Ex-Manchester United star Juan Mata is ‘returning home’ to work on a project for Manchester International Festival.
Mata is assembling a squad of 11 players to work on artworks that celebrate ‘artists on the pitch’.
The project starts this summer as he teams up with performance artist Tino Sehgal and will culminate in a major exhibition in the city in 2025.
“From my side, it was is all about trying to recognise players from the present and past,” Mata said.
“In my mind they look like artists on the pitch. You can feel when you watch a player that feels different – the way he or she moves, the way they touch the ball.”
Mata gave examples of the type of player he’s looking for; Eric Cantona, Dennis Bergkamp and Roberto Baggio.
The project is titled The Trequartista: Art and Football United. The Trequartista, better known in England as the number 10 of the team, is often the most creative player on the pitch.
It was a role he himself played at United, Chelsea and Valencia.
“So many of the players that I admired when I was little, they used to play that position, and they normally played with a lot of talent [so] that they could make a difference in the game.”
Mata believes that in modern football it is a role that is becoming endangered.
“I think we are seeing that position less and less, so this exhibition is all about trying to keep the conversation going about these kinds of players who were making a difference on the pitch, and many of them were kind of rebels, in a way.”
He continued, “They have a certain personality, a certain character that made them heroes for many people, and so it’s very nice for us to bring them back to the conversation of football nowadays.”
Mata’s collaboration with Sehgal will be seen at this year’s festival at the National Football Museum and is described as a playful choreographic exchange.
The full 11 artworks will be shown at the next festival in 2025.
The idea first came about during what co-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist described as “a wonderful conversation” between him and Mata at the last MIF in 2021.
Mata is an art lover and he wants to bring art and football together.
John McGrath, MIF artistic director said, “To engage with Manchester through football is pretty fundamental. And it’s something that Hans and I have often talked about wanting to do, so when Juan came along to see the poet-artist exhibition [in 2021] and that conversation started, it felt like a real gift.”
Another former Red Devil, Gary Neville sits on the festival’s board.
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