x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Just kicking back, with style

The trick to freestyle football, for Mustafa "Loco" Daroghmeh and Mohammed Sa'adeh, is not just how long you can keep the ball in the air, but how you accomplish that.

Mohammad Sa’adeh, right, and Mustafa ‘Loco’ Daroghmeh demonstrate their freestyle routine with the trick “keepy uppy”.
Mohammad Sa’adeh, right, and Mustafa ‘Loco’ Daroghmeh demonstrate their freestyle routine with the trick “keepy uppy”.

Mustafa "Loco" Daroghmeh, the UAE freestyle football champion, has a favourite trick that is almost as difficult to describe as it is to carry out.

"I jump above the height of my knees and over the ball while keeping the ball in the air," the 16 year old said in a matter-of-fact manner that was nowhere near to being a boast.

His partner in freestyle, or "keepy-uppy" if you are of a certain age, Mohammed Sa'adeh always gets a good reaction when he balances a football on his eye.

Both are Palestinian and have lived in the UAE all their lives. Now they want to travel the world showing off football skills that would stop Lionel Messi in his tracks.

Loco, as he prefers to be called, has been freestyling for four years and won the UAE championship in 2009 at the Red Bull Urban Village competition. (The event was not held in 2010.) So good is this teenager that he was a judge when Sa'adeh, 21, won the Abu Dhabi title last year.

The two friends have joined forces. They practice together for hours almost every day and are in demand to appear at football tournaments and exhibitions around the country. They almost always attract the biggest crowds, as the tricks they can do with a football are truly amazing.

The object of freestyle is to keep the football off the ground using any part of the body, including the hands.

Judges mark competitors on technique and originality as they control the ball in sessions of five or 10 minutes.

Loco and Sa'adeh stand out because they come up with their own tricks.

It is not just about how long they can keep the ball up, but the different ways they balance it, as well.

"Freestyle is about how the ball moves around your body," Loco said. "It's not just about juggling the ball. It's about expressing yourself, going deep into your roots and showing what you are all about.

"We do tricks with our feet, head and even hands. We do tricks when sitting down and when doing a handstand. We use power as well as precision, and I include break dancing as well."

Sa'adeh said he has learned much from his younger friend, and they are always trying to come up with something new.

"When we train we can keep the ball off the ground for as long as we want," he said.

"I could keep up the ball until I get exhausted. I could maybe go for hours and hours if I wanted.

"We work so hard because the people want to see new tricks from us.

"We can't show people something boring or they will go to sleep. We always give them what they want to see.

"If you do something for five minutes and it is interesting, then the people will watch you. We have to invent new tricks all the time. In freestyle, being creative is so important."

Loco is an 11th grader with school exams coming up. Sa'adeh is studying civil engineering. The dream for both is to make a career out of their passion, even if they know that while what they do is captivating, it is not the easiest profession for making a good living.

However, with the right backing, they could put the UAE on the football freestyle map.

"Freestyle is my life. I would like to think that I could travel all around the world doing this and the ultimate would be to become the freestyle world champion," Loco said.

Sa'adeh added: "As long as we keep practicing, everything is possible. We do need somebody to support us, financially. We can do that ourselves to an extent, but everyone could do with some help.

"Companies pay us to go to exhibitions and put on a show, so that helps with money.

"But we both want to do a lot more than that."

They also believe that if given the chance to take up their sport on a professional basis, they would naturally have more time to perfect their skill and come up with even more elaborate tricks.

ncameron@thenational.ae