Being able to do a few keepy-uppies with a football is impressive enough, but what if you could do it – while skipping – in front of professional footballers from the English Premier League team Tottenham Hotspur?
It might look easy for local football freestyler Lyson Sze, who gave a freestyling lesson to the likes of Spurs’ Christian Eriksen and Vincent Janssen before their match against Kitchee on Friday, but as he told Young Post, perfecting these skills takes an unbelievable amount of commitment.
“I saw a freestyler performer back in 2008 and I became obsessed. I watched videos, practised for two hours every day after school, and three to four hours on holidays,” said Sze, 29, who is a former Hong Kong Freestyle champion and China Redbull Freestyle Soccer World Cup champion.
His popular street performances filled with impossible tricks against the backdrop of Mong Kok’s vibrant markets have earned him the title “Mong Kok Messi”.
“At first, it was like being a busker. I was worried about my living expenses, and whether this sport would take off. After a while though, I started attracting attention and was given the nickname,” said Sze. In fact, his performances are so good, he was invited to perform his tricks in England, France and The Netherlands, which is why Sze holds Mong Kok – where it all kicked off – so close to his heart.
People tend to assume freestyle football is a simple variation of football itself – but they’re wrong, he says. “They differ greatly. Freestyle requires you to continually challenge yourself; you’re always creating and mastering new tricks. A lot of the time, they’ll fail – but even when you feel like giving up there’s the drive to try one more time,” explained Sze, who now trains for up to four or five hours at a time.
Sze says he puts in so much effort in now, because there’s an end date on his freestyling.
“I tore my right Achilles two years ago, and the doctors discovered a problem with my coccyx [tailbone]. He told me I’d only be able to perform for another five years,” said Sze.
The news was a huge shock for the freestyle fanatic, but he says if he doesn’t perform now, then he’ll never be able do what he loves best. “Injuries have nearly destroyed my life, but I’ve learned to live with them, because I can’t just will them away,” smiled Sze.
So what’s his motivation? The awards, the money, the chance to meet celebrity freestylers?
“I do it to make people happy,” said Sze. “The best part about performing is feeling the excitement and amusement coming from people on the streets. The respect and recognition I get from the audience gives me a greater sense of achievement than any award could give me.”
There was, however, one moment with a celebrity that left Sze in awe. “My role model is JK [South Korean football freestyler Jeon Kwon]. His advanced techniques have had a profound impact on my own style, so you can imagine how magical it was to watch him at the world championships,” he said.
Freestyle footballer performers are popping up everywhere in Hong Kong, and just like the real Lionel Messi, this Mong Kok Messi wants to encourage more people to pick up his sport – especially the younger generation. “I hope [my performances] raise awareness of the sport. I’d like to see a school specialising in freestyle football; we could promote the sport in the city and, through it, encourage people to believe in themselves,” he explained.
Edited by Ginny Wong