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Page last updated at 10:16 GMT, Thursday, 27 November 2008

Football's Frankenstein

By Andrew McKenzie

Imagine if you could take the best parts from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Robinho in order to build the complete footballer.

Arton Baleci is ready to give up a year of his life to try to become football's Frankenstein and turn himself from an average player into a Premier League star.

Arton Baleci
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
Over the next 12 months he will be attempting to clone the cream of football as part of his project, which he has dubbed The Beautiful Aim.

It may sound like some sort of schoolboy fantasy, but Baleci is deadly serious.

"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."

Born in Stockton-on-Tees to a Kosovan father and a Canadian mother, Baleci gave up organised football in 2003 after becoming frustrated by his attempts to get a game at university.

He continued to practice his skills and took part in Nike freestyle competitions.

The Beautiful Aim was born out of his desire to play football and his training in neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), where you model an expert's behaviour in order to try to replicate their success to a comparable level in a short period of time.

The 23-year-old Baleci once acted as a body double for Cristiano Ronaldo - now the Manchester United player is one of the world-class players on his list he will be studying and then attempting to copy.

BBC Sport caught up with Baleci at the annual Be A Pro day at Southampton's training ground.

He was put through his paces by the Saints' coaching staff and former Southampton and England star Matt Le Tissier before playing a game against a struggling local Sunday league side.

Southampton manager Jan Poortvliet and Matt Le Tissier on Baleci's chances

As one of the most naturally gifted players of his generation, the views of Le Tissier on Baleci's chances of making it were eagerly sought.

"Learned talent can take you a long way - there's no doubt about it," said Le Tissier.

"There have been players who didn't have the most talent but put the hours in and with the right kind of dedication have been able to make a very good career out of it."

Southampton manager Jan Poortvliet, who was part of Holland's "Total Football" side that reached the 1978 World Cup final, also feels it is possible.

"You have to believe in it. When you want to do something you have to go for it," he said.

But 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.

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"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, 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."

The year-long process will take on three different aspects:


Baleci will undergo a fitness regime based on getting him up to the level of a Premier League footballer.

Nick Grantham, a former British Gymnastics Team fitness coach who will work with him throughout the year, believes it will take up to nine months for him to get to that stage.

He will be tested throughout the period at Northumbria University's sports science facilities to monitor the progress of his speed, power, agility, reactions and endurance.

On top of this Baleci will have a nutritionist to monitor his diet.

Feldenkrais method

Feldenkrais is a method used to aid the body's movement in specifically-designed ways that reorganise the brain in order to make you more efficient.

"I have a team of people who are a world-leading authority on the bodywork system," said Baleci.

"They have a system that is based around the principles of neuroplasticity, which is the brain's ability to rewire itself and communicate with itself in different ways.

"They have worked with everyone from elite athletes to the neurologically-impaired - people that have had strokes and they have had them back and fully-functional in alarmingly short periods of time.

"It will help me to align my body and optimise the quality of movement so that I can realise my potential for elite athletic performance."

NLP modelling

A key aspect of the modelling process is to get into a state whereby you learn like a child.

"As adults we have unwittingly built barriers that limit our learning," added Baleci.

"Modelling relies on getting into a state similar to what a baby would be in, where you are not learning in parts but you are assimilating the whole thing.

"Applying this to football, I will be doing my best impersonations of whoever I try to imitate for a while, including all their rituals.

My aim is to get as good as the players I am modelling

Arton Baleci
"I was watching Roberto Carlos and before a free-kick he takes four or five really quick, small steps before his run up.

"In a conventional way you might ignore those steps but who are we to do that? It might be a necessary part of the free-kick - there is certainly more to it than when the foot connects with the ball.

"Only after you have mastered it do you eliminate the bits that are unnecessary.

"Arsenal's Robin van Persie is someone I will be looking at. He turns people probably like no-one else in the world at the moment. He has this amazing dummy where he throws defenders the wrong way.

"When I've got the fitness to do that over and over again I'll do it on a full scale. Until that point and depending on whether I'm on the pitch or in my front room I might scale that movement right down.

"There is scientific evidence that suggests even if you just imagine doing a movement you trigger the same configuration of neurology as if you are actually performing it."

The use of psychological aides in top level sport has become an increasing factor in recent years.

Arton Baleci (left) shows off his skills at Southampton's training ground
Arton Baleci (left) shows off his skills at Southampton's training ground
Cycling star Chris Hoy credited visualisation as a key to Britain's success at the Beijing Olympics and Blackburn's Morten Gamst Pedersen uses NLP to help his free-kicks.

Former world middleweight champion boxer Nigel Benn and athletes Roger Black and Mark Richardson also used NLP to help their careers.

But how far can it take someone of average ability in a year?

Baleci believes there is "a massive possibility it could work" but knows his age could stand in his way - even if he was to demonstrate he has acquired the ability.

"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 modelling. That should lead to Premier League football but that is out of my hands.

"I could go to a trial and play out of my skin and the club could say I'm too old or whatever.

"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."

You can follow Baleci's progress at

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see also
Coping with Cristiano Ronaldo
31 Mar 08 |  Football
Messi better than Ronaldo - Cole
14 May 08 |  Chelsea
Record-breaking Robinho to feature
12 Sep 08 |  Premier League
Chatty Bahraini claims record
10 May 04 |  Middle East
Need a lifestyle coach?
12 Dec 02 |  UK

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