Video: Who knew Sagna had these skills? Man City stopper shows off with Soufiane Touzani
Soufiane Touzani was one of YouTube's first footballing stars, launching his freestyling career as a 16-year-old on the streets of Rotterdam and going on to impress the likes of Neymar and Cristiano Ronaldo.
Dutchman Touzani grew up in the capital of street football alongside friend-to-be Robin van Persie. “When many children saw us all freestyling it became more popular [in Rotterdam]. But the popularity was more worldwide,” he tells FFT. It was certainly big in areas like ‘the cage’, a fenced-in court where young Rotterdammers could hone their street football skills for hours on end, and where Touzani would practise in the summer holidays from seven in the morning until three in the afternoon.
It's also a city which has proved a hotbed of talent over the years through its former European Cup-winning club Feyenoord, including Van Persie, Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Salomon Kalou, Michel Bastos and Jonathan de Guzman. It's also acted as something of a feeder club to the Premier League, supplying England's top flight with the likes of Graziano Pelle and Jordy Clasie, plus Henrik Larsson at Celtic.
I thought it would be awesome to record a video and just send it to my friends via MSN Messenger. Later I saw the video everywhere
A 14 year-old Touzani wanted to make it onto that list. Unfortunately for him, however, injury prevented progression in his footballing career – he had scoliosis, a curvature in the spine, underwent surgery and was told he couldn’t play football competitively for a year.
Unable to resist exercising his talent with the ball he slept with, trickster Touzani turned to freestyle. In 2003 his friend thought it might be worth filming him and uploading his videos to the internet. Two years later, YouTube was born and in the 10 years since, the video has racked up around 100 million views worldwide in its various guises.
The response was a certain amount of fame – mostly from young teenagers who would try out the tricks in their local park after watching the video, inspired by a dizzying amount of around-the-worlds.
Few recognised him in the street afterwards, though – the quality of the video was too poor to make out a face. He certainly didn’t expect the attention it would receive: “No, not at all” he laughs.
“I thought it would be awesome to record a video and just send it to my friends via MSN Messenger. Later I saw the video everywhere. Everything was so fast.”
“I think it was one of the best moments of my career,” says Touzani. “I've been to a lot of places and everything has its own charm, but of course this was very big and a dream come true. He is one of the best players ever and he’s also very normal at the same time.”
Up and up
Every country has now more than 1,000 good freestylers
Now a big success in his native Holland, Touzani has received plaudits from the greatest names in world football – even Thierry Henry has watched his videos. Even better, his tricks are being used by them, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar. “It's a great feeling,” says the Dutchman. “When I saw that I was very, very proud. I love to inspire people no matter where they come from and I love to be inspired. These players also inspire me.”
His original video also caught the attention of EA Sports, who invited him to provide the skills for FIFA Street. His talent was to survive not only digitally, but on a PlayStation game, too.
More recently his services have been required to perform at the King and Queen of Holland's coronation; pretending to be a fourth official at the French Cup final before freestyling in front of an unsuspecting 80,000-strong Stade de France crowd; and promoting Johan Cruyff’s ‘Cruyff Courts’ – recreations of the cage used by Touzani to encourage more street footballers.
Touzani has turned his hand to other things too, most notably rapping and presenting. His 16-year-old self will be delighted with the YouTube channel he now broadcasts from, however, which has almost 40,000 subscribers and counting – including a regular video which invites footballers to nutmeg (‘panna’) as many people in a busy street as possible within a 10-minute time period.
Freestyling has now become a sport in its own right, and there is a World Championship every year. “Every country has more than 1,000 good freestylers,” he says. The 28-year-old has also set up the Touzani School in Rotterdam which nurtures talent emerging from the industrial city. Now watch as he bamboozles a pair of helpless opponents with Manchester City's Bacary Sagna, who's got a trick or two of his own...