above: SOHEIL VAR at an adidas event in Dubai, UAE with former Brazil, AC Milan and Real Madrid star Kaká.
For our latest interview, Onuba Comms’ co-founder Nick Aitken was fortunate enough to catch up with footballer, content creator and influencer Soheil Var – fresh from the gifted wide player’s successful first season with Dubai outfit Gulf United FC.
Endowed with drive, resilience and ingenuity, on and off the pitch, the 24-year-old full-back or winger discussed his lengthy journey towards the pro game, how he has created opportunities for himself in both football and social media, and the impact being multilingual has had on his success so far.
Onuba Comms: Thanks for your time Soheil and congrats on your recent promotion with Gulf United! The road to becoming a pro has been a long one and you’ve been documenting the journey daily over social media for over two years. How did you manage to earn a contract at the club?
Soheil Var: Thanks Nick! Yeah, I’d say I’ve been chasing the dream of going pro for over eight years now and there have been so many setbacks and rejections along the way, with coaches telling me that I wasn’t good enough and having to go off and pick myself up again and again.
That’s really built up my resilience and hunger to succeed though and I think that’s what the coaches at Gulf United could see when I went on trial with them in pre-season. I’d been on trials with clubs in Germany, in Austria and in Spain, but I’d previously spent a couple of days training in the UAE and had really enjoyed the facilities and how multicultural it was. I wrote to every single club in the top two divisions there and they all ignored me, except for Gulf United, who offered me a trial.
Initially there were 100 of us competing for just eight places to spend pre-season with the first team. And I think that, after all the rejections and the fact I’ve started the journey quite late and had to work and train like crazy to catch up, I just want it so much and kept pushing myself through the difficult moments – and that shone through.
OC: Now that you’ve won promotion to the UAE Pro League, what are the next steps for the club and for you personally?
SV: Winning promotion was huge and I’d be really happy to stay, to be part of this environment and continue to grow with the club. The thing is, here in the Emirates there are rules on how many foreign players you can have and every step you move up it becomes more restrictive, so as a non-local player it will be even harder for me to earn a spot next season.
So I’m going to keep training insanely hard, give everything in pre-season and then, once I have my individual meeting with the club and we see how that goes, I’ll know where I stand. And in the meantime I’ll keep being proactive, keep growing my network and try to give myself as many options as possible.
Above: Soheil holding the trophy after winning promotion in his first season with Gulf United FC.
OC: Before turning pro, how did you manage to fund these trips to different countries for trials? It can’t be cheap to pay for accommodation, food, flights etc.
SV: No, it’s not, but I’ve always been super-disciplined with my finances, ever since growing up. I’ve always worked side jobs, like coaching, personal training and even refereeing! Any money I made from those during high school and at university I’d put it aside in my savings, to pursue the dream and pay for travelling, accommodation and all these expenses.
Also, when I went to uni I got very good grades which meant that I got a lot of academic scholarships, as well as a soccer scholarship, so there was money left over that I could set aside and which has really helped me fund my journey and be able to take on some of these opportunities.
OC: Now that your social-media profile has risen, with 189k followers on Instagram, 692k (!!) on TikTok and 70k YouTube subscribers at time of writing, have you been able to lean on sponsors for support?
SV: Yeah, with the social media growth I’ve noticed that certain brands and companies are willing to help out if you’re able to include them in the content. When I was in Germany on trial last year, for example, a company actually sponsored my accommodation and travel expenses for my whole time there, which was a big help. That’s not always been the case, though, which is when savings and being disciplined with money comes in handy.
OC: We were put in touch by a mutual friend, former PSG and Italy goalkeeper Arianna Criscione, currently the Director of Women’s Football at N3XT SPORTS. How did you two meet?
SV: Yeah, Arianna’s amazing, we met for the first time at Web Summit in Lisbon and since then we’ve seen each other at other events like last year’s World Football Summit, which we were both speakers at.
I knew that these football and business summits were great for networking, but I’d never been to any before, so a couple of years ago I started emailing the organisers of Web Summit again and again, offering to go and do a bunch of video content creation for them if they’d give me a media pass.
Eventually they gave in, I got chatting to the CEO of the organisation and since then he’s invited me out to events and recently made me a speaker. It’s been really cool to see how quickly things have happened.
Above: Soheil [far left] at the World Football Summit, on a panel including former France and Man Utd striker Louis Saha.
OC: And as we’re a multilingual agency, I can’t let you go without asking about the importance of languages in your life. Do you think that leaving Austria to move to Canada at a fairly young age, with all the cultural and linguistic obstacles that entailed, sowed the seeds for your current success?
SV: Yeah, languages have been massive for me and I think it can be traced back to that move to Canada, when I was eight years old. So my first language was German as I was born in Vienna, Austria, but my parents are Iranian and at home we’d be speaking Farsi too, so that was another language I learned.
Then when we came to Canada I needed to learn English and French at the same time. It was tough as I was still adjusting to the move and recovering from a broken leg, so I couldn’t join in and make friends through football, but I’m so grateful I managed to do it. There’s a level of empathy that you tap into when you learn new languages and integrate into different cultures that is really valuable – it means you’re able to see things from another perspective.
And now that I’m here in the UAE, I’ve started picking up the basics of Arabic to be able to make more of a connection with the locals. When you make the effort to learn someone’s language and communicate with them, it builds a lot of love and respect on their side as well, so hopefully by the next time we chat, I’ll be able to speak some Arabic too!
DISCLAIMER: All views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the interviewee in question only.
Experts in sports translation and only using the best native-language translators, editors and copywriters, we at @onubacomms believe everyone in sport should have the opportunity to connect with their global audience.