In the freestyle football circuit in Bengaluru, Satish 'Sean' is well known for performing over 200 freestyle football tricks, some of which he has created himself.

A self-taught freestyle footballer in Bengaluru is kicking down barriersImage courtesy: Dhruv Khanna
news Human Interest Friday, September 21, 2018 - 16:23

Satish stands in the middle of the ITI Grounds in KR Puram in Bengaluru. He flicks the football at his feet up into the air and follows it up with a few deft touches and within a flash, the ball is balanced perfectly on his head. He can captivate you within seconds with an array of gravity-defying tricks. But Satish has no interest in football.

“Football is a team game where you need to coordinate with your teammates but in freestyle football, you are your own boss. It’s about how you express yourself with a ball at your feet...about your body listening to you and executing the moves perfectly”, says the 27-year-old, his voice trailing off as he plans his next trick with the ball.

Satish is a self-taught professional freestyle footballer from Pai Layout in Mahadevapura in Bengaluru. In the freestyle football circuit, he is better known as Satish ‘Sean’ and is renowned for performing over 200 freestyle football tricks, including some tricks that he has created himself.

Satish takes part in promotional events where he showcases his freestyle football skills

“When I was in college, I was inspired by watching the freestyle football videos of Arnaud ‘Sean’ Garnier. I used to watch the videos and learn his tricks and try to emulate them on my terrace. I used to perform a lot of Sean’s tricks so, over the years, freestyle footballers in Bengaluru began calling me Satish ‘Sean’,” he shares.

Arnaud 'Sean' Garnier, a French freestyle footballer has become a household name after his videos of his freestyle football skills, which infuses elements of breakdance into it.

Satish is one of the few professional freestyle footballers from Bengaluru but he recognises that things could have turned out differently had he pursued his other passion - gully cricket.

“I was a serious gully cricket player (laughs)... I still am. I still play in tournaments but ever since I discovered football eleven years ago, this has been my life” he says. Satish did not play football till he was 16-years-old and did not learn his first football trick until then either. It was when he joined Jain College in the city for his Pre-University degree that he was first introduced to the beautiful game.  

'I used to be nutmegged all the time'

He does not have too many fond memories of playing the sport. He remembers how he would often get ‘nutmegged’ by more skilful players during his college days. “My classmates used to call me Pele in zest but the experience just made me more determined to learn freestyle football tricks. I thought if I can learn tricks, no one can humiliate me. I would practice tricks for hours in the morning and evening before I slowly started getting better at it,” he says.

Satish picked up freestyle football tricks by watching videos of Arnaud 'Sean' Garnier on YouTube

Although he had been training for over seven years, his breakthrough in freestyle football came when he became the city qualifier of the Red Bull Streetstyle in 2014, a global freestyle football event. He went on to win the competition, putting Bengaluru on the freestyle football map in the process. “Many of the winning freestyle footballers in Red Bull Streetstyle were from Chennai while few others were from Hyderabad. I was the first one from Bengaluru to win the competition,” he says.

Satish's rise through the professional freestyle circuit

Unlike Chennai, which has a flourishing freestyle football circuit, Satish is the first freestyle footballer from Bengaluru. He cemented his status as the best freestyle footballer in Karnataka by winning the Soccer Eve Football Freestyler for Karnataka Competition in 2015. He also featured in the top 8 of the national level freestyle football competition.

Winning the Red Bull Streetstyle competition was a cornerstone in Satish’s freestyle career. Soon, he was flooded with offers to perform freestyle football tricks at football matches and promotional events. He has performed at events organised by the Indian Super League (ISL), Chevrolet, Bajaj Pulsar Mania among others. With a blend of technical skills and showmanship, Satish is adding to his repertoire of skills every day. He has faced off with international freestyle artists including Polish freestyle footballer David Krzyzowski over the years.

Unfazed by his rise to prominence in the freestyle circuit, Satish set his sights on beating multiple Guinness World Records for football tricks. He set the world record for the most side head stall ball control tricks in one minute (105) in June 2018 and is determined to break further records. “Unofficially, I have broken four world records but I am yet to break it officially,” says Satish, oozing confidence. Regulars at the ITI Ground in KR Puram have already seen Satish break the Guinness World Record for eye-stall, face-roll and running 100 metres with the ball on the forehead.

Satish can perform over 200 tricks including the side stall for which he broke the Guinness World Record

Breaking caste barriers through sport

In addition to his attempts to break world records, Satish also teaches freestyle tricks to underprivileged children at Reddypalya and Nellore Puram slums early in the morning and shows his tricks to anyone who wants to learn at the ITI Grounds in KR Puram in the evening.

Satish, a Dalit himself, believes that freestyle football can be a way for children to express themselves and break caste barriers. “On the field, nobody asks what is your caste. I teach anyone who wishes to learn. Some people from Electronic City have learnt the basics of freestyle football from me, but it is tough to continue this profession for a long time. For the first few years, I did not get any offers to show my skills. It was after the RedBull Streetstyle competition that I started getting noticed,” Satish quips.

Breaking barriers as easily as he breaks records, Satish hopes that he can inspire others to take up the sport professionally. He never had a coach himself and he hopes to teach his techniques to as many people as he can to help popularise freestyle football in the city. "There are many kids, especially in slums, who are dreaming of performing tricks when they play football on the streets. I hope to teach people what I know and learn new tricks from others and constantly keep practising because if I don't practice, then there are times I cannot perform tricks I have perfected and performed for years now,” he adds.

All Photographs by Dhruv Khanna

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