Mohammad Akbari is part hotel worker, part freestyler, and complete talent
© Naoyuki Shibata / Red Bull Content Pool
Growing up in Iran, Akbari struggled to pursue his dream of becoming the world’s leading freestyle footballer. After following his passion to Europe, the World Final of Red Bull Street Style awaits.
When Mohammad Akbari begins his routine at the World Final of Red Bull Street Style, it will be more than a decade of hard work coming to fruition.
After beginning his freestyle journey in 2009, his adventure saw him pack up and leave home in 2018 and travel 5,000 kilometres to Poland where he has been able to hone his repertoire of tricks, thus enabling him to challenge some of the world’s best.
Now, after more than 500 entries from 93 nations for this 2020 virtual edition, taking place entirely online, Akbari finds himself joining 15 other men and eight women on the verge of being crowned champion.
Learn more about Akbari’s road to the top here.
1. He used to be a star striker
Before having his head turned by freestyle competing, for a good decade he played as a forward in regular football. But that all changed.
As he explained: “I practised every day until – back in 2009 – someone suddenly told me about a freestyle competition and told me to watch it. I said ‘no, I’m not interested’ but I ended up going. When I watched it, I went ‘wow’ and instantly started training.”
2. Back in Iran, he coached footballers
Football has always been the passion to the extent that it also became his day job, working in his native Iran coaching children in the game. But it was not an easy existence.
As he said: “The economy was tough. It was hard to have a job and to be able to have time for training as well. When I was working, it was really small money and so I had to work all the time as I needed the money. With work, there was no time to train at all – it was very difficult. It was the reason that I couldn’t stay and train freestyle.”
3. His family tried to talk him out of chasing his footballing dream
When he first started in freestyle football, he admits his family tried to get him to quit but, determined, he stuck with it and they have become his biggest backers.
Taking up the story, he said: “When I was training in Iran, I also didn’t have a big job so I didn’t have money so they said all the time, ‘leave the sport as it’s nothing for you’. When I won the Red Bull World Cup in China in 2015, they were like ‘you must continue!’”
4. Polish life has given added impetus to his training
Akbari lives and works at a hotel where his job is on the reception desk. But whenever the spare time allows, he has a ball at his feet honing his skills. For him, it is the perfect balance.
“The main reason for the move was in Iran it was hard to travel and then compete in other competitions,” he said. “Here, I feel very good. In Poland, there are so many more competitions so that gives me more motivation so this has been the best move for me. I miss my family but here it is a much better life for me.”
5. Freestyle football is on the rise in Iran
When Akbari first started freestyle football, there were very few others doing so in the country – he estimates no more than 30 or 40. But in recent years he believes that has changed markedly.
On that shift, he added: “Now there are a lot. I wasn’t the first and I started in 2010. Now I’m almost one of the old ones! And I can’t say I’m the best but I think I am training the hardest.”
6. He trains six times a day and has a secret up his sleeve
Training in the build-up to Red Bull Street Style entails just one day off a week. On the other six, he does at least two hours perfecting his tricks. But there are also other facets to his training programme.
He revealed: “It’s not just tricks but also in the evening I go to the gym to work on my muscles. For Red Bull Street Style, it is all about originality so I’ve long been thinking about creating something new for this competition. I can’t say what that is – it’s a secret! It is my No.1 dream to win the competition.”
|MEN'S FINALISTS||WOMEN'S FINALISTS|
|Ahmadreza Falsafi (IRN)||Agnieszka Mnich (POL)|
|Brynjar Fagerli (NOR)||Caitlyn Schrepfer (USA)|
|Erlend Fagerli (NOR)||Kitti Szász (HUN)|
|Fahed Albreiki (UAE)||Lia Lewis Gribius (GBR)|
|Hiroki Matsumoto (JPN)||Melody Donchet (FRA)|
|Izu Yu-ri (JPN)||Miharu Miyoshi (JPN)|
|Kazane Shimazaki (JPN)||Pola Gomez (FRA)|
|Ko-suke Takahashi (JPN)||Torin Lynch (USA)|
|Leon Pokrovsky (JPN)|
|Logan Ragouramin (FRA)|
|Mohammad Akbari (IRN)|
|Naoyuki Nagae (JPN)|
|Philip Warren Gertsson (PHL)|
|Sebastian Peña Morales (COL)|
|Shota Watanabe (JPN)|
|Szymon Skalski (POL)|
7. He has Cesc Fàbregas in his sights
The former Arsenal, Chelsea and Barcelona midfielder, who currently plies his trade with Ligue 1 side Monaco, is the newest judge added to the panel of experts for this year’s Red Bull Street Style.
And Akbari said of being judged by the World Cup winner: “I’m very excited about it. I’ve long been a football fan and following him so it makes me very happy.”
8. He has no freestyle heroes
In the past, he would spend hours watching football freestylers performing their best tricks, idolising individuals and their trademark moves.
Now climbing up the ranks of the sport, he is not so easily wowed: “I used to have some idols in the past but not now. From the moment I started, I was watching freestyle videos online but now, in competitions, I don’t follow others, just myself.”
Watch all the skills and tricks from the World Finals of Red Bull Street Style live on Red Bull TV.