He’s got the moves: Meet India’s freestyle football guru

Photos and Text by Pratik Chorge

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.

Aarish started playing football at the age of eight. He began playing in school and participated in various championships during college.

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.

His family is supportive of his passion for freestyling and he lives by the mantra, “Do what you love, love what you do.”
Aarish also participates in football freestyling competitions across India.

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 also performs in entertainment shows and choreographs on popular music tracks.

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 is inspired by Ronaldinho, while he admires the current football freestyle world champion Andrew Henderson.

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.

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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.

Performing during the half-time at ISL Mumbai FC matches was a highlight for 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.”


Produced by Sahiba Chawdhary
Edited by Zehra Kazmi