Marcos Senna was born in São Paulo, Brazil. He’s a EURO 2008 winner with Spain, captain of Villarreal CF, a cultured passer and a penalty specialist. He is also a committed campaigner against racism and a supporter of human rights and the migrant communities in his home country of Brazil and Spain.
After playing for a number of Brazilian sides early in his career, Senna moved to the Spanish club Villarreal CF in 2002 from São Caetano. Since joining, he has helped them reach the UEFA Champions League semi-finals. They currently lie fourth in La Liga.
Senna was granted Spanish citizenship in early 2006, and was part of the national squad for the 2006 World Cup and Euro 2008, scoring in Spain’s penalty shoot out victory against Italy. The pinnacle of his career came two games later when he played a crucial role in the teams final win over Germany. He recently set up The Marcos Senna Foundation.
Marcos has recently pledged his support to the FARE network by getting involved in the ‘Unite Against Racism’ conference in Warsaw. We caught up with him ahead of the event to get his thoughts on racism, role models and the power of football.
MY FIRST THOUGHT AFTER WINNING EURO 2008: WOULD THE PEOPLE FROM JARDIM RINCAO, SAO PAOLO, BE ABLE TO SEE THE MATCH ON TELEVISION?
Heidi Thaler: You are captain of Villarreal Football Club and winner of the European Championship 2008. Congratulations!
Marcos Senna:Thank you. To win European Cup has been the realization of my dream. When I began to play football I didn´t have too much support and my family was very poor. But I persevered to one day of become a professional footballer. For me and my teammates, it was great to beat Germany in the final. I wondered whether or not people in Jardim Rincao, the neighborhood I grew up in, would have had the chance to see the final.
You were born in Brazil, since 2002 you play in the Spanish league. How were your experiences coming to Europe?
When I arrived here it was not easy. I had very difficult moments because it was the first time I left my family in Brazil. I also had two very bad knee injuries which forced me out of football for almost two years. I was afraid, but also patient that I was going to get the opportunity to show people what I could do.
There are many discussions about integration. On your website you point out, that: “Marcos Senna is also an example of social integration and many children see him as an icon for integration and globalization of the mankind. His Brazilian origins haven’t stopped him defending the Spanish colors with the National football team. Marcos is totally integrated with the “Spanish feeling””. Can you tell us more about your thoughts and ideas on integration?
I feel very lucky that Spanish society as a whole has helped me to be 100 % integrated in the community and I have been treated perfectly. But unfortunately not everybody is as lucky. I don’t understand why we all still talk about different people because of the color of their skin, their nationality or their religion. Our community has to teach the younger generation that we are all brothers from the same world, and that all this diversity makes this world a richer place.
FARE is actively fighting against any kind of discrimination in football. Many black players or players with minority backgrounds experience racism. Can you tell us about your personal experiences?
In football we also find some people that go to stadiums to chant against black players. And it is very curios that they only scream against their rivals but on the other hand support their local black players. I feel very fortunate because in Spain I am fairly well respected so the trouble doesn’t follow me.
Famous football players like you are role models for fans and children. What do you want to tell your fans and the young generations about racism and respect?
From an early age we need to learn to respect everybody because when we get older and have the chance to visit other countries we will want to have the same respect shown towards us. Religion, color of the skin or nationality can not be the reason for discrimination or jokes, particularly as we have to use them to learn about other cultures and make new friends.
FARE organized the official Anti-racism programmed at EURO 2008. At the Semifinals the team captains read out a message against racism on the pitch. For Spain it was Iker Casillias. Do you think that such actions can make a change in people’s minds?
It is true that society reflects what big stars or icons do. And we, football players, have to assume the responsibility. Iker Casillas is my team mate and very active in social activities. This is good because he is one of the top players in Spain. But its not just football stars that can do this; ordinary citizens can change the world with little actions.
How can racism be fought in your opinion?
The right education from an early age is key. The issue of racism has to be taught in schools like all other subjects. Football players will have to support it and continually try to make people aware of the problem. It is society that creates the problems, and society has to eliminate the problems. Discrimination has to be fought by educating even small kids but helped with the actions of me and my fellow footballers. It will take a collective effort from society as a whole to help solve it.
You´ve created the Marcos Senna Foundation. Can you tell us more about it? What was the idea behind, what are your aims and what kind of projects do you want to support?
After I won the Euro 2008 I went on vacation in Brazil. As you know, one of the first things I thought of when the final whistle went was to wonder whether or not the people from Jardim Rincao, Sao Paolo, were watching the match on television. I had a long break after the Championship and found the time to discuss with my wife the possibility of creating my own foundation. Its aim is to help kids in both Spain and Brazil. The Marcos Senna Foundation is there to help all communities, though some are clearly needier than others.
We also have a project in Brazil to build a school, a huge dream of mine. It will be in my old neighborhood, one of the poorest areas of Sao Paolo. Over there we have the purpose to help 150 kids with cultural and sport activities, and give them clothing and food.