How We Met: Fabio Capello & Jannis Kounellis

'For my fellow artists, Capello was a god; and it was a pleasure to have dinner with god'


Jannis Kounellis, 74, is a Greek painter, installation artist and sculptor. A founding father of the 1960s Arte Povera movement, which made use of 'found' objects and spaces, Kounellis' installations juxtapose materials such as iron and coal with food, fire and even live animals. He lives in Rome with his wife

In 2000, the San Lorenzo neighbourhood in Rome housed a big community of artists who I was friends with – Piero Pizzi Cannella, Claudio Abate, Giuseppe Gallo – and we all used to meet up once a week at a restaurant. Fabio was the coach for Roma, and as an avid art collector he'd started to get to know a few of them and one night he joined us there for dinner. These artists were all huge fans of Roma football club, so for them, Capello was a god; and it was a pleasure to have dinner with god.

My interest in football and Fabio was different. I'm fascinated with how football is woven into the fabric of our society – it's a way to communicate and connect, while many of the social issues of Italy are expressed through football.

The other artists always had lots of opinions about the latest Roma match, but what attracted me to Fabio was more tangential. He's a very loveable character. While I'm closed – I'm not an easy person to know – he is open; he has a feeling for people and is a great communicator, which is crucial for someone in his position. What we did share, though, was an iron discipline towards our respective work.

Naturally, as we met up again and again, we didn't just talk football. We talked about art, and politics, on which we have very different opinions. But it's part of the game to be on the other side of someone politically [Capello is friendly with right-wing Italian Prime Minster Silvio Berlusconi].

As far as art is concerned, Capello becomes very passionate: he talks about the things he loves and hates. As for me, it's all about the moment – what I hate in the morning, I might love in the evening; luckily I met him in the evening. It's always a big fortune to have a friend who buys your work; in Fabio's case, it makes him a double friend – I've survived until today because of friends like these.

As he's no longer at Roma these days it was a huge pleasure to see him again with my recent trip to London for my new exhibition. It's always a pleasure to have a friend taking such an interest in your work. We had lunch and talked about his life here. He likes the YBA artists and goes to see their exhibitions. I would love to have him back in Rome, but nobody knows where he will go next – he told me how much he loves it here, so maybe he'll stay.

As for the World Cup, I am Italian [Kounellis moved to Italy aged 20], so I want them to win, but if it's England instead, with Fabio in charge, I won't have any mourning to do.

Fabio Capello, 63, is the manager of the England football team. In his playing days, he lined up for AC Milan and Juventus in his native Italy. He went on to manage both teams, as well as Spain's Real Madrid. He lives in London with his wife

I started to collect art when I was 23, buying two or three pieces every year, and Arte Povera was always an interest for me. So when I went to dinner one night with some artist friends in Rome and Jannis Kounellis was there, it was a dream. He was the greatest artist in Italy and I had always followed his work.

We had a nice dinner, drank wine, talked about politics, football, artists, what's happening in Rome. There was a chemical connection between us, but Jannis is strong and it's not easy to be friends with him. He puts a barrier between himself and others. I do that too, which is the reason I think we have such respect between us.

After that we started meeting whenever possible. While I was working in Rome, I visited Jannis for dinner at his house and had the privilege of seeing his art collection. Otherwise, we would go to a typical Roman restaurant and eat spaghetti carbonara. We love food, so it's always around a table that we meet, and always with some friends, usually other artists.

I own three paintings by Jannis. When I see his work, it produces a very strong sensation – you can see the world in one of his pictures. I hadn't seen him for a while before we met for his new exhibition, and it was nice to consider what we have both done with our time.

Do we talk about football? Not so much. He's not been to any of my matches although he's often congratulated me on my successes, as have I with him. Each exhibition for Jannis is important, as each game is for me. I think football is a form of art – it's a ballet of 11 people.

It's impossible to arrive at the top without a big personality. So sometimes we are angry and we speak passionately – like when we are talking about Berlusconi. I know the prime minister from my time in [Italy's top league] Serie A [Berlusconi was president of AC Milan from 1986 to 2004] but Jannis is probably on the other side of things and very against Berlusconi. Other times, it's more relaxed.

As for similar tastes, we discuss what is happening in art and what he likes. I like art, but when I speak to the professional, I must listen and not speak. When I speak about football, he must listen.

Jannis Kounellis' exhibition runs until 30 May at Ambika P3, 35 Marylebone Road, London NW1. A new book, 'Jannis Kounellis: XXII Stations on an Odyssey 1969-2010' by Marc Scheps is published by Prestel in June

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