How and why has football made 'IShowSpeed' famous?

Peter Staunton
  • Updated: 24 Feb 2024 11:32 GMT
  • 6 min read

The footage of Kaka getting wiped out in a charity match by a YouTube streamer called IShowSpeed ought to be a watershed moment.

How have we made a celebrity out of this guy?

Article continues under the video

And what has football got to gain by its continued and sustained efforts to include him in absolutely everything?

The tackle exposed him as a reckless moron who belongs nowhere near a football pitch and nowhere near actual footballers.

“Speed” is a character expertly performed by a YouTube streamer called Darren Watkins. It’s made him very rich and all credit to him. He recently gave his audience a tour around his new home in Florida, estimated at $10 million. You can’t knock the hustle.

How rich and famous can you get from shouting at a games console? Very, would appear to be the answer. His prominence in the world of football, however, defies belief.

Speed's performative outrage

Watkins began to permeate wider culture back in 2021 when his video game flip-outs went viral across social media. He would shout, scream and tantrum when things weren’t going well. He would abuse team-mates, opponents, anyone, really, who didn’t let him get his own way.

I saw a few at the time and my reaction was not to smash that subscribe button but to think this kid needs genuine help.

In these days of popcorn brain, the chase for engagement has shortened to seconds and requires influencers like Speed to be constantly “on”. No reaction is too outrageous.

He is often verbally and physically violent; in 2021 he was permanently banned from the Twitch platform for threatening to rape a fellow live stream guest.

He was also banned from the Valorant game - and other titles from the Riot Games producer - for an unhinged, misogynistic rant against another player.

Last year he was in trouble after exposing his penis on a live stream. His audience is broadly made up of children, it must be added here. He’s got 23 million subscribers on YouTube and a similar number follows him on TikTok.

IShowSpeed as Ronaldo fanboy

There is a clever businessman behind the character, clearly, and Watkins spotted an opportunity a couple of years ago to jump into one of the biggest culture wars known to man; Messi v Ronaldo.

Watkins adopted Ronaldo’s “SIUUUUU” catchphrase as his own and now claims to be a dedicated Ronaldo fanboy. As his attachment to Ronaldo grew, he filmed himself on intrepid expeditions to see the Ballon d’Or legend in action for Manchester United and Portugal.

© IMAGO - IShowSpeed

At the World Cup he followed Ronaldo’s team around without the success of meeting him but was instead filmed racially abusing a fan inside one of the stadiums.

His trip to England was fruitless; Ronaldo didn’t play in either United game he was around for, but it did lead to a short-lived collaboration with Sky Sports.

Despite the availability of information on the topics above, the Premier League broadcaster saw fit to put Watkins on its social channels, leading to an immediate and immense backlash.

The company later dropped Watkins and have made sure to scrub every incident of his mention from their socials.

And what made them do it in the first place?

Football can't stop using Speed

He’s young and famous; brands have a severe case of FOMO when people like Speed crop up.

Every company, every sport, every corner of the entertainment industry is chasing a new generation of casuals to which they can sell their content. It’s why we see awkward link-ups between people like Watkins and Sky Sports.

Sky doesn't need Watkins, but in their endless quest for younger fans and more exposure for their products, it led them to his door. Sky isn’t alone.

Last year, during an international break, he finally made his wish come true by meeting Ronaldo in Portugal, a meeting set up by Rafael Leao. It was a beautiful moment for people who believe in chasing your dreams but a devastating blow for those hoping he will eventually get his comeuppance.

Speed was invited to both the Ballon d’Or ceremony at the back end of last year as well as the FIFA The Best awards ceremony in January.

He did what he usually does; failing to identify genuinely famous players and generally being the professional embarrassment he has always been.

There are perhaps billions of people more worthy of rubbing shoulders with esteemed football company than he is and he proves it every time he steps near a footballer. Please stop using him.

When I think of football galas these days, my mind immediately goes to two people; Gianni Infantino and Speed. It’s not a good place to be.

Performatively outraged when Ronaldo was snubbed for the awards, Watkins tread a well-worn path, but one which might have been more pertinent back in 2018 or so when Ronaldo had a claim at being the best player in the world. The Ronaldo v Messi schtick is about as fresh as a Foghat concert.

It’s thankfully late in Ronaldo’s career so hopefully we don’t have too much longer of Watkins hitching his wagon to the Portuguese superstar for engagement.

That, however, won’t be the end of it.

First invited to a charity match by the Sidemen in September 2022, Watkins has now become a fixture on the circuit. The Sidemen game was entertaining because Speed, like most other people on the pitch, can’t actually play football.

But as his fame has mushroomed, so have his opportunities to lace boots and embed himself in the football consciousness.

The Kaka tackle showed the folly of that.

In fact, it is a perfect opportunity to take the temperature of the global game.

The “Match for Hope” for the Education Above All Foundation in Qatar featured Watkins playing on a team called Team Chunkz alongside Eden Hazard and being managed by Arsene Wenger. This is where we are now. This is football. This is content.

At the end of the game he asked Didier Drogba if he was Paul Pogba’s father. I don’t know if Watkins is actually that stupid but how do legends of the game feel about having to share the space with such a disrespectful scrote?

Kaka is a gracious player and person and didn’t make much of a deal of the tackle. Watkins chased him down for around 15 yards before hurtling himself into the Brazilian from behind. Kaka was lucky his foot wasn’t planted as the outcome could have been a lot worse.

It’s one thing letting your kids watch Speed have a tantrum over a video game for attention in his bedroom, it’s quite another to have him out in the meatverse, breathing all over everything in a game he doesn’t understand but has used quite expertly to enrich himself.

He’s only 19 so he will be around for a while yet. That is sad, as he cannot disappear quick enough, back down the YouTube wormhole he popped up from.

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