Antwerper Ilyas Touba (25) takes world title panna football in Copenhagen: “I promised my fans to take the title and I just did it”

“I’m super happy and I didn’t expect anything else. The first time is of course even more special”, Touba starts. “I am especially proud of the fact that, despite not having trained for three years, I have been able to trump the competition, who have continued to play,” it sounds.

Today there is a sense of pride, but that was a bit different three years ago. Then he decided to turn his back on the panna game. “The motivation was gone. I really didn’t like it anymore. I have an enormous urge to prove and always look for challenges and there were no more. First I wanted to become Belgian champion. When that was successful, I had to become European champion. Once that was ticked off, only the World Cup remained. I finally managed to become world champion five years in a row. But then it was over. I would have won everything there was to win,” said Touba.

Promise

The young footballer did not sit still. “I had to be able to lose my energy somewhere, I need action. In addition, I like sports very much. And so I looked for my liking in kick boxing. I did some competition, but over time the demand to return to panna football kept increasing. Eventually it started to itch and then five months ago I promised my fans in an Instagram post that I would compete in the world championship, and not just to participate. I would immediately become world champion again. The opponents were allowed to train as hard as they wanted, I would reclaim the title after all this time, without discussion. And so it happened,” it sounds.

“People didn’t believe I could win now because I haven’t touched a ball for years. But I’ve always had a winning mentality. That, combined with my experience and confidence, made me believe 100% in doing it and I just did it. I’m quite proud of that,” said a more than satisfied Touba.

The express train to success

Being able to write six world titles on your palmares on your 25th, that doesn’t just fall from heaven, of course. Until he was fourteen he played indoor football in Antwerp. Although Ilyas turned out not to be cut out to play in a team. “I almost never passed the ball to other teammates. I found it much more fun to cleverly fool around with the opponent and give them a panna than trying to score goals. At one point the trainer approached me and advised me to make the switch to freestyle football. ‘You have to entertain people’, he insisted to me”, Ilyas continues.

It soon became clear that playing solo football and in particular the pana game was made for him. “From then on I really started to focus on freestyling and the pana game. I started practicing seriously and not much later I entered competitions.”

With success, it turns out, because not much later he won the Antwerp championship. “That victory triggered me to work even harder. I had a taste for even higher goals. A year later I became Belgian champion and the following year, at the age of 16, I became European and world champion in succession.”

From that moment on there was no stopping it, the train to the great success had now really left. “I kept that momentum going and became known pretty quickly after that. This was followed in the coming years by a lot of followers on social media, a series of shows, work-shops and all kinds of collaborations with big brands such as Adidas. Since then, many doors have opened for me and I have gradually been able to turn my hobby into my profession.”

Fun above all

Despite everything going well for him, he decided three years ago to give up. “Money is important, but not everything in life. I just wanted to do something I liked. And after a while I gained so much that the fun faded more and more. It just ran out. But now that I’m back, I want nothing more than to stay on top. I’ve started enjoying it again and this win gives me all the more motivation to keep going.”

What will the future bring? “Mostly amuse myself. And I’m going to do that by putting on shows, by entertaining people. Because, for me, it’s mainly about having fun and giving the audience a good time. Soon I will sit down with ex-pro football player and red devil Moussa Dembélé and we will see what fun things we can do together”, concludes a proud Touba.

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