With an array of tricks that incorporate mind-bending backflips and acrobatics, impossible is not a word in Ashraf Youssef’s vocabulary.
When it comes to freestyle, the list of possibilities seems to be never-ending. One individual who added to the conveyor belt of new concepts looking to hone in and perfect his own particular style is Ashraf Youssef, aka Viper.
The Egyptian freestyler, who now resides in the UK, has blown people away with his fusion of insane acrobatics, tricking, and flipping with conventional hardcore lower moves, all while graduating with distinction and earning a master’s degree in communication engineering.
His background in freerunning — a flashier version of parkour — has given him an arsenal of dazzling backflips that leaves each spectator’s head spinning.
We got the chance to sit down and talk exclusively with the man himself about all things from freestyle and backflips to his extensive match ball collection.
Urban Pitch: As is tradition, we’re curious as to how you got into freestyle football?
Ashraf Youssef: Like most freestylers I was very passionate about football to the point it was my life. I played professionally for over 10 years for big football clubs in Egypt as well as having a short period of trials for the national team before I got injured. Back in 2009, I remember a friend showed me a video of Palle, Timo, and Abdullah and said, “I dare you do these tricks,” as I used to be known for doing ATWs and tricks before every game. But in response to what he showed me I was like, “No way that’s real!”
I took my friend’s challenge seriously and I remember going home that day to my room to try some of them, and I landed a Lemmens ATW and it clicked that this was something I really wanted to do more. Let’s say it started from there to become addictive.
One of the things you are most known for is your crazy backflips. At what point did you realize you could mix this with freestyle?
In 2012 I decided to quit freestyle after almost two years of hardcore training where lowers were my only passion. I could do a lot of different 3-revs and difficult combos but sadly I got bored and stuck there without any serious improvement. I found myself at a point where it wasn’t fun anymore and isn’t that the whole point? So I decided to find a new avenue to explore.
I went a whole year of not touching the ball, and I was freerunning a lot — something I was enjoying massively. Despite the lack of freestyle training, in 2013 I went to Super Ball as it had always been a dream of mine. I remember having an interesting conversation with Kevin, the head judge, about the idea of mixing freerunning with freestyle and he was very excited to hear about it. I started freestyle football again seriously as I had big goals and dreams as I felt it I could now bring something new to the scene. I guess at the time I felt like this could be my legacy.
How much do you train the gymnastics-related stuff?
I have strong foundations in the gymnastics side of things like core strength and flexibility, but I don’t focus on it much these days as I purely trained freerunning on its own for about a year. Although acrobatics is really fun to train, now it’s mainly just freestyle and figuring out ways to break the fear of trying a new stunt as it can be dangerous if it’s not done the right way. You may only get to try once right?
Have you ever had a really bad injury from it? A lot of the stuff you try looks pretty dangerous from where we are looking!
I had a few, including a very bad one which left me with a bad stiff neck where I couldn’t sleep on a pillow for the past five years. But hey, injuries are part of the process right? The most important thing is to know how to recover fast and correctly and learn from the mistakes. Now I rarely have a fail in both freestyle and freerunning. I feel like I am getting smarter about the way to approach a move as well as rest which is really important.
You’re behind the insane “Art of Flips” video. Is it true that a sequel is coming soon?
I had a vision when I started this video and it’s nowhere near complete. It’s just become harder and more challenging than I planned. Every time I go to a meeting or share my ideas with someone, my vision keeps evolving and it’s hard to let go of the awesome ideas. Yes I am very proud of that video, and the plan is definitely to make a second part. Part two is about creative freestyle meeting acrobatics, mainly focused on the concept of a ViperCatch. I named this myself, and it is a new clutch based on involving a lower trick to a flip “no touch”. For example, Alternative Mitchy ATW (AMATW) to a backflip catch no touch or AMATW to front flip catch no touch.
I can share one of my ideas exclusively here for Urban Pitch like Skala Mitchy ATW ViperCatch. Some will think I’m going too far but it’s all about breaking the limits and the satisfaction of proving what is possible, not to mention being the first to do it as well.
Filmmaking has also been a big interest of yours, you produced the official highlights video for the UK Championships last year right?
I got into videography and filmmaking because of freestyle. It is a required skill for all freestylers to share their skills with others. I took it little bit further though, as I felt a strong connection with making videos outside of freestyle too. I learned a lot about videography just as a hobby but at times it also became a part-time job as I produced some documentaries and music videos.
It was an honor for me to do the official highlights of UK/Ireland Champs this year, I enjoyed making it a lot. I think it’s fair to say I have neglected film making a little bit of late as I have put that time and energy into doing freestyle myself. It can also be considered an expensive hobby too don’t you think?
Another trivial fact a lot of freestylers will know you for is your insane match ball collection. Care to share how that all started and what it’s worth now?
Once you start you’re not stopping any time soon. I started collecting match balls before I started freestyle. A good friend of mine gave me my first match ball, the white Teamgeist World Cup 2006, as a present and I immediately fell in love with it. If anything, the need to expand the collection has grown more since getting into freestyle. For the past five years whenever I do a freestyle show I buy a match ball as an investment, but I don’t know if I would ever really sell one of my babies though! (laughs)
I have about 90 match balls in my private collection including rare Montas and some match ball prototypes. It’s really hard to estimate the value of them all since they increase by the year, and given the fact the new world cup is coming up it is going to explode even more, so I’d say it’s worth about £10,000 to £12,000.
What are your plans for the future? Freestyle and everything else?
The most important thing for me is the challenge of staying motivated and consistently training. Secondly is to push my lowers level even further, and possibly make it to the PACT10 finals next year.
By the end of next year I should be starting to film for Art of Flips II. Beside all the freestyle plans, I am looking to make a big step and move to Germany. German is actually my first language! The plan is to start working toward a doctorate degree out there, but I do need to brush up on the language some more first.