At first glance, Aarish Ansari does not have the vibe of an athlete. He is tall and lean, a great body structure to be a sportsperson but works a day job at a corporate company to pay his bills. However, give him a football and suddenly you see him transition from an innocuous job-goer to a master who makes the ball dance to his tricks.

Like many a kid, Ansari was interested in football and was good enough to play for his school team at the age of eight. In fact, he wanted to become a professional footballer and was well on his way to becoming one, playing U-12 and U-14 school tournaments while playing for Tuborg FC, a local club.

This is when the dream came crashing down though. “I tore my anterior cruciate ligament and my meniscus on my right knee when I was 16 after a bad tackle by an opposing player,” Ansari told in an exclusive chat. However, he continued playing with a brace on because nothing showed up in an X-ray as ligament tears are not detected.

Read | Winning is not everything in life: Sports psychologist Nanaki J.Chadha

But he quickly realized that something was gravely wrong when the pain became too intense for him to continue. He still wanted to do something with a football though. “I would juggle a football 1000 times with my free leg to while away my time and I met a friend who said who could he do it 1200 times. That was when it became competitive for me,” revealed Ansari.

The experience opened a new world for the college-going youngster- he googled about football freestyle, watched videos and found that it is a different sport altogether. The interest naturally started to take shape and Ansari attended numerous college-fests and participated in their freestyle events.

His network began to develop there as he connected with regulars on the circuit and learnt from the players who were way better than him. “My best friends from the circuit are people I met at these events- I trained with them and copied their skills, all while still studying in college,” he stated.

The bug had bitten him for good by now and Ansari had no doubt that he wanted to do this rather than study for a fancy degree. “I took up animation- a relatively load-free course and continued to freestyle across three years of college, building my network and doing gigs, where often my payment was just free food.”

He has come a long way since those days though. Ansari currently holds the Guinness World Records for doing the most crossovers in both 30 seconds (72) and a minute (104). “I set the 30-second record in 2016 with 58, then someone broke it when they did 63. So I trained hard and a year later was able to beat it with 72 and at the same time, I also broke the 1-minute record,” he said.

When he started out, Ansari did not have any knowledge of how to go about things, but he does not want youngsters to face the same difficulties. He joined the World Freestyle Football Association (WFFA) as the India leader and was promoted to Asia-Pacific leader last year. He also started his own academy with close friend, Mohnish Nikam to provide a base to kids who want to pursue football or freestyle.

Read | Manuel D’Souza’s rise from the ashes to carve a tale of his own

“The motivation to start it was to spread awareness about this sport and give them guidance and training to enhance their skills and also build the community at the same time. A few of the kids from my academy ended top at the National Freestyling Championships, a competition I started when I joined WFFA,” the 26-year-old proudly stated.

As an employee and freestyler, Ansari gets to enjoy the best of both worlds and the fact that his freestyle skills takes him around India and won him a trip to Old Trafford to see the famous Manchester derby make it worth his while to juggle both professions. Juggling just seems to be the theme of his life.

Feature image courtesy: Aarish Ansari