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Football freestylers are a funny old concept, particularly from a fans perspective. On one hand, we watch them doing their tricks and are wowed by their blatant talents with a ball but put them on a pitch and the same fans are quick to label them ‘show ponies’. Still, if you’re looking to kill half an hour watching videos of extreme keep-ups then you might as well do it in style. Here we look at the top 10 football freestylers.
Number 10. Bas van Velzen
We’ll kick off our top 10 with one of the less traditional football freestylers in Dutchman Bas van Velzen. Typically, the term freestyler conjures up images of someone juggling; that’s not this guy. Van Velzen is more of a dead ball specialist and his Instagram is full of videos of him finding ‘top bins’ time and time again.
You’ll notice he doesn’t possess the frame of an elite footballer but he certainly takes a freekick like one. In addition to his 125k strong Insta following, van Velzen has also had the privilege of working alongside some pro footballers. Most famously, he attended the Liverpool training ground to pose as a competition winner. Instead, he showed up a quadruple of Reds stars with Mario Balotelli the biggest name of the group; the name of the game was free kicks – obviously.
Number 9. Ben Nuttall
There was a time when Birmingham born Nuttall thought he was destined to be a young star for his hometown club. His journey didn’t quite play out that way with the Blues releasing him in his early teenage years owing to his small stature. Still, Nuttall wouldn’t be kept down. He couldn’t do anything about his size, not really. Instead he focussed on what he could; ball control. Now he has three world records to his name with the most bizarre probably the 187 keepy-ups he performed with a rugby ball; it’s more than anyone else has managed.
Number 8. Raquel Benetti
We were hardly going to have a top 10 of football tricksters and not include a Brazilian, were we? Raquel Benetti is the only one to make the cut though. She boasts an impressive following of 1.4m on Instagram where you’ll find her doing all sorts ranging from hitting free kicks to playing keepy-ups with coconuts; although the most notable video is her ‘shirt off challenge’. This went viral during the last year with elite stars even taking part.
Number 7. Sofiane Touzani
There aren’t many people that can boast to having featured on one of EA Sports’ FIFA games. Dutch freestyler Sofiane Touzani can though after one of his early videos caught the attention of the developers. This came at a time when they were knitting together a game for their FIFA Street series; initially, Touzani was brought on board so they could incorporate his tricks. It ended with him featuring as an actual player on the game.
In the real world, he’s performed for thousands upon thousands of fans with his most eyecatching moment a freestyle show opposite Ronaldinho inside a full capacity San Siro.
Number 6. Andrew Henderson
Would you be surprised if we told you that fifth on our list is a football freestyler who actually spent their entire formative years playing rugby? That’s the route Cornwall born Henderson took. In truth, his story starts out with dark times coming in the form of a horror leg break; it had doctors telling him he might never walk. He certainly wasn’t playing rugby again. Rather than let the darkness swallow him up, Henderson found light. Freestyle football.
Henderson is a five time world champion with even more titles specific to UK competitions. It’s hardly surprising either when you see some of the stunts he pulls off. You – along with over 1.1m others – can check him out on Instagram where he’s either practising keep-ups on bridges, hanging from trees or even with a football that has been set on fire.
Number 5. Gautier Fayolle
30-year-old Fayolle, who refers to himself as Gautivity, is another freestyler like van Velzen in that his main ‘trick’ isn’t one of tight control and flicks. Instead, his trademark is the ability to spin the ball in such a manner that he can score goals from anywhere – even from behind the goal.
Don’t get us wrong, Fayolle is far from a one trick pony and seven consecutive world titles is testament to that. Despite the appreciation from the officials who judge those competitions, his online presence is much smaller than that of others on this list. Then again, maybe he just loves football – not promoting himself.
Number 4. Lisa Zimouche
Here we have the best of our female football freestylers, Lisa Zimouche. The French-Algerian 21-year-old has 2m followers on Instagram where her feed is full of videos of keepy-up tricks, close control and fast moving feet. Despite her tender age – she’s the youngest on our list – she entered her first World Final some eight years ago; she finished third in the Red Bull sponsored event. She was 13!!!
Now she’s not only added to that third place finish with Championship titles but also has shared the spotlight with some of the biggest athletes in the world; we’re talking about the likes of Paul Pogba and Usain Bolt. To top it all off, Zimouche also uses her platform to promote gender equality.
Number 3. Sean Garnier
Sitting in our ‘bronze medal’ spot is former Auxerre and Troyes footballer Sean Garnier. The now 36-year-old was forced to retire from football due to injury but rather than get down about it, he started his own freestyle academy. The Frenchman has won the freestyle championships three times in his native country with additional awards coming in India, Dubai and Sao Paulo. If he’s not putting his skills on show in futsal tournaments then you’ll find him posting pictures and videos on Instagram. He has 4.5m followers.
Number 2. The F2 Duo – Billy Wingrove and Jeremy Lynch
The reality TV come talent contest ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ might have its critics but the 2008 version of the show did unearth at least one gem – Jeremy Lynch. Lynch made the final of the show courtesy of his ability with a football whilst his now freestyling partner, Billy Wingrove, was with the Tottenham Hotspur academy. Their paths crossed at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa and they struck up a relationship with football trickery at the heart. F2 was born.
Since then, their progress has been rather incredible with some of football’s biggest names collaborating with them including Mesut Ozil and Lionel Messi. Their ongoing videos with truly top level players along with their tutorials and ability to pull off the ridiculous has seen them rack up in excess of 9m Instagram followers.
Number 1. Mr Woo
Forget about all these names who have used the likes of social media to propel their careers forwards, Mr Woo never benefitted from the existence of such things and still he managed to inspire more than just one generation of kids. Woo, whose full name is Woo Hee-Young, actually spent a fair amount of time as pro plying his trade in Germany but it was the desire to set records for tricks rather trophies that appealed to the South Korean.
He stepped away from professional football in order to develop his ‘entertaining’ skills; given what he went on to achieve as a football freestyler there is no denying that he made the right call. In addition to providing the entertainment during domestic cup final half-time shows, Woo also featured on a much bigger stage; namely the 1994 and 2002 World Cups and the Seoul Olympic Games that were held in 1988.
If that’s not enough to convince you that Mr Woo isn’t deserving of number one spot on our list then we refer you to the fact that Ronaldinho and Pele have both been left in awe of his talents. Oh, and he once juggled a ball solely with his head for over five hours; that’s a world record.
There you have it, the 10 best football freestylers.