“Like The Gods” exhibition at the Museum of the Russian Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg features modern soccer superstars dressed in military and royal uniforms. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Gods of soccer: Ronaldo, Messi like you’ve never seen them

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Looking regal in his Russian uniform, Cristiano Ronaldo gazes out pensively with his arms folded and “CR7” embroidered near his left shoulder.

Behind him is Lionel Messi, also snappily dressed and with the hairs of his moustache twirled up either side of his mouth. Luis Suarez, Mohamed Salah, Antoine Griezmann, Sergio Ramos — it’s a gathering of soccer’s most venerated players and coaches.

Welcome to the “Like The Gods” exhibition at the Museum of the Russian Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg.

The collection includes digitally made portraits of around 40 modern soccer superstars dressed in military and royal uniforms dating back to the 19th century, intertwined among sculptures of ancient gods, made about 200 years ago.

“They just emphasize the main concept of this exhibition: modern heroes and ancient gods,” says Anastasia Sergeeva, exhibition specialist at the museum. “Like some perfection or ideal that you can reach.And these people are reaching it now.”

It is the work of Italian artist Fabrizio Birimbelli, who is both a digital illustrator and a big fan of soccer. Birimbelli was there for the opening of the exhibition June 20, while former FIFA President Sepp Blatter was a visitor two days later.

“He came last week with his wife,” Sergeeva says of Blatter, “and just said that he was really impressed by the exhibition and that it’s really great that Russian museums are taking part in this way in the World Cup.This is just an idea of heroes in sport and football, expressed in the language of art.”

Sergeeva says Ramos, the Spain captain, also has given the project the thumbs-up and was happy to be presented as a “modern hero.”

Birimbelli has had some fun with the portraits, all of which he signs with “Fab.”

Liverpool’s larger-than-life coach, Juergen Klopp, has a cheeky grin on his face as he pulls a button on his uniform. Zlatan Ibrahimovic turns side on and looks like a warrior in his suit of armour, a Swedish flag fluttering beside him. France midfielder Paul Pogba has tricolored hair.

Former England captain Wayne Rooney has long, thick sideburns on his face. Brazil goalkeeper Alisson holds a caipirinha cocktail. Eric Cantona, fondly referred to as King Eric by fans of his former club Manchester United, wears a crown and holds a ball in his right hand.

“Birimbelli has easily perceived sincerity in each portrait that is sometimes missed by professional experts,” the museum literature reads.

“Birimbelli’s heroes of modern football are equal to heroes of (Greek sculptors) Lysippos or Polykleitos,” it adds. “Antiquity inspires modernity.”

The exhibition runs until July 15, the final day of the World Cup.

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