Red Bull Street Style, the pioneer and most prestigious of all freestyle football tournaments, held for 11 years in cooperation with the World Freestyle Football Association (WFFA).
Freestyle football is the art of doing tricks with a football… but it’s not only the fancy moves which make this sport unique: freestyle is a lifestyle that transcends the sport to become a form of art.
The range of tricks a freestyler can do is simply endless. The roots of freestyle football as a global phenomenon date from back in the 1980s, when the Argentinian football legend Diego Armando Maradona started performing them in his famous warm-ups.
During the 1990s, the sport gained popularity particularly thanks to two South Korean freestylers, Mr Woo and Kang Sung Min, but it was not until the dawn of the new millennium when freestyle football made a huge leap forward: TV commercials starring Ronaldinho and Mr Woo launched the sport towards a huge mainstream audience, and Soufiane Touzani’s Youtube videos helped it reaching a new generation of players.
The newly created national and continental tournaments which appeared in the mid-2000s gave freestylers a boost of motivation to train and develop their own style. In 2008, freestyle football made its definitive step towards thanks to the support of Red Bull, which organised the first major global competition: Red Bull Street Style. Its first champion was the French Sean Garnier, who won the title in Brazil with a unique approach that had never been seen before.
Freestyle football has continued to explode in popularity over the years. However, many of the newcomers and those unfamiliar with the sport altogether may not know about the history of the tournament, that with the support of Red Bull, really brought freestyle football into it’s own mainstream light taking things to the next level. A freestyle football world championship like no other; Red Bull Street Style.
Of course, doing tricks with a football had existed for quite some time. This is different though, a breath-taking combination of athleticism and creativity with the ball where sky’s the limit. This format of a global competition in which to showcase such skills, with a representative from each country battling head-to-head for glory was ground breaking to say the least.
The first ever Red Bull Street Style World Finals took place in Sao Paulo, Brazil. All competitors had to use the Adidas F50 balls. The judging panel consisted of former Brazilian footballer ‘Bebeto’, Futsal legend Falcao, Bboy Crazy Legs and Edgar Davids who had strong ties with freestlyle and street soccer at the time. The 5th judge was the crowd themselves who were in awe at the amazing tricks on display, certainly original and fresh and new at the time. The overall winner and first ever champion was Sean Garnier from France, who beat Yosuke (Japan) in the final while Brazil’s own Murilo Pitol took 3rd place.
After another extensive period of national qualifiers, Red Bull Street Style returned in 2010 this time to Cape Town, South Africa. With a lot of new faces in the competition this was a great follow up after much anticipation. Competitors now switched to using thesize 4.5 ‘Monta’ Street Soccer balls. Edgar Davids again joined the judging panel, this time alongside George Weah and Chris Njokwana (freestyler). Ultimately the Norwegian giant Azun took home the gold, defeating the creative crowd favourite ‘Kamalio’ in the final. Meanwhile a heroic effort from Rocky of Colombia, competing with numerous injuries, managed to take the 3rd place prize.
By now many are very familiar with the Red Bull format for the competition. 3 minute battles between 2 players to try and win over the judges and advance to the next round. 2012 utilised arguably the most iconic venue in Red Bull Street Style history with the amazing “Anfiteatro Romano”, an amphitheatre in Lecce, Italy. With former Italy international footballers Fabio Cannavaro and Felippo Inzaghi This was the stage that saw Tokura from Japan and his iconic “Backflip Catch” come out on top over Ireland’s Daniel Dennehy (2nd) and Gunther Celi (3rd). 2012 was also a significant year in that it was the first time the females had their own competition in the World Finals. This debut was marked with a 1st place for Hungary’s Kitti Szasz.
Red Bull Street Style really is a competition to bring the world together. Not just highlighting the diversity of the incredibly talented players from all kinds of backgrounds, but also the amazing locations and cultures they get to experience by taking part. This time the ancient Zojo-ji Temple in the Japanese capital (Tokyo). The presence of the celebrity judge also remainsa recurring feature in the tournament’s history, in this case it was former Italy World Cup winner Marco Materazzi.
Coincidentally, this was the first time that nobody finishing in the top 3 places were of the nation where the competition was being held. Instead this time it was the strong all-rounder of Poland, Szymon ‘Szymo’ Skalski who reigned victorious while Charly Iacano of Argentina and UK’s Andrew Henderson finished 2nd and 3rd respectively. History was made this year in that Kitti Szasz was able to retain the female world title for a second year in a row.
This year saw the competition move back to Brazil, but this time Salvador would play the role of the host city. The use of the standard Red Bull Street Style Monta balls was no longer mandatory in this year’s edition, instead players could opt to use their regular size 5 matchballs but with the Red Bull Street Style branding on them. Despite some troublesome weather, the competition eventually managed to put on another real spectacle. The celebrity judge on this occasion was former Brazil international ‘Rai’ to watch over the high octane action. Andrew Henderson managed to take home the title, getting revenge on Charly Iacano who eliminated him from the previous year in Tokyo at the semi final stage, and thus has to settle for 2nd place once again. Meanwhile the up and coming Erlend Fagerli took the 3rd place and Melody Donchet (France) took Kitti’s title in the female battles bringing her streak to an end.
After a 2 year hiatus Red Bull Street Style returned to the English capital of London where the packed Roundhouse in Camden saw faces old and new all under the same roof for more action. Fittingly, the 5 man judging panel also featured a former Manchester United and England international in Gary Neville. Once again, a long marathon of qualifiers the day before behind closed doors from approximately 48 nations left only 16 of the best for the World Finals so from the word go everyone expected and received elite level freestyle.
Always the bridesmaid and never the bride, Charly from Argentina finally got his 1st place title wowing the crowds with his jaw-dropping acrobatic control. Kosuke (Japan) and MC Pro (Russia) completed the rest of the podium places. The female battles once again saw another triumph for Melody Donchet beating Aguska Mnich (Poland) in the final.
After yet another break, the hotly anticipated return for the competition did not disappoint. This time in slightly colder settings in the Polish capital of Warsaw. During this break the level and creativity of freestyle football had really sky rocketed, becoming more technically focused and fluid than ever, where the margin for error is so small and every drop or mistake can prove costly to players. Not making life any easier for the 5 judges either, including the friendly face of former Brazil left back Roberto Carlos.
It had been a long time coming and somewhat expected but the Fagerli Brothers Erlend and Brynjar (Norway) set the stage alight taking the 1st and 3rd places with Brazil’s Ricardinho securing 2nd place. The female battles once again saw old rivalries reunited with Melody and Aguska going head to head in a tightly contested final which saw the Pol come out on top much to the delight of the home crowd.
Jet setting across continents took the competition next to Miami, USA the following year. This one produced some memorable moments, controversy and probably some of the best battles in freestyle football history. Complete with former Manchester United and Portugal winger Nani as a judge for this edition of the male battles, and former Mexico internation Pavel Pardo for the females, folks were treated to another outrageous evening of freestyle football madness in Downtown Wynwood.
This time, the tournament favourite Erlend had to settle for 3rd place after narrowly losing an epic encounter with Ricardinho (Brazil) who went onto win the whole competition beating Boyka (Colombia) in the final. The female battles once again had the likely pair of Aguska vs Melody locking horns once again. This time the French freestyler Melody proved victorious and in doing so made RBSS history becoming the first player, male or female, to win 3 Red Bull Street Style World Final titles.
Now the next chapter in Red Bull Street Style history is ready to be written. The level continues to increase and so do the number of participants making each year only more hotly contested. So what will unfold this year is not to be missed...