ideal fit overall.

“As a player, I love playing with the Cosmos because this is a team where I have the freedom to express my talents and to help mentor the younger players on the team. I love New York because there are so many things to do all the time.
“There is also a lot of diversity, with people from all over the world and all cultures inter-mixed. It is also a safe environment, which is a positive.”




During the 2006 World Cup, Marcos started in the wins over Ukraine and Tunisia in the group phase for Luis Aragonés’ side. La Roja exited at the last 16 as they were beaten by France but Marcos came on as a second-half substitute for Xavi in Hanover.

Two years later, he played all 90 minutes of the Euro 2008 group wins over Russia and Sweden and featured for the entire 120 minutes as Spain beat World Cup holders Italy on penalties in the quarter-final. Marcos put his spot kick past Gianluigi Buffon in that one and played the entirety of the semi-final win against Russia and the final success over Germany.

He said he had seen representing Brazil as a distant possibility, but as a Spanish international he won a major tournament and made 28 appearances, scoring once. Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson had identified him as a transfer target back in 2006, although Marcos has said that despite the interest it was down to the club’s sponsors that England international Owen Hargreaves was ultimately bought instead.

With a career of highs to be proud of for club and country, Marcos sums up what he has taken the most from football in terms of learning experiences.

“Soccer has given me the opportunity to explore different cultures, which has helped me grow to become a better person off the field.”

Marcos played a key role in the first of three tremendous successes for Spain, giving the license for his midfield and forward teammates to hit their dazzling and destructive best. His name remains a famous and easily recognisable one to fans all over the world and there is reason to believe there will be a few more great goals before the day comes to step away from playing.

As each interviewee on here is asked to do, Marcos obliged in selecting four of his best career teammates to play alongside him in a fantasy 5-a-side line-up. Three of his choices were with him in his time at Villarreal, while the Cosmos’ 2013 Defender of the Year gets the call just behind Marcos in the team.

“Goalkeeper – Pepe Reina. Defender – Rovérsio.
“Midfielder – Santi Cazorla. Forward – Giuseppe Rossi.”

Follow me on Twitter: @chris_brookes

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