The Beckham of Freestyle

Lionel Messi, Christian Ronaldo and Neymar are considered the most skilled footballers on the planet but there is an Englishman who at least on the ball might be considered their equals. 

Meet Andrew Henderson, the four time freestyle world champion.

During his journey as a freestyle footballer, Henderson has had the opportunity to meet some of world football’s biggest names like Lionel Messi, Neymar jr, David Beckham, Michael Owen, Zico, Ryan Giggs and Gareth Bale just to name a few.

Born in Exeter in the south of England, the 24-year-ols overcome a serious injury when he was a teenager that at one point seriously threatened his ability to walk.

Four years later he became the World Champion in freestyle football and his skills have taken him to over 50 countries where he has showcased his ability on the ball in places like Brazil, China, Japan, South Africa, Spain, Dubai, Norway and the USA.

Henderson was recently in Australia for the Adidas ACE16 football boot launch and gave an insight into his gruelling travel and practise regimen 

“I train around three to five hours per day, five days per week,” he said.

“Training is a mixture of combining the hardest tricks I can do together with working on stamina and balance with about five hours of stretching per week also. I take lots of inspiration from martial arts and breakdance when it comes to practising new moves with the ball. 

“The freestyle lifestyle is crazy and I am always on the move whether it’s freestyling in the National or World Championships or doing commercials and performances or even making YouTube videos.

"The past three months I have been in Canada, USA, France, Switzerland, China, Thailand, Dubai and now am here in Australia." 

Football is not the Englishman’s only interest over the years he has dabbled in other sports including table tennis, judo, boxing, rugby and football but it was when he was 14 that he really got into freestyle.

But it was out in the streets where Henderson honed and showcased his craft.

“When I first started I used to busk a lot,” he said.

“It really helped grow my confidence as I used to be very shy. I haven’t tried to busk in a while but when I used to I would always receive lots of positive comments like ‘we could have used you last week against United’ or ‘ You’re the next David Beckham’ and I would also get the occasional comment ‘it’s good but can you do it in a game?.’ 

“Now freestyle football/soccer has become a recognised sport in the UK and in many other countries and people’s view of it have changed a lot.

“Football is great but freestyle takes what I consider as the most beautiful part of football - the skills and focuses on it specifically. It allows you to fully express yourself in your own way as you don’t have a coach or team mates and you can do whatever you want with the ball whenever you want and whenever you want.”

Looking ahead Henderson’s goal is to win a history making five World Championships and to develop freestyle into a mainstream sport.

He is already planning his next big move but it will be hard to top what he has achieved so far. 

“Once I freestyled down the stairs of a shopping mall in Kuwait,” he says.

“It was while wearing an Arabic dress and head scarf with a mini football to Justin Bieber music in background for a phone company. That was a pretty odd one. 

“But my favourite was when I climbed the Great Wall of China with a ball balanced on my head.

"I have also freestyled in front of the Pyramids in Egypt but I’m not sure where I will go next but I plan on doing something big involving the Seven Wonders of the World.”

Con Stamocostas is an Australian football writer. Click here to see more of his work and check out the latest episode of his A-League Snobcast with co-host Rob Toddler.