At first, Aarish Ansari comes across as a regular football enthusiast who dribbles his way through the by-lanes of Mumbai, until he stops and effortlessly dances with his football, mesmerising you with his moves.
The 23-year-old is a professional football freestyler – a form of expression that borders between sport and dance.
Recent advertising campaigns featuring football stars Ronaldinho, Cristiano Ronaldo and Edgar Davids showing off freestyle tricks and moves have gone viral, encouraging a new breed of young players to experiment.
For Aarish, it started when he was injured while participating in a tournament hosted by Mumbai District Football Association (MDFA) in 2011. Off the field, he began juggling a football at home to pass time. “Freestyling became a stress buster for him”, he says. Increasingly, his day started revolving around the football.
This year, Aarish became a Guinness World Record Holder for the most number of football cross-overs (crossing the ball around his body) in 30 seconds while sitting. He managed to do 58—a feat for which he trained for over a year.
Aarish is India's representative at the Asian Freestyle Football Federation, the sport’s official governing body in Asia – where he is responsible for developing and promoting the sport in India.
Aarish and his friend Mohmish Nika co-own a football academy which teaches football freestyling to enthusiasts on weekends. The duo never got any guidance when they ventured into freestyle football, so they aim at developing basic skills for newcomers.
The key to learn freestyling is patience. “Learning tricks and developing swiftness takes a lot of time – and you have to keep pushing your limits," says Aarish.
What is the appeal of freestyle football? “Football is a team sport and freestyle football is just about you. In football, you play to win the match but in freestyle you just want to express yourself with a football.”