“Heck, take the ball if you need it!” - Elkhan Salahov, the most recognizable street footballer from Russia

Elkhan Salahov is Azerbaijani street footballer who lives in Moscow. He is one of the best known street footballers in Russia and all around the world there are people that know him. Player of street football team Street Madness, player of the vlogger's Football Club AMKAL, trains young footballers and is a person with big ambitions. In this interview we will introduce Elkhan to our auditory and will try to inspire you for new things!

Why street Football? How did you start playing it?


I realised that in the regular football something wasn’t right, something wasn’t going the way I wanted to - regular football, 5v5, futsal, mini football, 3v3 football is a team game, there are so many factors and things that you are not in charge of, but panna is a game of 1v1 and you take actions in your own hands, nobody will yell at you for losing the ball. You’re the only one who is able to beat yourself up “Oh, I’m a fool, I lost the ball.” Independence, freedom, your will to show how good you are, your skills - these were the reasons why I turned to street football. It’s always nice to know that people evaluate your performance. For example I made panna on a player and everybody around me was so hyped, so I said to myself: “Why not?”


That feeling when you make panna (kick the ball between opponent’s legs), did you experience it while playing the regular football?


Earlier I really liked to take my time with the ball, controlling it. When I was playing football, my position was central midfielder, and in times when I kicked the ball between opponents legs I got criticism from my coach, because if I made a mistake it would be all on me. But in general all of those emotions when I outplayed the opponent or any other really effective deception that I played out, like when I flicked the ball over someone’s head. Childhood idol was Ronaldinho, then later in life Neymar, so that’s how the beautiful game of football became a big part of my life. Later on I started to watch street football, met Bizex (@bizex) and Jean-Pier Papen (@jeanpierpapen) (Street Madness, movement participants), after that I saw that there were  street football events, decided to go and that’s how it all started. If I’m correct then it was in 2015.


Is it correct to say that you are a big football “drop out”, who found himself in street football?


Exactly! I think I’m not the only one who has gone through this - senior year of school you’re playing football, then what? There is this division “PFK” where grown men stomp you  in the ground while you’re getting paid something ridiculous like 100 rubles.  And the second choice is to try something new. Yes, I trained for 10 years, but I didn’t really leave football, I am still kicking the ball.


You are Azerbaijani, right? 


Yes I’m Azerbaijani, when I was five me and my family moved to Russia, Yaroslavl. Dad made me do different kinds of fighting sports, I was training, I liked it, but then I stumbled upon football.


And so you went to football club and it became part of your life?


It was a pretty small town around 5000 people lived there. First time when I played football was when I was 7. I remember my first training when the ball was at my feet and this big group of boys were running towards me and I got scared and said “Heck, take the ball if you need it!” Coach was a little bit mad, but then explained some things. As of first time I was in simple tennis shoes that I took from my older brother, I didn’t care and I wasn’t thinking along. What were the things that 7 year old could think of? If someone would be mean to me in that time, I would probably just quit, but it wasn’t like that, maybe luck, maybe something else was the reason I fell in love with the sport and continued to play it . 


Training sessions happened in this little village? 


Yes, the name of the village is Myshkin. I started to train, got better and then already a lot of people knew that there is this little boy who could outplay the big boys.


Local Brazilian?


Yes, yes!


In Latvia there was this belief that - if the boy has darker skin, then it automatically means they are better players than you are.


Yes, it was the same for me! But the other thing is that in this town I wasn’t the only one from Azerbaijan, and it turned out to me my mom’s classmates son. He’s name was Emin, and if I’m being honest he’s the best player I know and have seen. I’ve played in ADIDAS TANGO league and they had players from all around the world - Brazilians and other TOP players, but no one is as good as he is. He had it all - technique, speed, thinking. But there was no social media or anything to show what you are capable of, he stayed in that small village. I don’t even know what he’s doing now.. Probably drinking.. In my opinion he could have easily played for national team of Azerbaijan.


Imagine, how many talents how disappeared just because of this?


That’s right! It’s quite the problem that there is no way of showing how talented you are. For me it was all a coincidence that we moved to Moscow. I met Street Madness team. I could have stayed there and been the little grey mouse. I respect that there is such a thing as Ghetto Games where young boys have a voice.


You had football trainings, but did you play football in the neighborhood as well?


Of course! Our neighborhood had a field, with metal construction for drying your clothes. We used it as a goal. Then the old ladies would scream at us because we would kick the newly washed clothes with our ball. We thought we used the construction the right way,not the old ladies. After training or our neighborhood football sessions me and my brother would go home and we would juggle the ball. If the ball would touch the ground it would be the other ones turn. That’s how we learned to juggle the ball


Once there was neighborhood football, but now there is street football that is organised by someone. Do you agree with that?


Yes, I agree! The neighborhood  games where quite boring, but in street football there is competition. You want to win and show everyone that you are the best! That’s why Ghetto Football isn’t a backyard football, because you go out of your hood and play it. Grizinkalns is a place where boys from a lot of different districts meet so they can play!


Tell us, what is Street Madness, how did you meet them, are you still part of the team? What’s happening?


I’m still a part of this big team. I met them at event that they were hosting. Panna was simple - you paid 100 rubles and the winner took everything. I paid and chose a nickname  “хищник” [predator], won first two games, the third I lost, it didn’t take much for me to be noticed by Jean-Pier Papen. After 2-3 events I got a message from Bizex, he wanted me to join the team. At that time Street Madness was something so huge that there was not even a dream about me joining them. Obviously I accepted and joined them!

We hosted different kind of events, even if it was cold, it snowed or was pouring rain. A lot of different guys were coming with or without experience. But with these kind of events there was no income, only if someone asked to make an event somewhere.


Lately I’ve seen that Street Madness has same old faces and no one new. I’ve seen Bizex working in his Football School, you train as well, what’s happening with the organisation?


Last year Street Madness is doing not enough. Everyone is busy with their own stuff, of course me too, because my priority was to open a Football School. We don’t really meet as much anymore, hosted an event in the winter, everything was cool. Talking about teammates - a lot of the times when we someone joined, they left for some reasons. We don’t want that to happen again. But it’s alright, everything is turning now, Bizex and Jean-Piere Papen are always together brainstorming new ideas. There is a problem, that I think you can agree with. All of those events that Nike, Puma, Adidas host, has a big prize like a trip to Champions League game. And then they hear about our events and think that it’s not worth it, cause we aren’t providing them with huge, expensive gifts and prizes. 


Past year you’ve been spotted in Vloggers’ Football Club AMKAL, tell us what it is and how did you get there?


Yes, German asked me to. [German El Classico, FIFA youtuber with 2,7 mil. subscribers]. I met with him, played panna, laughed, after a while he texted me saying he would be happy if I would join them. I didn’t really know what they where doing. Watched some videos and they seemed pretty cool. Saw what teams they were playing against and I was really surprised. Then German reached out to me, invited three newbies, I was one of them, then I watched how they filmed, how cool they are in front of camera and how someone can make others laugh with jokes, but others with actions. It seemed fun, but it isn’t my thing. I was raised differently. I can’t be such a goofball, I’m more of a thinker and a game player. But they all are vloggers, all of them have YouTube channels and I needed one too. I had my doubts, but I agreed. Filmed my first video. First part of the video was on German’s channel and the second on mine. It worked cause even without the video my channel had 50000 subscribers. Video wasn’t anything special, but it had ~ 150’000 views. Talking about team, I understood that they all were vloggers without any knowledge about football. I pass the ball to them with purpose to see their true emotions. I know what I am capable of so I do my thing in center - take the ball, pass the ball and so on, I get joy from it! And so I signed a deal with AMKAL.


What are the goals for AMKAL?


Right now we’re playing in Celebrity Cup. I hope that next season this is going to be an international event. I really want to visit Latvia, so I can be part of Ghetto Football! I want to be like any other boy from Riga that is in the same team with other boys and feel the energy!


Music and style street football. What are your preferences?


HIP HOP music’s home is the streets so it goes well with street football, but right now it doesn’t matter if it’s happy or sad song I can listen it if I like that music. But with HIP HOP it’s different cause it feels like it’s meant for street football. For example you are controlling the ball, moving right to left, left to right and it goes so well with the music, like it was supposed to be like that. HIP HOP and street football are like two same flavoured cake layers. Music synchronises with football. ADIDAS have taken over Moscow's and Russia’s street football for the last 5-6 years. People's favourite vloggers are wearing ADIDAS. Last time NIKE was doing something in Russia and football was around 4 years ago. Now only experienced players have NIKE Tiempo shoes. But the young ones wear ADIDAS. The style reminds of basketball - big and oversized, ADIDAS provide bigger assortment in the shops and the clothes are cooler.


We have it the other way around, in Grizinkalns people wear NIKE AIR FORCES more than anything else.


You are training kids, tell us what do you do in training sessions?


We specialise on technique and movement for 11vs11, indoor football and street football. We don’t really play panna. My coach taught me the basics that have stayed with me until this day, good understanding of the game and where to pass the ball, where to go and stuff. That’s what I’m trying to pass on to my students. I really want to have technical players in Russia. I went to visit FC Lokomotiv academy, met up with boys who were born in 2005 - they told me a very interesting thing They were playing against Spanish boys, 2:0 in lead, but without any freedom, coach said to pass the ball all the time. They look at the Spanish boys, and see how they are only about themselves, try to dribble past players, trainer is rooting for them even if something isn’t right. After every mini episode they change the game plan and train different aspects. 3:0 - our player is trying to dribble the opponent and was benched for that. 4:0 our team is leading, but Spanish boys changed the tactic for the last time and started to outplay our guys like little kids and they had no chance. Coach was screaming at our kids when it was 2:0 and when it was 4:4. This is the reason why a lot of kids quit football so early on in life. They dribble past one player and trainer is already screaming that he needs to pass the ball to another player. I was one of those who dribbled past the opponents, scored a goal and then looked at my coach and he is asking why I didn’t pass the ball.


In your opinion what are the pros and cons for academy kids to play street football? 


Playing is a good thing, it’s an experience. I’m sure that there are a lot of different football courts where it is more painful to fall on than asphalt. Asphalt gives you an edge for better technique, because the ball rolls and bounces differently, you need to adjust. Game of 3 vs 3 is a great mind training. No wonder why Ronaldinho and Neymar have such great technique, because when they were kids they played football on much smaller field. Cons for kids under 16 - they can be too much in to the street game and forget about the professional career they wanted to have. In trainings you need to be a team player, you need to set goals, but on street you get the confidence, the emotions and experience. For quite some time I played both the regular football and panna. I had this thing that I was looking only at my feet when I played panna and it transferred in football, I started to lose a lot of possession because of that. I needed to relearn to look up. Your platform is a great place for boys who have set their mind on becoming street players like Ahmed Rakaba, Jean-Pier Papen and so on, for boys who love football and want to have a good time doing what they love. But for boys who want to be professional football players they shouldn’t get too deep in all of the street football movement.


If you could put together a street football frankenstein’s monster who would you make it from?


Physicality and body balance of Ahmed Rakaba. He feels his body, and he is quite a big dude. 

Finishing - Bizex. If you remember the goal he scored against Belgium, he scored after performing a knee akka. He can finish the attack in bunch of different ways - with panna, with different moves and skills, with akka. 

The beginning of attack - Leamssi. When I was playing against him I was scared, my limbs felt numb just because of the way he moved. It felt like he has no bones in his ankles. He was unpredictable. 

Passing and heart - Young de Niro ( Denis Ivanov ). A man who really needed to be a bigger part of street football. 

Technique - Can Yanar. Panna Match BLN player. Really quick and unbelievably good movments. 

Confidence - Gypsy from Pannahouse. You see a man with a belly, he’s such a chill and cold blooded player and does it with confidence. 

I think from these guys you could make the perfect player. 


How do you view street football and how is it evolving?


In the world it’s slowly dying out. I was waiting for Ghetto Football Euro League, but because of Covid-19 it was cancelled. Now I’m scared for all of this movement, we need to do something. I will tell you a secret, I have a presentation about street football future in Russia. I have a great tool not only my social media, but all of the AMKAL club. We can reach extremely big group of people. First of I’m going to host a vlogger event - 3vs3, after that it’s going to be for everyone else. But it’s not going to be an every week event. I think once a month should do for now. Found a place already where I could host it every day but that’s complicated.  


What is your source of income?


At first I was a salesman/consultant at ADIDAS store when I was 18. After that ADIDAS played big part in my life because they provided me with boots, clothes and other stuff. Now my income is YouTube, football school and ADIDAS. I’m not telling this because I want to brag, no! I’m telling this for people who have the ambition to do what they love and earn money from it. You need to believe in yourself!