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Synergy Speaks Freestyle with Kim Seokjin (@kimfootball)

At 19 years old, Kim Seokjin has achieved two things that most people his age would dream of: he’s ‘insta-famous’ and really, really good at football. In one 10 second clip, he can amass more views than every post I’ve ever made on social media and does so without even uttering a word. That’s because for an influencer like ‘kimfootball’, his feet do the talking.

As he patiently takes me through one of his more ‘entry level’ tricks for what must be the fifth time now, it starts becoming clear to me that, however much I try and force it, freestyle footballing may not be for me. Where his pristine adidas boot orbits the ball like a carefully pre-programmed satellite, my leather chukka boot smashes straight into it like an alternate ending to Armageddon.

“I started when I was maybe 14 or 15. I played football on the weekends and trained on weekdays. I didn’t go out partying, I preferred to just practise skills.”

The practice has clearly paid off. In four years Kim has turned what was ostensibly a hobby into a business. As a sought after freestyler and content creator, Kim has collaborated with just about every major sporting brand in the game, his client list reading like a Sports Direct catalogue.

In amongst brand deals, corporate events and TV appearances, Kim even finds time to play Son Heung-min’s body double:

“My friend told me I should apply to be a body double because they said they needed someone Asian looking. I sent off my height, weight and foot-size and got a call one day saying can you come to Manchester, like now. I packed all my stuff and asked my school if I could take some time off. They didn’t tell me much about it but I got there to find that Salah, Son, De Gea, Lingard and Alli were all there: we were literally doing an adidas World Cup shoot in Manchester with over 300 people. I never thought I’d be in a commercial like that, it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Asked whether he got the opportunity to meet the man he had travelled half way across the country to impersonate, Kim was in luck.

“I shook Son’s hand. I couldn’t show him my skills because we were on a tight schedule, but next time.”

Now is clearly a good time to be a freestyle footballer and content creator. With the likes of F2Freestylers boasting more YouTube subscribers than Real Madrid and Barcelona combined, the demand for social media football entertainment has never been higher. Indeed, if anyone ever needed proof of the increasing influence accounts such as these are having on the game, one need only look to Liverpool’s Rhian Brewster.

Shunning traditional representation in favour of signing on to the newly established F2Talent, Rhian is a prime example of the ever increasing blur between the worlds of social media and ‘real’ football. With 78% of Gen Zs sharing football content on a weekly basis, players are increasingly joining the cast of content creators adding to the pool of slick pics, vids and memes driving the football conversation. Global behemoths like the Premier League are, of course, still a vital anchor point that holds all these moving parts together, but one wonders whether there will be a future where tuning in for a full 90 minute match will be the sporting equivalent of dusting off the vinyl.

“Social media makes it easier for audiences to engage. It creates a link between clubs, players, content creators and the fans. You can share something instantly. If I wasn’t watching a match and someone scored a screamer, it would be shared on my feed within 20 minutes. You don’t have to actually watch the full game anymore.”

While the appetite of young fans for football content appears insatiable, the market is nonetheless competitive. Having grown his page from humble beginnings to nearly 80k followers in less than five years, Kim knows that, in order to stand out, you need to do something different.

Where you might expect some of his top-shelf tricks to gain the most traction, it is actually the more ‘achievable’ moves that rack up the views. Packaged as highly polished bitesize lessons, Kim has become known for his particular brand of explainer videos that lift the curtain behind his vast repertoire of tricks.

“Tutorials get a lot of exposure. Not many pages in the football community do what I do. They go for the crazy stuff that other people can’t do whereas I’m more about teaching people things they could actually learn.”

Part of retaining fans, therefore, seems to be about giving them some kind of added value; something they can take away or show off to their friends. Without bastardising an oft-quoted adage about a certain man and learning to fish, having a relationship with your audience beyond simply dazzling them with an unattainable level of expertise is a sure-fire way to keep them coming back. While his tutorials are annotated in English, it’s the visuals that drive the content, with the beautiful game, thanks to its flicks, tricks and turns, speaking a universal language. Kim’s core fanbase may be from London, but a quick look at his Instagram insights shows a truly global audience of followers.

As he aptly surmises:
“Everyone understands a trick”.

Rob Jennings interviewing @kimfootball for Synergy