CPL CHAMPION GIULIANO FRANO IS CREATING 'THE NETFLIX OF ONLINE SOCCER TRAINING'
Giuliano Frano’s November began with Forge FC captain Kyle Bekker sliding
champagne across the North Star Shield into his mouth. Then, he got verified on Instagram.
Most importantly, though, by month’s end, he sold 700 subscriptions to Milton Youth Soccer Club to his online training platform, The Complete 90.
“Credibility is huge when you’re trying to sell something,” Frano said.
As co-captain of the squad crowned champions in the Canadian Premier
League’s inaugural season, Frano is forever first. But at 27 years old, that’s not the former Forge midfielder’s legacy. Frano has a vision to change the way footballers train; he’s been working on it behind the scenes for the past three years.
Now, free from the chip on his shoulder to make it as a pro, he’s ready to go all in.
“The five-year plan is to have one million players on the platform worldwide,”
he said. “Really. That’s the goal. And over a thousand video exercises to pick
from. You know, the Netflix of online soccer training.”
Frano’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in well before he ever chose his first logo — which he hated — and registered a business name. In 2015, Trying to earn an
MLS contract as a college dropout, Frano said Chris Henderson, sporting
director of Seattle Sounders FC 2, made him an offer.
“He came up to me and he said, ‘Hey, I have a player who’s interested in being coached one-on-one, and his family is pretty wealthy, so you can charge whatever you want,’” Frano said.
Frano agreed, settling on $75 an hour, a rate that amounted to a week’s worth of groceries. He figured he wouldn’t need the side-gig for long, though. After a call up to the Canada’s U-23 squad after a strong season with the Seattle Sounders FC’s USL affiliate, Frano was training with Seattle’s MLS squad the next preseason.
“But there was no guarantee,” he said. “There was no contract. So I’m like, ‘I can’t do this, I needed something steady.’ And during that time Vancouver [Whitecaps FC 2] approached me and offered me a little more money, which still wasn’t anything at that time. And it was Vancouver. Who wouldn’t want to live in Vancouver? It’s beautiful.”
In Vancouver, Frano kept the additional income rolling in, posting an ad on Kijiji to attract local clients. But by the end of the season, Frano’s side-hustle, and MLS aspirations, flatlined — this time for good.
“The first team coach [Carl Robinson] wasn’t a big fan of me and my playing style,” Frano said. "I was coming off the bench almost every game, which sucks, right?”
A month before the season ended, Frano was told by staff he wasn’t in their plans for the following year; Frano moved back at home with his parents in Mississauga for the first time in six years — and began studying to get a life insurance license to join the family business.
“My first two years playing pro, I wasn’t making a lot of money,” he said. “So I’m like, ‘I’m sad that I won’t be playing right now, but I’m excited to actually start making money, like real money, and try and start a family, or whatever.’”
That vision only lasted a few weeks. Frano got a call from his agent to go on trial in Europe to Swediesh third-division side Nyköpings BIS.
“But for some reason I wasn’t being as aggressive as I usually was [in training],” Frano said. “And then when the [decision] time came, they said, 'Hey you know, you can stay for another week, but then we’re going to send you home.'”
With no contract, and no college degree, to fall back on, Frano finally got around to making money working a nine to five landscaping — his old summer job when he was in high school. But it wasn’t much — Frano made more in an hour coaching than he would in around a half-day at work.
“So I posted another ad on Kijiji,” he said. “And I promise you, I got 15 replies in two weeks. For some reason, everyone was looking for a personal trainer.”
Either that, or a picture of Frano in a Canada jersey playing against the United States U-23 national team made for good marketing material. Regardless, Frano ran with the results. He named his training business The Complete 90.
And then his hair fell out.
On top of serving his new clientele and working his day job landscaping, Frano took up coaching for three hours a day at Sigma FC and joined Sigma’s League1 Ontario squad — where he played under head coach Bobby Smyrniotis before heading off to Boston College — which stacked an extra two hours onto his workload.
“I developed alopecia,” Frano said. “It’s a hair condition triggered by stress. Most of my stress was physical because I was putting my body through so much. Not to mention being at home, where I didn’t have the privacy I was used to.”
“And basically, my immune system attacked my follicles all over my body. I had bald spots on my head and on my thighs, and they kept getting bigger and bigger. So, I shaved my head, and at that point I’m like ‘I gotta cut out some of the stress.’”
“I stopped landscaping. I stopped coaching for Sigma. And I took on The Complete 90 full-time.”
Through trial and error, Frano eventually found his niche: ball mastery.
“Ball mastery is basically learning to move the ball in any way possible with any part of your foot, and being creative with it,” Frano said. “We’ll start as simple as a body feign or a scissor, and then go onto the fancy stuff.”
The goal of Frano’s technical agenda is simple: teach kids how to manipulate the ball to beat an opponent. A year into going full-time with The Complete 90, Frano said he had just over 60 clients, and began running specialized camps.
But there was one problem with the business: it couldn’t operate without Frano. He led the drills, and he set the curriculum. So in order to scale the business, Frano would need to find a way to somehow scale himself.
“And then I’m like, ‘Why don’t I create an online training platform?’” he said.
The idea: Frano would shoot, edit, and upload videos of himself doing the drills he taught in person online, and charge a subscription fee for access to it. But Frano had more questions than answers; he studied finance for three and a half years, but never sent a minute looking at a line of code.
“I approached some buddies of mine who were developers,” he said. “I told them what I wanted to do and they’re like, ‘Yeah, its possible.’”
That’s all Frano needed to get to work. “I said, ‘You guys start developing the platform, the front end and the back end,’” Frano said. “And during that time I started developing the videos and exercises, and we planned for a December launch.”
In December 2018, Frano said The Complete 90 went online to around 100 pilot users. When the new year came around, the platform gained a marketing opportunity you can’t buy with Facebook ads: the prospect of Frano being seen playing at the highest level in the country; Sigma FC head coach Bobby Smyrniotis was named coach of Forge FC in the newly formed Canadian Premier League, and offered Frano a contract.
“And I said yeah,” Frano said. “It wasn’t like I was picking a different career path and completely destroying what I built with The Complete 90. In terms of revenue and growth, it would be put to the side. But it was a win-win in the sense that I still got to play. I got to build my name more in the Canadian community and the GTA. And, ultimately, it would help the business.”
On February 7, 2019, Frano was officially unveiled as Forge FC’s eighth signing for the CPL’s inaugural campaign. He had no idea what to expect.
In the beginning, players didn’t even have their own locker room, and were still awaiting their first-ever training session at Tim Hortons Field.
“So we were all kind of like, well, this isn’t all that great,” Frano said.
Forge player’s uncertainty was short-lived, though: when their locker rooms were unveiled, Frano said players favoured being there — amongst the comforts of a hot tub, ping pong table, weight room and lounge — over their own homes.
But for Frano, there was still something missing: enough time to work on his business.
“On training days, by the time I left my house to the time I got home, sometimes it was six or seven hours,” he said. “Which, in other professional environments, like Seattle and Vancouver, it was two or three max.”
Meanwhile, at home, an unedited library of over 100 videos lay dormant. “I was starting to get a little bit annoyed,” he said.
But as co-captain of a club that believed they had what it takes to raise the North Star Shield, he kept his grievances bottled up.
“For me, you know, I maybe had another year, two years in me,” he said. “But for a lot of the young guys, this was their first professional team. They needed to understand what it takes to be a pro. And if they could put up with this amount of workload and effort, then anywhere they go they’ll be ready.”
“I never wanted to discourage anybody,” he added. “I understood that, okay, maybe I had my own side business, but nobody else did.”
On Oct. 26, 2019, Frano started at right-back in the first leg of the CPL Finals against Cavalry FC at Tim Hortons Field, kickstarting what he considers to be the most nerve wracking two weeks of his life.
“We go out, and we were hitting crossbars like crazy,” he said “We absolutely dominated in the game, and we were up a guy at one point, but we were only able to score one goal.”
It was a goal scored by 2019 Canadian Premier League MVP and Golden Boot winner — and Frano’s roommate on away trips — Tristan Borges, giving Forge a 1-0 advantage heading into ATCO field for the return leg the following week. “A lot of us were kind of disappointed with it [the result], especially myself,” he said. “We could have won by two or three, and we could have been so comfortable going into the second game.”
To add to Frano’s discomfort, he started the second leg on the bench.
“And that was probably the worst thing,” Frano said. “Because if you’re nervous and you start, once the game starts, after five minutes you’re into it, and the nerves are gone. When you’re on the bench, those nerves don’t go away.”
Frano came on in the 86th minute. Nine minutes later, he found himself in the middle of a pile of grey shirts against the advertising boards, celebrating winger David Choinière’s goal that made it 2-0 on aggregate — and sealed Forge’s claim to imprint its name as the CPL’s first-ever champions.
“It was the best feeling I’ve ever felt in my life,” he said.
But when the feeling wore off, Frano turned down the opportunity to stay on another year with the club. It was time to go all-in on The Complete 90 — this time for real.
When in-person soccer events and activities across the country were being
cancelled en-masse due to the COVID-19 pandemic in March, Frano says that
the watch time on The Complete 90’s platform exploded — and servers crashed.
But even when players get back on the pitch, Frano said online training methods will continue to be a big part of clubs’ curriculums; the “normal” way of doing things wasn’t exactly efficient.
“Field time is so expensive for such little time,” Frano said. “So these coaches have to try to balance a warmup, a technical portion and a tactical side of things all in around an hour, and they can’t.”
The solution: leave it to the players to improve their on-the-ball technique through online learning platforms like The Complete 90, so that coaches can use field time to get their squads prepared for match day.
But Frano isn’t the only one in town offering a solution.
A trio of Cavalry FC players, including goalkeeper Marco Carducci — Frano’s former Whitecaps FC 2 teammate — launched their own virtual training service, CONTRLL, last month, boasting a library of over 100 training videos and 13 full training programs.
“We [players] spend so much time looking at our phones and computers,” Carducci said. “And rather than having kids scrolling endlessly through Instagram, now they can spend time on a platform watching a drill they can perform when they have time.”
Carducci said growing up, he was one of the “lucky” ones; his father was a goalkeeper himself who spent countless hours in the backyard helping him train as he worked his way up from the grassroots level. But others — to this day — aren’t so lucky.
“They’ll be training with their team and coaches are like, ‘Hey go over there and warm yourself up, and we’ll call you when we need you,’” Carducci said. “It's a shame that that’s how it is, but you can’t really change that when there’s just limited resources and knowledge in general.”
Although the two former teammates’ platforms are similar, Carducci and Frano don’t consider each other as competitors.
“If anything, we’re really open to figuring out ways that we can all share best practices and figure out what’s working and how we can grow these businesses that we’re working on,” Carducci said.
With COVID-19 putting Frano’s in-person camps on hold, Frano said he decided to double down on the online side of The Complete 90, now putting the finishing touches on the launch of a 10-week interactive virtual house league program set to launch May 11.
What’s included: every player who registers would receive a soccer ball, t-shirt and four cones delivered to their doorstep, as well as weekly Zoom calls with Frano to put players through training sessions. “And on top of that, they’ll get a year subscription to the online training platform,” Frano added.
Although the pandemic has been a great time to boost traffic on the platform, Frano also acknowledges his privileged position, giving back to the community in the form of live Instagram online ball mastery sessions, featuring a cast of familiar faces from around CPL — including Tristan Borges.
Meanwhile, on TikTok, Frano has been kicking balls through tires and his BMW. The Complete 90 has racked up over 3 million views and 15,000-plus followers on the social media platform over the last eight months. One of his latest stunts: controlling a ball thrown at him from his roof while holding a flat-screen TV.
It’s not a stunt that would be particularly useful on the pitch as a professional footballer. But Frano doesn't have to worry about restrictions anymore. In the world of football entrepreneurs, anything goes.
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