Titled The Trequartista: Art and Football United, the initiative will culminate in a major exhibition in Manchester in 2025.
It will give the 11 pairs two years to work together, and is organised by the Serpentine Galleries’ Hans Ulrich Obrist as well as Mata, who will kick off the project with his collaboration with the artist Tino Sehgal this summer.
Mata won the World Cup with Spain in 2010, and moved to Chelsea in 2011, before switching to Manchester United in 2014 and spending eight years at the club.
The footballers enlisted are said to be an international mix of some “football’s most creative talents”, who will team up with “leading artists to celebrate the beautiful game”.
Speaking to BBC News, Mata said: “From my side, it was all about trying to recognise players from the present and past.
READ MORE | ★★★★☆ Review of Football: Designing the Beautiful Game
“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.”
The 34-year-old, who now plays for Galatasaray in Turkey, also spoke of his excitement to “come home”.
Mata’s work with Berlin-based performance artist Sehgal is titled This Entry. It is described as “a playful choreographic exchange between a footballer, violinist, cyclist and singing dancer”.
It will be shown at the National Football Museum and at Whitworth art gallery during this year’s MIF. Former Manchester United defender Gary Neville also sits on the art festival’s board. This year, it will take place from 26 June to 16 July. It will take place throughout the city, but also at Manchester’s eagerly anticipated new £211m arts venue, Factory International. The city was last year hoping to secure naming rights in the region of £25m.
Better known as the ‘number 10’ in the UK, ‘The Trequartista’ refers to a position in attacking midfield, where Mata himself played, and alludes to similar kinds of players. Often known for their creativity, he mentioned the likes of Cantona, Bergkamp and Baggio as the playmakers he would like to recruit.
“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 said, going on to reveal the dwindling number of players in this position.
“I think we are seeing that position less and less,” he continued. “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.
“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.”