Freestyle football is one of the hottest forms of the Beautiful Game, featuring draw-dropping creativity and insane skill. And it might surprise many Pinoy fans that one of the world's top practitioners is Filipino.
Philip Warren Gertsson, 27 years old, was born to a Filipino father and a Norwegian mom in Oslo, Norway. He has been a standout in freestyle for years, winning the Asian Pacific Freestyle Football Championship in 2014 and repeating the feat two years ago when the competition was held in Davao.
Freestyle football is described as "the art of self-expression with a football" and involves lots of manoeuvring a ball with the feet and head. It is a judged sport, with points given to originality, variety and skill, among other criteria.
This year's Asia Pacific Freestyle Football Championships will be staged in Ho Chih Minh City, Vietnam on December 13 and 14. Gertsson is preparing hard for the event. His freestyle journey has certainly come a long way.
"I started twelve years ago. I was very bored one winter and I came across a video of a freestyler named Tom Karlsson,” explains Gertsson.
“He did some basic tricks and I tried to replicate them. I have been addicted ever since."
Gertsson quit playing regular football a year later to focus on freestyle.
Dennis Balbin is a Filipino freestyler from Tondo, Manila who is a friend of Gertsson's. Balbin is part of a group called the Futkaleros who perform freestyle and also street football or futkal. Balbin describes Gertsson's passion perfectly.
"Philip is a geek/genius when it comes to freestyle. He has a hybrid style, with hardcore tricks from Europe and creative transitions coming from Asian styles."
Balbin, himself an accomplished freestyler, also appreciates Gertsson's big heart.
"Philip is a humble personality. He has traveled around the globe with the help of the sport. He has really spread the love of the game. Philip is a friend of Tondo FC players and he has put his heart into helping our cause."
But Gertsson is also all business when it comes to his vocation.
"He doesn't rest when we train together until he finishes a combo, invents a new trick, or he nails the routine in front of the camera. He is really a workaholic," says Balbin.
"People like Dennis Balbin have taken me to Tondo many times. I always have to visit the boys and girls who are part of Tondo FC. It is such a joyful community,” says Gertsson, who has traveled to his father's land of birth many times and is especially fond of Cebu.
“Tondo was my inspiration to start my non-profit organization, Skilla in Manila,"
Skilla in Manila is Gertsson's project to teach freestyle to young Filipinos.
Gertsson sees plenty of potential for the sport in the country.
"The freestyle scene in the Philippines is growing steadily as the interest of football is growing," says the Fil-Norwegian.
"We have quite a few talents in Tondo, a few further north and a couple in Davao. The potential is there, we just need to shed more light on them.”
Gertsson inspires young freestylers through his YouTube channel and his Instagram feed. He gets ideas for his work from many sources.
“I get my inspiration from many different things. Other similar sports like footbag, chinlone, kemari, jianzi and sipa are among the sources of inspiration.”
Gertsson hopes to ride that inspiration to another Asia Pacific title in Vietnam. That might encourage more young footballers to try the discipline, which he says is for everyone.
“All you need is a ball. Apart from that there's nothing that can stop you. Anyone can learn freestyle as long as they have the right mindset and determination.”