Rebaz Mohammad: from Kurdistan to the UK, a freestyle football journey

Rebaz Mohammed is a 24 years old Professional Football Freestyler and a multiple World Record Holder from West Bromwich, UK.

A migrant due to political discrimination, Rebaz moved to the UK from South Kurdistan in Iraq and took the freestyle football world by storm.

We caught up with him to talk about his journey in the sport he loves.

Rebaz Mohammed holds a certificate, West Bromwich, UK
Rebaz Mohammed with his Guinness World Record Certificate

Zushan Hashmi: Tell me about life before you started playing football as a pro-freestyle footballer. You are a Kurd and came to the UK, what made your family move to the UK?

Rebaz Mohammed: I was born and raised in Kurdistan where Football is a national sport and I played football there every single day with my friends after school, I used to have my own team (made out of friends) back home where we used to play against other teams around us, and I moved to the UK at the age of 16 with my whole family in the summer of 2012.

We waited for years to get a visa (my dad was already in the UK since 2002, he got a British passport in 2009 and we moved here in 2012 because of him) my dad came to the UK because of the poor treatment from the Iraqi regime towards the Kurds at the time, and to find better work opportunities.

You loved football growing up, what were the sort of opportunities that opened up to you when you moved to the UK, both in terms of football and what was limited back home?

Many things opened up when I moved to the UK, it was very hard at the beginning because I could not speak a single word in English (maybe, a Hello [laughs]) and I had to wait for college to shut and reopen as they were almost finishing terms when I arrived.

I started going to have little kick about with my brother at the park near my house and one day a group of people from diverse cultures (mainly Asians) saw us play alone and asked us to join them.

I remember we played so good that they asked my dad for his number so they could talk to him when they are around to play football again.

Long story short after playing with them for a while, one of them suggested I get in touch with a team, we turned up and I scored 5 goals.

That led me to get another phone number to try my chance at a very high-level, semi-pro team. I played football for them from 2012 to 2015 from U16 to the first-team and I also started playing for my college team (Sandwell College) where we won 2 regional titles in a row with only 1 loss in both the seasons.

I also got the award for ‘Most Improved Player of the season 2015’ and my dream was to become a professional footballer.

I would go to the park alone on the days I did not have football training/matches, have only 1 ball, take a freekick against a goal without a net and bring the ball back despite having 4 days full of training and matches. I would say, back home we were limited with equipment, opportunities and lack of respect for an athlete!

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How did you overcome that to eventually play freestyle football and succeed so well at it?

When I was a footballer, I used to watch a lot of YouTube videos to improve and I started discovering freestyle skills which I learned to improve my touch on football and a bit of a show in front of my team.

I started creating my first YouTube videos in 2014, which led me to learn more skills to make better videos which eventually enabled me to have my first freestyle meet with, now a female world champion, Liv Cooke.

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We were both beginners back then and I started following the freestyle community, having more meetups and I really loved it.

I especially enjoy learning new skills every day as there are no limits in freestyle at this point and my love for freestyle was taking over football which made me make my best ever decision in around October 2015 to stop football and start taking freestyle seriously.

Rebaz muhammad shows freestyle football tricks to little players,west bromwich,UK
Rebaz Mohammed works with some children at a training camp

What have been some of your favorite moments in your career? Why?

My favorite moments freestyling so far, would be:
- 2 x Guinness World Record Titles;
- Entertainment award winner by LUX LIFE MAGAZINE 2018;
- Being in the same ad as Lionel Messi for Dubai 2020 (2021 now);
- Appearing on national TV channel CBBC in 2018;
- Appearing on big Kurdish TV channels multiple times from 2018 -2020;
- Working with big brands such as Adidas, UEFA, BBC, Sony, Nissan, Red Bull and the English Premier League.

I chose those few above as I am the first Kurd to achieve these feats and to do so professionally.

Is it easy to make a living off freestyle football as a career?

It is very hard to make a living as a freestyler, as we are not like other athletes, where they know how much they are making on a weekly/monthly basis, because we are independent and the sport is still underground, and an only a handful of people will be able to make freestyle a way of living, which requires a lot of self-promotion work.

How much of this is dependant on the brands that sponsor you and the competitions you participate in?

Unfortunately, even the World Champions don’t get a decent amount to do shows for a living, some of the very top athletes do make some money from sponsors but every pro freestyler, including myself, make their income from performances, commercials and workshops!

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How have workshops been useful for you to make a living?

Yes, going around the country doing workshops in schools, clubs, and birthdays are a good help of income but I would say my main income comes from performances and commercials.

Workshops are my favourite out of all, as the kids love it and it is a great way for me to give back and spread my sport.

What are the two Guinness World Records that you have?

No one knows about the first record but  I am revealing it to you guys [laughs] as I want to be 100% honest:
- The 1st record is “Most Football Neck Catch Passes in one minute is 41” which was between me and my fellow freestyle footballer, Ben Nuttall, we broke the previous record of 31 to 41 in 2018.
- The 2nd is “The most consecutive Football / Soccer “Slap” is 149” which I did back in January this year and got it accepted by the GWR team on the first day of Ramadan and I announced it on my birthday on the 10th of May.

I actually got rejected in 2018 for the second record as the name was new and they mainly have records to break not add, I then got accepted to try in 2019 but I failed at 88, the most on the day and broke it in 2020.

So, I am the proudest of this one as it took so long to do and got added to the book because of me!

Rebaz Mohammed is going to show his freestyle tricks in front of crowd,west bromwich,UK
Rebaz Mohammed showing his skills for everyone

Tell me a little bit about the entertainment side of what you do as a freestyle footballer?

I have a mixed opinion. In a way, I want to make income from being an athlete rather than an entertainer and I think many normal people still see us as entertainers rather than athletes, even in competitions.
However, I really enjoy the entertainment side of it as I get to travel to places I would not usually go to, meet a lot of new people, work with big brands and most importantly put a smile on people’s faces, whether that is from performing or teaching them skills.

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So, I would love the entertainment side to always be with freestyle no matter how far the sport goes, but also gain the respect as an athlete by increasing the prize money for competitions and fees from performances.

What does your training, fitness and diet regime involve? How do you manage/maintain this?

Everyone’s training and diet are different as freestylers are independent. I train 5-6 days a week, 2-3 hours a day (sometimes this goes to 4 hours for competitions) and for fitness, since the football days, I have been taking so much care of my core, as it’s a foundation for every athlete.

So, I have morning core session and afternoon freestyle and I work out at the gym for another 1-2 hours (4-6 hours a day altogether).

Diet-wise, it is hard for us freestylers as we are our own nutritionists, but I personally eat 90% good on most days and try to take home food to my training studio as much as possible.

I personally don’t count calories but I eat clean and I strongly believe in the diet for performances, but we do not have as much access as other athletes to good diets, for example, professional footballers have everything in front of them ready and very easy to eat clean.

However, I treat myself as a reward with the 10% ‘not-so-clean’ intake which is burnt off anyway!

What do you say to young children who want to play freestyle football?

My advice is, start young, do it for the love of it, and not the money. Learn and master all the basic tricks before moving on to harder ones, believe in yourself and have fun because if you are not then it is definitely not for you!

What can we expect from you in the future with your sport?

I am now working really hard to get to the highest level possible both as an athlete and entertainer so that I can hopefully inspire the next generation after me, especially amongst Kurdish and Asian communities, to believe that they can be whoever they want to be, by putting in the work and not really caring about what people say around them.

Any other thoughts or comments?

Rebaz Mohammed: Lastly, I would say, I came to the UK at the age of 16 and I started Freestyling at 18, could speak the language comfortably at around 19, and became pro at 21.

So, it is normal to go from something to something else as far as you enjoy it more and do not let an outside voice kill your dreams. You are never too late or too early, you were born to be special and only get one shot at life, don’t waste time and work your butt off to get what you want!

For more on Football, visit Sportageous.
You can follow Rebaz Mohammed on Instagram.
Check out our podcast with freestyle football legend, Edward Van Gils here.
This Article is written by the Sportageous Editorial Team.
Noor Shafiq assisted in the curation of this article. You can follow him here on LinkedIn.

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