When world champion freestyle footballer Séan Garnier agreed to play for London United Futsal club, an amateur club in England, 5-a-side.com was there with the inside scoop. Here’s an exclusive interview I was able to do with him as he made his debut on 7th December 2014 vs Baku. Enjoy!
Born 1984 in Sens, France, Séan Garnier could’ve been a professional footballer in the full 11-a-side game, had he not been so unfortunate with injury.
Back in 1998, France had just won the world cup on home soil, and Séan (pronounced more like ‘see-ann’) was on the books of Auxerre, with lofty ambitions of making a career with the club. And he was good, too. You have to be if you’re at a club like that.
Auxerre might not register high on a scale of most-recognised global clubs, but their production of talent is mighty impressive indeed. Legendary coach Guy Roux, who incidentally was a friend of Séan ‘s grandfather, presided over the club for nearly 40 years establishing a formidable reputation for developing talent. Big names such as Eric Cantona, Laurent Blanc, Basile Boli, Djibril Cissé, and Philippe Mexès, to name but a few, all came through the doors of the club located in the Burgundy region, southeast of Paris.
In fact, Séan confirmed that he was at the club at the same time as Cissé and Mexès. Both were two years older than him, but no doubt their early success fuelled the dreams of many who followed in their footsteps, including Séan. Cissé made his first team debut in 1998 and Mexès followed behind in 1999. Séan, along with all the other hopefuls, waited for his chance.
By 2004 Cissé and Mexès had both moved from the small-pond of Auxerre, to major European heavyweights Liverpool and Roma. Both have since enjoyed long careers establishing themselves as household names and amassing over 70 caps for France between them.
But as the stock of Cissé and Mexès was rising so rapidly, it was a different story for Séan. Whilst he was known by Guy Roux as a ‘technical player’ and used to play a variety of roles across the midfield, his career had taken a downward turn, stepping down a division to join local club Troyes. A little while later, he was released by them as well.
It was a cruel experience, made all the more painful by the fact that injury, rather than lack of talent, was responsible for bringing the curtain down. A combination of ailments that he attributes to ‘problems growing’ that afflicted his knees forced him out of the game well before the dream was supposed to end. As Séan said, “over two years, I wasn’t really able to play”. It must have been utterly devastating.
A new beginning
In 2005, Séan was still trying to find another club to be a professional at, whilst he based himself in Paris and began studying to be a coach. It was whilst he was there that he began to take a ball outside and perform a few tricks. People were interested in seeing what he was up to and Séan enjoyed entertaining them in return.
Seeing how much people enjoyed watching his freestyle routines, he began to do more and more of it. It began to snowball, and by 2006 it had become a full-on obsession which Séan began to concentrate on making a full-time career.
Incredibly, by November 2008 Séan was crowned Freestyle World Champion, defeating 42 other competitors in the World Championships, held in Sao Paulo, Brazil. That sort of progress is incredibly impressive in such a short space of time. It doesn’t seem quite so incredible to Séan, who simply tells me that “when I do something I am really focused. I am a perfectionist”.
After the world championships, things went from strength to strength. He secured sponsorship with Red Bull and has since been around the world taking his insane array of tricks with him, practicing the art of Panna (the practice of being able to put the ball through your opponent’s legs) on almost anybody he comes into contact with, including Neymar!
At the time of writing he’s got over 200k subscribers on YouTube (if you haven’t seen his channel, do so now and wave goodbye to the next couple of hours – the link is at the bottom) and his work even dominates other football channels, including one video that has been watched over 15 million times at the time of writing. Add to that, he’s appeared in the popular computer game FIFA street and that epic old man commercial, he’s fast becoming a celebrity for the incredible things he can do with the ball!
It’s a far cry from the dejected figure that must have existed in 2004 after he’d been spat out by the football machine. As far as bounce back stories go, there can’t be many that are better than this.
Don’t get me wrong, the freestyle is really interesting, and mesmeric to watch, but it’s the futsal that has drawn me along to meeting with Séan. That’s because he has agreed to appear London United Futsal club, an amateur club based in Southwest London.
It all came about through the club chairman, James Rosa “I met him somewhere and he saw me that I had played some futsal in France. I liked the project and said ‘OK, if I am free I can come there and help try to develop the game’”, said Séan. I don’t think it’s a formal arrangement but Séan says he’ll make as many games as he can, his busy schedule permitting.
Any time that a guy with the skills of Séan gets thrown into live action, it’s incredibly interesting to see. It’s one thing being able to do all the tricks and flicks for show, but there’s often a thought in the back of your mind that ‘they’ll never work in a real game’. Séan playing futsal is a great chance to test that assumption.
For Séan’s London United debut (Sunday 7th December 2014), he’s facing Baku. In UK Futsal it doesn’t get any tougher than that. Unlike London United, Baku are full-time professionals, champions of England and are the only team from the UK to have played in the main round of the UEFA futsal cup.
Last time these two sides met Baku won 9-3, so it is bound to be a tough game. To make matters even more difficult, Séan hasn’t played very much futsal in the last two months, so it has been a less than ideal preparation. However, he assures me that he has been doing a lot of thinking about it.
How did it go?
Unsurprisingly, Baku’s class showed and they ended up winning 9-2 (not helped by a London United player getting sent off in the first 10 minutes, although in futsal at least you do get to replace a red-carded player after a period of time). But how did Séan get on?
Despite the fact that I know Séan had not trained very much with this team, so they had little time to develop a deep tactical understanding between themselves, he fitted in well. Although I expected to see him taking up attacking positions, he stayed quite far back, sometimes playing as a sweeper. I asked him why he did that and he told me it was his plan to stay in defensive positions. “I can see how they move, and I tried to balance the team”, said Séan. In future games, with more experience with the team he might push on a bit more.
Séan was very lively when he was on the pitch. He demanded the ball, put in plenty of running, made tackles and, though we didn’t get to see it, he has a good shot on him – that much was evident from the warm-up where he scored some classics! He’s certainly a well-rounded player.
Did he end up doing lots of flashy skills? He did throw in a fair few of his trademark fast-feet moves to see if he could tempt the Baku players into a duel, but they were too cautious to get involved. Séan himself said that it was a difficult day to get those type of skills to come-off. The floor had a little less grip than he would have liked have liked, plus the Baku guys were very reluctant to go for a tackle on him, for precisely the reason that they knew all about his ability with the ball and, understandably, didn’t want to be made a fool of. So, although there was plenty that was pleasing on the eye, this time it didn’t lead to any spectacular chances.
It just goes to show, although Séan ‘s footwork was on a level that the Baku players would struggle to compete with, the game is largely won and lost on basic organisation, experience, and doing the simple things well. That understanding will no doubt come as Séan plays more with London United – I along with the rest of the bumper crowd (I would estimate about 300) who turned up that day, can’t wait to see it.
Séan on Skills
When it comes to individual skills with the ball, I don’t think I have seen a better technician than Séan, so I couldn’t resist pitching him some questions on the subject.
I asked him about whether skills have enough emphasis in the game of football in general, expecting that he would tell me that there wasn’t nearly enough focus on it, but he told me the opposite. He defines ‘skill’ in very broad terms, there are lots of things that you need to be able to do well to play football and you need to have a good understanding of them all to be a top player. “It’s like a war; if you only have an air-force you won’t win the war. You need soldiers, tanks, different weapons. In football, it’s the same; if you can only control the ball with one foot, you only have one weapon.”
That’s where Séan’s background is so interesting. He has tried a lot of different forms of football and has tried to put his experiences together to make him a better player. “I try to build a bridge between everything I do. My experience from the show helps me to have no pressure in the game. For instance I have performed my [freestyle football] show in front of 1,000 people, so it helps with the pressure when it comes to games of futsal.”
And as for the moment he managed to nutmeg Neymar, Séan said: “It was just to show to people that football players are technicians of football. They are not technicians of the ball. When you talk purely about skills, football players are amateurs. It’s two different games. You end up getting good at whatever you practice. If you don’t practice freestyle you cannot be good at freestyle.”
Although he has played a lot of different types of football, I tried to pin him down on what is his favourite. His response was that his favourite thing is ‘a challenge’: “I like to come in and say, OK, I know they are better than me; but I will find a way to get them”. It’s that sort of relentless pursuit of improvement that has no doubt got him to where he is today.
And what about classic 5-a-side, on artificial turf, with the barriers round the side? “I like it, I have played it. It’s different from futsal. The people who play it in France are amateurs and not professionals. With futsal, it’s hard to come and be good, because the professional players have a lot of knowledge.” I can only imagine the havoc he’d wreak against amateurs on a 5-a-side pitch!
Follow Séan and London United
A big thanks to Séan for this interview – what a genuinely nice guy he is, and as for those skills: they’re pretty special.
Honestly, you’ve got to get to see this guy in person to really appreciate some of the things that he can do. Make sure that you follow him on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube to keep up to date with what he’s up to. At the moment, he’s working on a number of upcoming shows and also has his own street football that you can buy (the ‘urbanball’). He’s also part of the S3 (the ‘Street Style Society’) who combine a number of different disciplines, including street soccer into some amazing live shows, performed around the world.