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Art

State of the art

Not your average footballer, Thomas Meunier has long cultivated a passion for art – and now the Dortmund full-back is exploring ways to combine the creative world with his day job

WORDS Ian Holyman | PHOTOGRAPHY Sarah Alcalay

Some footballers make an exhibition of themselves. Not Thomas Meunier: he prefers to stage them instead. The Borussia Dortmund defender’s fascination with art has run parallel to his love of football throughout his life, so when the chance came to combine the two it was a match made in heaven.

“I set it up with my agent, who’s an open-minded person and enjoys art,” explains the right-back, who was first introduced to painting by his grandmother. “He’s also got a number of connections in the art industry and so we thought, ‘Why not try to do something?’ We created a business called Play It Art and it acts a bit like a sponsor. We recruit young talents and we ask them to use their talent to serve sport and football in general.

“Some of them refuse as it’s not really part of their identity to receive instructions for their work, and I understand that perfectly. Others try to use their natural gift to serve sport, through painting, sculpture or any other kind of art. We’re trying to create something with photography too.”

The initial result was the When Art Meets Football exhibition staged in the salons of Anderlecht’s Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, with the symbiosis of the two worlds summed up in a work depicting Barcelona icon Lionel Messi in the colours of the blaugrana’s arch-rivals Real Madrid. It is an image of crossing boundaries that suits the Belgian international, who has never been a footballer that snugly fitted the stereotype.

By the time he joined Club Brugge in January 2011 – stepping into the professional game for the first time – his love of paint and palette was already long established, thanks to a school teacher on an educational trip to an open-air museum in the German city of Saarbrücken. “I became aware of the importance of art and the way to understand art,” says Meunier, the memory bringing a smile to his face. “She was this kind of captivating teacher, because what she said was clear and detailed, and you could understand right away what she was getting at.

“Football is highly focused on reactions. It’s a bit more instinctive, while emotions brought to you by a work of art or in a museum are intellectual ones, in my view. They are things which must be understood and can teach us how to understand something. It’s about understanding and making an effort to open up your mind and aim for knowledge and discovery.”

Thomas Meunier at his When Art Meets Football exhibition

That thirst has never left Meunier, and has led to his horizons being broadened well beyond his first tentative steps into the world of canvas and clay. “When I started getting into it I had a taste for Cubism, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and even for Surrealism – that’s a bit of a Belgian movement. Belgian artists, and Flemish artists in particular, had a huge impact historically on art.

“Now I’m learning how to discover what contemporary art is through acquaintances – and it’s completely different. It includes much more sculpture and architecture. I’ve also discovered real-estate property and I enjoy new art a lot; it’s much more neutral, with a Scandinavian style. Art is an unlimited field of possibilities and I think everyone can find a reason to be eager to discover it.”

Anyone who has seen Meunier play will have instantly recognised a creative dimension not readily associated with his position. His interest in art has given added meaning to those who talk of his “cultured” right foot. But for Meunier – rather suitably for someone involved in the arts – defending was an acquired taste after former Club Brugge coach Juan Carlos Garrido turned the fledgling winger into a reluctant full-back.

“I didn’t want that because I was a forward and I didn’t want to go at the back and play as a defender,” says Meunier. “But at some stage I wasn’t playing anymore. It was difficult and there was a lot of competition for places. I was a young player, I wasn’t first choice. So at some stage, I said, ‘Okay then. The main thing is to play so let’s see how it goes.’ We tried it and it went really well. I’ve never looked back after that.”

Now 29, Meunier is well known for his attacking forays and yet he would happily swap positions with team-mates such as Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus. “It’s really interesting to be versatile. But, deep inside, I really like scoring goals, creating play and putting on a show.

“IT’S ABOUT UNDERSTANDING AND MAKING AN EFFORT TO OPEN UP YOUR MIND AND AIM FOR KNOWLEDGE AND DISCOVERY”

“Players who made me dream when I was little were Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Ronaldo. The great Brazilian era. Alan Shearer, Wayne Rooney, Ruud van Nistelrooy. Those players are forwards. No defenders made me dream in my whole life! Now I hope I can inspire young players too, but it wasn’t the case for me back in the day.”

Meunier can perhaps take solace from the fact that his rise to the top is a great example for those hoping to follow in his footsteps, particularly if their progress towards the pro ranks has been more abstract than linear. His own route took a significant swerve when he became disenchanted with the traditional youth academy system while at Standard Liège. “It was really a factory and it was no longer a pleasure for me to play football,” he says. “It became an obligation.” Instead he rekindled his love for the game by playing semi-professionally while working as a postman and, ironically, in an actual factory – making car parts in his native rural Belgium.

“I enjoyed being a postman just as much as working on a production line in a factory,” says Meunier. “There were loads of young guys there who were just as passionate about football as I was. We used to talk about football all day. I’m happy to have had this life experience. I think it was good for me. And it still is good for me.

“It taught me to learn about the important things in life, like respecting what you have – your life, your wages – keeping your feet on the ground and not going crazy when you’re only 16, 17 or 18 years old and you’re already earning €50,000 per month or something like that. I can say it was a life lesson at that time and it allowed me to have good foundations and learn about reality.”

Perspective is now provided by his family, who are settling into their home in Germany following Meunier’s move to Dortmund last summer after four years at Paris Saint-Germain. The switch has not slowed the upward trajectory of his career, though as a comic-book enthusiast who used to sketch while at Club Brugge, the arrival of his three children has put paid to opportunities to indulge his off-the-pitch passion.

“My artistic career is over now,” he says, laughing. “Hopefully I can play football until I’m 35 or 40 – it’d be wonderful for me to keep playing until I’m 40 – and I’ll have much more time after that to do the things I enjoy outside of football. We can probably talk about me doing art again when that day comes.”

Some footballers make an exhibition of themselves. Not Thomas Meunier: he prefers to stage them instead. The Borussia Dortmund defender’s fascination with art has run parallel to his love of football throughout his life, so when the chance came to combine the two it was a match made in heaven.

“I set it up with my agent, who’s an open-minded person and enjoys art,” explains the right-back, who was first introduced to painting by his grandmother. “He’s also got a number of connections in the art industry and so we thought, ‘Why not try to do something?’ We created a business called Play It Art and it acts a bit like a sponsor. We recruit young talents and we ask them to use their talent to serve sport and football in general.

“Some of them refuse as it’s not really part of their identity to receive instructions for their work, and I understand that perfectly. Others try to use their natural gift to serve sport, through painting, sculpture or any other kind of art. We’re trying to create something with photography too.”

The initial result was the When Art Meets Football exhibition staged in the salons of Anderlecht’s Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, with the symbiosis of the two worlds summed up in a work depicting Barcelona icon Lionel Messi in the colours of the blaugrana’s arch-rivals Real Madrid. It is an image of crossing boundaries that suits the Belgian international, who has never been a footballer that snugly fitted the stereotype.

By the time he joined Club Brugge in January 2011 – stepping into the professional game for the first time – his love of paint and palette was already long established, thanks to a school teacher on an educational trip to an open-air museum in the German city of Saarbrücken. “I became aware of the importance of art and the way to understand art,” says Meunier, the memory bringing a smile to his face. “She was this kind of captivating teacher, because what she said was clear and detailed, and you could understand right away what she was getting at.

“Football is highly focused on reactions. It’s a bit more instinctive, while emotions brought to you by a work of art or in a museum are intellectual ones, in my view. They are things which must be understood and can teach us how to understand something. It’s about understanding and making an effort to open up your mind and aim for knowledge and discovery.”

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Thomas Meunier at his When Art Meets Football exhibition

That thirst has never left Meunier, and has led to his horizons being broadened well beyond his first tentative steps into the world of canvas and clay. “When I started getting into it I had a taste for Cubism, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and even for Surrealism – that’s a bit of a Belgian movement. Belgian artists, and Flemish artists in particular, had a huge impact historically on art.

“Now I’m learning how to discover what contemporary art is through acquaintances – and it’s completely different. It includes much more sculpture and architecture. I’ve also discovered real-estate property and I enjoy new art a lot; it’s much more neutral, with a Scandinavian style. Art is an unlimited field of possibilities and I think everyone can find a reason to be eager to discover it.”

Anyone who has seen Meunier play will have instantly recognised a creative dimension not readily associated with his position. His interest in art has given added meaning to those who talk of his “cultured” right foot. But for Meunier – rather suitably for someone involved in the arts – defending was an acquired taste after former Club Brugge coach Juan Carlos Garrido turned the fledgling winger into a reluctant full-back.

“I didn’t want that because I was a forward and I didn’t want to go at the back and play as a defender,” says Meunier. “But at some stage I wasn’t playing anymore. It was difficult and there was a lot of competition for places. I was a young player, I wasn’t first choice. So at some stage, I said, ‘Okay then. The main thing is to play so let’s see how it goes.’ We tried it and it went really well. I’ve never looked back after that.”

Now 29, Meunier is well known for his attacking forays and yet he would happily swap positions with team-mates such as Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus. “It’s really interesting to be versatile. But, deep inside, I really like scoring goals, creating play and putting on a show.

“IT’S ABOUT UNDERSTANDING AND MAKING AN EFFORT TO OPEN UP YOUR MIND AND AIM FOR KNOWLEDGE AND DISCOVERY”

“Players who made me dream when I was little were Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Ronaldo. The great Brazilian era. Alan Shearer, Wayne Rooney, Ruud van Nistelrooy. Those players are forwards. No defenders made me dream in my whole life! Now I hope I can inspire young players too, but it wasn’t the case for me back in the day.”

Meunier can perhaps take solace from the fact that his rise to the top is a great example for those hoping to follow in his footsteps, particularly if their progress towards the pro ranks has been more abstract than linear. His own route took a significant swerve when he became disenchanted with the traditional youth academy system while at Standard Liège. “It was really a factory and it was no longer a pleasure for me to play football,” he says. “It became an obligation.” Instead he rekindled his love for the game by playing semi-professionally while working as a postman and, ironically, in an actual factory – making car parts in his native rural Belgium.

“I enjoyed being a postman just as much as working on a production line in a factory,” says Meunier. “There were loads of young guys there who were just as passionate about football as I was. We used to talk about football all day. I’m happy to have had this life experience. I think it was good for me. And it still is good for me.

“It taught me to learn about the important things in life, like respecting what you have – your life, your wages – keeping your feet on the ground and not going crazy when you’re only 16, 17 or 18 years old and you’re already earning €50,000 per month or something like that. I can say it was a life lesson at that time and it allowed me to have good foundations and learn about reality.”

Perspective is now provided by his family, who are settling into their home in Germany following Meunier’s move to Dortmund last summer after four years at Paris Saint-Germain. The switch has not slowed the upward trajectory of his career, though as a comic-book enthusiast who used to sketch while at Club Brugge, the arrival of his three children has put paid to opportunities to indulge his off-the-pitch passion.

“My artistic career is over now,” he says, laughing. “Hopefully I can play football until I’m 35 or 40 – it’d be wonderful for me to keep playing until I’m 40 – and I’ll have much more time after that to do the things I enjoy outside of football. We can probably talk about me doing art again when that day comes.”

Some footballers make an exhibition of themselves. Not Thomas Meunier: he prefers to stage them instead. The Borussia Dortmund defender’s fascination with art has run parallel to his love of football throughout his life, so when the chance came to combine the two it was a match made in heaven.

“I set it up with my agent, who’s an open-minded person and enjoys art,” explains the right-back, who was first introduced to painting by his grandmother. “He’s also got a number of connections in the art industry and so we thought, ‘Why not try to do something?’ We created a business called Play It Art and it acts a bit like a sponsor. We recruit young talents and we ask them to use their talent to serve sport and football in general.

“Some of them refuse as it’s not really part of their identity to receive instructions for their work, and I understand that perfectly. Others try to use their natural gift to serve sport, through painting, sculpture or any other kind of art. We’re trying to create something with photography too.”

The initial result was the When Art Meets Football exhibition staged in the salons of Anderlecht’s Constant Vanden Stock Stadium, with the symbiosis of the two worlds summed up in a work depicting Barcelona icon Lionel Messi in the colours of the blaugrana’s arch-rivals Real Madrid. It is an image of crossing boundaries that suits the Belgian international, who has never been a footballer that snugly fitted the stereotype.

By the time he joined Club Brugge in January 2011 – stepping into the professional game for the first time – his love of paint and palette was already long established, thanks to a school teacher on an educational trip to an open-air museum in the German city of Saarbrücken. “I became aware of the importance of art and the way to understand art,” says Meunier, the memory bringing a smile to his face. “She was this kind of captivating teacher, because what she said was clear and detailed, and you could understand right away what she was getting at.

“Football is highly focused on reactions. It’s a bit more instinctive, while emotions brought to you by a work of art or in a museum are intellectual ones, in my view. They are things which must be understood and can teach us how to understand something. It’s about understanding and making an effort to open up your mind and aim for knowledge and discovery.”

Thomas Meunier at his When Art Meets Football exhibition

That thirst has never left Meunier, and has led to his horizons being broadened well beyond his first tentative steps into the world of canvas and clay. “When I started getting into it I had a taste for Cubism, Pablo Picasso, Salvador Dalí and even for Surrealism – that’s a bit of a Belgian movement. Belgian artists, and Flemish artists in particular, had a huge impact historically on art.

“Now I’m learning how to discover what contemporary art is through acquaintances – and it’s completely different. It includes much more sculpture and architecture. I’ve also discovered real-estate property and I enjoy new art a lot; it’s much more neutral, with a Scandinavian style. Art is an unlimited field of possibilities and I think everyone can find a reason to be eager to discover it.”

Anyone who has seen Meunier play will have instantly recognised a creative dimension not readily associated with his position. His interest in art has given added meaning to those who talk of his “cultured” right foot. But for Meunier – rather suitably for someone involved in the arts – defending was an acquired taste after former Club Brugge coach Juan Carlos Garrido turned the fledgling winger into a reluctant full-back.

“I didn’t want that because I was a forward and I didn’t want to go at the back and play as a defender,” says Meunier. “But at some stage I wasn’t playing anymore. It was difficult and there was a lot of competition for places. I was a young player, I wasn’t first choice. So at some stage, I said, ‘Okay then. The main thing is to play so let’s see how it goes.’ We tried it and it went really well. I’ve never looked back after that.”

Now 29, Meunier is well known for his attacking forays and yet he would happily swap positions with team-mates such as Erling Haaland, Jadon Sancho and Marco Reus. “It’s really interesting to be versatile. But, deep inside, I really like scoring goals, creating play and putting on a show.

“IT’S ABOUT UNDERSTANDING AND MAKING AN EFFORT TO OPEN UP YOUR MIND AND AIM FOR KNOWLEDGE AND DISCOVERY”

“Players who made me dream when I was little were Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Ronaldo. The great Brazilian era. Alan Shearer, Wayne Rooney, Ruud van Nistelrooy. Those players are forwards. No defenders made me dream in my whole life! Now I hope I can inspire young players too, but it wasn’t the case for me back in the day.”

Meunier can perhaps take solace from the fact that his rise to the top is a great example for those hoping to follow in his footsteps, particularly if their progress towards the pro ranks has been more abstract than linear. His own route took a significant swerve when he became disenchanted with the traditional youth academy system while at Standard Liège. “It was really a factory and it was no longer a pleasure for me to play football,” he says. “It became an obligation.” Instead he rekindled his love for the game by playing semi-professionally while working as a postman and, ironically, in an actual factory – making car parts in his native rural Belgium.

“I enjoyed being a postman just as much as working on a production line in a factory,” says Meunier. “There were loads of young guys there who were just as passionate about football as I was. We used to talk about football all day. I’m happy to have had this life experience. I think it was good for me. And it still is good for me.

“It taught me to learn about the important things in life, like respecting what you have – your life, your wages – keeping your feet on the ground and not going crazy when you’re only 16, 17 or 18 years old and you’re already earning €50,000 per month or something like that. I can say it was a life lesson at that time and it allowed me to have good foundations and learn about reality.”

Perspective is now provided by his family, who are settling into their home in Germany following Meunier’s move to Dortmund last summer after four years at Paris Saint-Germain. The switch has not slowed the upward trajectory of his career, though as a comic-book enthusiast who used to sketch while at Club Brugge, the arrival of his three children has put paid to opportunities to indulge his off-the-pitch passion.

“My artistic career is over now,” he says, laughing. “Hopefully I can play football until I’m 35 or 40 – it’d be wonderful for me to keep playing until I’m 40 – and I’ll have much more time after that to do the things I enjoy outside of football. We can probably talk about me doing art again when that day comes.”

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