02 December, 2008

The Curse of Creation

Dr Frankenstein gets a pretty bad rep these days. If you think about it though he was only doing what all visionary scientists do and pushing the boundaries of the possible; it’s not like he was just assembling various female bodyparts to create his ultimate sex toy. But before you get carried away, this piece is unfortunately not about a mad inventor kidnapping the world’s best players, physically cutting them up and building his dream footballer. No, it is much more holistic than that, but nonetheless still pretty interesting.

Meet Arton Baleci. He’s 23 and apparently prepared to give up a whole year of his life to try and become football's first Frankenstein’s monster by turning himself from an average Sunday League Joe to a Premier League star. You see, over the next 12 months he will be attempting to clone certain aspects of the cream of world football as part of his project, cleverly called ‘The Beautiful Aim’.

Baleci clearly has quite a lot of time on his hands, and no need whatsoever to earn any kind of wage, because this has been brewing for a while by all accounts: “I've assembled a team of world-renowned experts and have been pulling this together for 18 months,” he said. “I believe we can do it. We have the persistence to go through with it, even if I don't have the natural talent. I think we have all the right ingredients to take it as far as we can. It's just up to my execution.”

Having become disillusioned by the game in 2003, Baleci gave up organized football but continued to practice his skills by taking part in Nike freestyle competitions and the like. The idea for ‘The Beautiful Aim’ arose when he began training in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), where you model an expert's behaviour in order to try to replicate their success yourself over a short period of time. Only at the start of the long journey now, Baleci has already met one sceptic in Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger:

“I went to an event and Wenger was there,” he said. “Here I was watching a man who I worshipped as an Arsenal fan and someone with a reputation for bringing through youth. Wenger says if a player doesn't have the technical ability by the time he is 14, if he doesn't have the physical capability by 16 or 17, and the tactical ability by the time he is 18 or 19 then he will never make a really good footballer. It was a weird moment listening to one of your heroes giving an opinion that is completely contrary to everything you are going to be doing. I thought Arsene, I love you but I'm going to have to prove you wrong on this one mate.”

Baleci’s year-long process will take on three different aspects then: physical conditioning (i.e. getting him fit enough to be a Premier League footballer); the Feldenkrais method (i.e. re-organising the way the brain processes body movement in order to make it more efficient); and NLP modeling (i.e. re-learning how to play football as if you were a child to eliminate the habits that are unnecessary). He believes that using this trinity of theories there is “a massive possibility it could work” but knows that ultimately his age could stand in his way.

“None of us know the chances of making it until we do it because it has never been done before - that's why it is exciting,” he said. “My aim is to get as good as the players I am modeling. To become a professional footballer in England at any level in a year from nothing would be a fantastic achievement. We want people to see what's achievable through the methods I'm using and hopefully that will inspire them to go out and find out about the possibilities they present for themselves.”

So what do we think of all this then: interesting experiment or a pointless exercise in self-indulgence? At 23 is it really possible to forget everything you know and start again from scratch at a game that at the very top level is, let’s face it, primarily instinctive? To me this all just smacks of some rich kid’s pet project, especially when you start looking at the players and their ‘elements’ he is intending to base his re-invention on:

Brain - Dimitar Berbatov

Set-pieces - David Beckham

Movement - Thierry Henry

Turning - Robin van Persie

Finishing - Ruud van Nistelrooy

Strength - Didier Drogba

Explosiveness - Fernando Torres

Balance - Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Dribbling - Lionel Messi

Heading - Cristiano Ronaldo

Tricks - Robinho

The idea that he could firstly ape all of these individual characteristics, and secondly then incorporate them into one ‘complete player’ is just so ridiculous I don’t know where to start. What the hell does “explosiveness” mean anyway, and how would you get better at it, short of covering yourself in petrol?

Arton seems to have pretty high hopes for this ‘Beautiful Aim’ thing but I am willing to bet my house on the fact that in one year’s time he will still not be a professional footballer, no matter how many fancy scientists he hangs out with. Making a science out of football to this extent seems to just muddy the waters to the point of over-saturation. That is to say, with all of this new absorbed knowledge going on in his head on the pitch, how is he ever going to practically do anything? For example, he receives a pass and part of his brain is saying “do that sweet van Persie turn!” another part is saying “do that fancy Robinho dragback!” while another part altogether wants to show off his new Messi-esque dribbling ability.

What makes these players great is the unquantifiable aspects of their game. That is to say the elements of their personalities that, when meshed with fantastic technical ability, create something more than a sum of their parts. Just look at freestyle footballers, or Futsol greats: are they also incredible 11-a-side players? No of course not, because they don’t have the appetite or the confidence or the practical application of their gifts within the high pressure realm of proper football.

This is all before we even get onto some of the other aspects of football that make a so-called great player. You can be the most gifted trick-meister in the world but if you aren’t a team player then you’re worthless. If you can’t understand and absorb tactics, then again, you’re a waste of space. If you have no sense of positioning then it’s like playing with ten men. If you can’t adapt your style of play to different situations and opponents then you have no place in a team. And I could go on and on and on.

The point is that does this idea not completely undermine the efforts of thousands of kids around the country who drop out of school early with the dream of ‘making it?’ Well I guess only is Arton is successful, which he won’t be, so where does that leave us? Nowhere really. It’ll be an interesting year watching his progress from a documentary point of view, but ultimately it’s just an exercise in egotistical futility. Sorry mate.


Cesc's lil bird said...

I think that this is such an awesome idea. Like Pavlov and his dog, an animal (this includes humans) can be conditioned to perform a certain stimulus. I'm completely for this experiment. I don't think he'll be the most amazing player ever as he hopes to be but I think he'll be pretty damn further than where he was.

So yes, it undermines the efforts of those 16 year old drop-outs and those who have worked incredibly hard but this "treatment" is expensive and with expense comes exclusivity.

His brain won't be in conflict with itself when deciding whether to emulate van Persie or Robinho at a specific point - they'll condition him to play like them and then his instincts take over and use the skills that feel most useful at the concerned point. At least that's how I imagine it to be.

So I think that this experiment is futile because it does not help the human population whatsoever. I also think it is potentially dangerous because, if successful, scientists and psychologist would suddenly be in demand to alter the mindsets of those with enough money to dare to dream. It's hazardous because anyone with enough money will take the easy way to becoming a football genius and rake in lots of money.

It will be interesting to see where this goes.

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