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Mike Delaney: “The Most Important Thing is the Audience”

Mike Delaney is a respected freestyler and former footballer from England. You’ve probably seen him on TV starring in the popular Adidas and Pepsi commercials. Mike was gracious enough to answer a few questions for us so make sure to visit his website mikedelaneysoccer.com and follow him on twitter at @MDelaneySoccer

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Who or what inspired you to get into freestyle?
I used to watch Maradona kicking about before games or in training and I was fascinated by his level of skill and flair off the pitch as well as on it.

You played football before you started freestyling, how did that go for you?
I always played football and was encouraged by my Dad. I grew up practising skills and tricks which were not labelled as freestyle back then. I was invited to Germany by Hansi Mueller (ex German football legend) on an Adidas shoot I did with Paul Gascoigne, David Beckham and Zidane. I was young and it was an interesting time. I played for a few clubs during my time in Germany and Switzerland and I could see that the pro game was tough but I knew that technically I was good enough. I just didn’t have the desire to do it as a career so I made a conscious decision to change my career path. Money was never my motivation and I knew that I loved coaching. So I returned home and have since very much enjoyed my work as Head of The Skills Academy and as leading choreographer on Football shoots for Adidas and a number of global brands. In recent years I was selected to play for the England Futsal team and this was enjoyable for me. It became apparent to people who knew me that I wasn’t only a freestyler- I could play the game at a high level.

How do you learn new tricks and what are your practice sessions like?
Nowadays my focus is on The Skills Academy and my choreography work though I am still hired to perform my freestyle shows. I know my routine and after some training, I can have it ready to perform. It is still entertaining for many audiences- perhaps less so for current freestylers who feel that the sport has now moved on. But I am sure that the audience prefers many of the sequences that the ‘old school’ freestylers perform compared to some of the ‘combinations’ which can sometimes be missed.

You’ve worked with famous footballers like Zidane and Ronaldo. Is there anybody that stood out or made an impression on you?
I like Zidane as a guy- he is a legend as a player and is a very easy going guy on set. Cristiano Ronaldo is very confident which I think is sometimes mistaken for arrogance. I’ve worked with him many times. He is always friendly with me and I have been pleased to see him do so well in his career. The first time I worked with him, he was 18. Ronaldhino has lots of charisma and is very friendly- and he loves practising his skills on set. Messi is very quiet as a character and generally it is better to allow him to focus on football moves in the ads rather than too much acting. I really like Drogba and Kaka as people- I admire the efforts they make for charity and they do not announce it to the world. This is the right way.

Is there any freestyler that you find particularly impressive?
I think that Mr Woo is the all time legend of freestyle and I don’t see anyone taking that title away from him. I really like Dan Magness as well. I think he has a welcoming character which comes across when he performs. There’s many talented lads out there though that I’ve worked with. They all have something unusual and they are all amazing to watch. I admire them all for their talent and for the time they put in.

You have your own skills academy, tell us a little bit about that…
I set up The Skills Academy to focus on developing technique and skills with youngsters. We were ahead of our time as these days, coaching skills etc is all people talk about on twitter and social media. We have focused on the skills of the kids for the last 15 years and ensured that everything they do feel like fun and is appropriate for the different age groups and ability levels. We now work with around 2000 children every week. We have a partnership with Charlton Athletic FC for promising players and we run camps abroad every year in Austria and Germany. This month we will run our first one in China.

What are the most common mistakes that you see in kids who are trying to learn freestyle?
I don’t know if there are mistakes as such in freestyle. Generally though I would say that some guys don’t master the basics of controlling the ball before trying very difficult moves. This sometimes makes a trick they perform look less graceful than if they had more of a foundation of skills. People have different motives in freestyle. Some want to earn from it which I think is completely fine- why shouldn’t they try to make a living from something they enjoy and which people enjoy watching. Others see it as an art form which they enjoy mastering and impressing friends or other freestylers with. Personally, I was never bothered what other freestylers thought about my skills. I think the most important thing is the audience. Like a magician once said- ‘it’s not the trick that is the difficult bit…it’s making the audience have any interest in it.’ There’s an art to performing which is very useful for every freestyler. It is how to engage with an audience rather than to be too wrapped up in your own skill. I put less emphasis on my freestyle as it is only a part of what I do.

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