Former Manchester United star Juan Mata is “coming home” to work on a project for the Manchester International Festival.
Mata gathers a team of 11 players to work on works of art dedicated to “artists on the field”.
The project will start this summer, when he will team up with performance artist Tino Segal, and will end with a major city exhibition in 2025.
“For my part, it’s all about getting to know the players from the present and the past,” Mata said.
“In my opinion, they look like artists on the field. You can feel when you look at a player who feels different – how he or she moves, how he or she touches the ball.”
Mata gave examples of the players he is looking for; Eric Cantona, Dennis Bergkamp and Roberto Baggio.
The project is called The Trequartista: Art and Football United. Trequartista, better known in England as the tenth number of the team, is often the most creative player on the field.
He played this role himself at United, Chelsea and Valencia.
“So many players that I admired when I was little played in this position, and they usually played with a lot of talent [so] that they could change the game.”
Mata believes that this role is in danger of disappearing in modern football.
“I think we see this position less and less often, so this exhibition is dedicated to trying to keep the conversation going about these players who are changing the situation on the field, and many of them were in some way rebels.”.
He continued: “They have a certain personality, a certain character that has made them heroes for a lot of people, and that’s why it’s very nice for us to bring them back to the conversation about football these days.”
The collaboration between Mata and Segal can be seen at this year’s festival at the National Football Museum, and it is described as a playful choreographic exchange.
The full 11 works will be shown at the next festival in 2025.
The idea first came up during what co-curator Hans Ulrich Obrist called a “wonderful conversation” between him and Mata at the last MIF in 2021.
Mata loves art and wants to combine art and football.
John McGrath, artistic director of MIF, said: “Interacting with Manchester through football is very important. And that’s what Hans and I have often said we want to do, so when Juan came to see the poet-artist’s exhibition [in 2021] and this conversation started, it was a real gift.”
Another former Red Devil, Gary Neville, is on the board of the festival.