France

Fayolle, the high-flying freestyler

Freestyler Gautier Fayolle, Cirque du Soleil "Messi 10"
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  • Gautier Fayolle is the world’s leading exponent of freestyle football
  • Now using his skills in the entertainment world as part of the Messi 10 show
  • He gives his advice on taking up freestyle

For Gautier Fayolle, everything began online. A football fanatic, his passion for all things freestyle was fired by the videos he used to watch. “I taught myself, training for hours and hours on my own with a ball outside my house,” the Frenchman told FIFA.com.

“I wasn’t much of a natural to begin with. I worked at it and was more motivated than anything else,” said the Paris Saint-Germain fan, who drew inspiration in his younger years from master entertainer Ronaldinho. “I really got a kick out of it and when I started out I wasn’t necessarily the best. But with a bit of patience and passion, I was able to keep progressing.”

It has proved to be a winning combination for Gautier, who is now one of the world’s top freestylers and the winner of seven straight world titles in the Routine category. The YouTube channel of his Footstyle collective has amassed nearly 800,000 subscribers and chalked up tens of millions of views.

Last year saw him embark on a new chapter in his life by joining Le Cirque du Soleil as one of the stars of its Messi 10 show, which tells the story of the Argentinian star. “I’ve put my competitive career on hold to fulfil this dream,” he explained. “It was a bit out of the blue too: a show on Lionel Messi! He was there at the opening night and I had the pleasure of being on the red carpet with him. He was very emotional and moved to get a standing ovation at the end of the show too.”

Freestyle in lockdown

“There were a lot of technical demands involved when in my playing career, so it was a big release for me to be able to work on my skills at the very highest level, doing live shows and circus work. I hope it goes on for as long as possible.”

Sadly for Gautier and Cirque du Soleil, the tour, which should have reached its conclusion in Buenos Aires during the Copa America, has been put on hold because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Having played to 3,000 people a night, he now finds himself in lockdown at home, a situation that is perhaps less frustrating for a freestyler like him than it is for football players.

“Yes, there’s no doubt that freestyle is a very practical sport right now,” he said with a smile. “A lot of people have been doing challenges, doing 'around the worlds' with toilet rolls and the like. All you need to do freestyle is a ball and bit of flat ground. I’m training on the terrace at the moment. It’s only two metres by two but it’s big enough for me to practice.”

So in these days of lockdown, what would his advice be to anyone looking to take up freestyle? “There are lots of really good online tutorials but my best piece of advice would be to have confidence in yourself and to stick at it. I know it’s very easy to give it a try and then to say that it’s difficult and that you need to have a gift for it, but a lot of it is about working at it. Everyone can learn a trick or two with a bit of training.”

Gautier’s career, which has taken him the world over and has seen him meet some of the biggest stars in world football, is glittering proof of that.

The lowdown on Gautier Fayolle

You’ve met a few famous players. Which ones have stood out for you?
“I’ve met the Barcelona players twice at events and meeting Zinedine Zidane was another highlight for me. I was eight when France won the World Cup in 1998 and he was a childhood hero of mine. I also met Kylian Mbappe at the unveiling of his waxwork statue at the Musee Grevin in Paris. It was the day the France squad for the 2018 World Cup was announced.”

Which players make the best freestylers?
“You might not have guessed it but two Bayern Munich players in particular have impressed me: Franck Ribery and Robert Lewandowski. Then there’s Neymar, of course. He’s really interested in freestyle and he’s got a feel for the whole culture. If you ask me, he’s a bit like Ronaldinho’s spiritual heir when it comes to entertaining on the pitch.”

What do you feel when you play football?
“When you’re a freestyler and you pull on your shoes, you have a lot of fun doing things a footballer can’t do. People get blown away when they see something like this, though I don’t really like to show off. That’s not my style. I prefer to pass the ball and play as a team (laughs). Obviously, my skills help when it comes to controlling the ball, passing and moving around. The fact you can use any part of your body to control the ball creates some pretty unusual situations.”

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