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These freestyle footballers want Indian girls to see them and get inspired

Three women freestyle footballers, on their first trip to India, promote their sport, encourage girls to come out and play, share their love for Bollywood, paneer tikka and saris.

football Updated: Mar 25, 2018 17:49 IST
Henna Rakheja
Henna Rakheja
Hindustan Times
Kitti Szasz, Agnieszka Mnich and Aylin Yaren show some cool freestyle football tricks at Lodi Gardens in Delhi.
Kitti Szasz, Agnieszka Mnich and Aylin Yaren show some cool freestyle football tricks at Lodi Gardens in Delhi. (Manoj Verma/HT)

They enter the green lawns of Lodi Gardens, and the footballs in their hands instantly start spinning and rolling, in a series of crossovers and stalls that involve almost every part of their bodies. The eyes around them roll, too, and finally get fixated on the three young athletes. These are Aylin Yaren from Germany, Kitti Szasz from Hungary, and Agnieszka Mnich from Poland, among the best freestyle footballers in the world. On their maiden trip to India, the three talk about the lesser-known sport that has taken the football world by storm in the last few years, and their unique connect with India that drew them to the country.

“We want people to see us, and get inspired to take up freestyle football. It’s a myth that this sport is only for men,” says the 28-year-old Yaren, who has played the U-17s for Germany, and for the first women’s soccer team from Turkey. She adds, “When I started playing soccer at the age of five, my mother wasn’t too happy about it. Later, she even tried to divert me towards tennis, because she felt tennis was more a sport for girls than football was, but eventually gave it up, and I went back to playing soccer.”

Kitti, 26, and Agnieszka, 22 — both four-time world freestyle champions — agree that though difficult at first, due to the absence of a well-defined institutional structure or coaches, tricks of the sport can be learnt by watching videos online, and mastered with practice.

“I saw a video of freestyle football, and became interested in the sport. It takes months to practice one trick. Initially, it was just a hobby for me, but once I became skilled, I got invited to perform all over the world. It’s now my dream to meet Ronaldinho, because he came up with certain tricks that gave birth to freestyle football,” says Kitti, who has already played with quite a few popular names, including Brazil’s Neymar.

“My elder sister got DVDs of Bollywood movies from I don’t know where, and every single day for six months we watched them together. I still remember how colourful it was, and that song Bole Chudiyan (from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham; 2001)… I want to meet the actor in that song.” — Agnieszka Mnich

Promoting the sport in the country, however, is not the only reason they are here. “I wanted to come to India since I was 7,” says Agnieszka, adding, “My elder sister got DVDs of Bollywood movies from I don’t know where, and every single day for six months we watched them together. I still remember how colourful it was, and that song Bole Chudiyan (from Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham; 2001)… I want to meet the actor in that song – who is young first and then plays an older version of him.” Prompt the name Shah Rukh Khan, and Agnieszka immediately nods in affirmation: “Yes, yes, I know that’s the one. I remember him from childhood... So, when I was finally travelling to India now, and told my sister about it, she said, ‘Don’t think it will be like in movies, and bring me a sari,” she adds, bursting into laughter. If her fascination with Bollywood was what brought Agnieszka to India, Aylin says that she is a fan of paneer tikka.

The trio is aware that taking up sports isn’t encouraged in India, and therefore freestyle football is not that popular. Aylin says, “I knew that girls aren’t encouraged to play football in India, let alone freestyle football. In fact, we met a few freestyle footballers in India, but none of them was female. I think men hardly see women playing with a ball… Hope the girls get the support of their parents and the sport becomes so popular that it is televised!”

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