By Danny Karbassiyoon.
Danny Karbassiyoon is a former professional footballer who was forced to retire at 22 due to recurring knee injuries. Soon after hanging up his boots, he was hired as a scout for Arsenal and spent 7 years scouting the Americas full time before recently moving back to London.
Despite his short-lived career, Karbassiyoon made three appearances for the first team in 2004, becoming the first American to score for the Gunners when he scored the winner against Manchester City in the League Cup.
He later went on loan to Ipswich Town before signing for Burnley Football Club in 2005. In 2007, Karbassiyoon re-signed for Arsenal as a scout and has since been credited for finding Gedion Zelalem and Joel Campbell.
His autobiography will be published in the new year by Untold Arsenal.
One of the best aspects of scouting, especially in a territory like North America, is the travel. Football had given me a great opportunity to see some amazing places during my playing days, but traveling quickly became part of my every week life when I became a scout at 23.
North America has become progressively more and more interesting as a football region over the past two decades. The continued growth of Major League Soccer (MLS) and the emergence of the Mexican League as a high paying, competitive league has improved the overall standard of the region and, therefore, peaked the interest of many clubs and agents around the world.
Personally, I’ve been lucky to see the growth first-hand in my country specifically. MLS currently has 20 teams in cities across both the United States and Canada. Over the years, my travels have brought me to nearly every city and ground in the league, and naturally I developed some favourites during that time. I don’t know what it is about the Pacific Northwest, but watching games in Seattle and Portland are just fun. The atmospheres at both grounds are amazing and the fans out there are really passionate about their teams – putting together some of the best atmospheres I’ve ever seen at a football match. The rivalry that has developed over the years between the Timbers and the Sounders makes for some incredibly tense and exciting matches.
Similarly, I never would have expected Kansas City, basically right in the middle of the United States, to have the support they do. The club and their fans have created their own identity in the US soccer landscape, which makes going to Kansas City for league or National Team games always fun.
Of course my scouting brought me throughout much of Mexico as well. The drug war violence that has been rampant throughout Mexico over the past decade has made travel there a bit different than a typical trip within the States, but the people, culture, and football there always keep me coming back for more.
Initially, Carlos Vela’s brother would actually fly out to come meet me wherever I was going, and I couldn’t have thanked him enough. I got the chance to see the culmination of the league in 2007 during my first trip to Mexico, which meant watching Club America play Pachuca at a full Estadio Azteca (95,000). Armed with my high school Spanish, I always let Carlos’ brother do most of the talking and organizing.
Safety is always a big concern when travelling anywhere, and it can’t be taken lightly in Mexico. Eventually I built up a strong enough contact base there so that I never really worried, but there were always reminders that made realize the situation down there was just different than back home. Several of the agents that looked after me had bullet-proof cars complete with buttons that released pepper-spray from the wheel wheels in the event of a car-jacking. The country itself is full of history, culture, and amazing people so it always saddened me that the violence in recent years has come to define what many people think of when they think of Mexico.
I’ve also been North of the border to Canada several times, though admittedly not as often as the other countries in the region. The same year I visited Mexico for the first time, I was stationed in Victoria, Canada for the U20 World Cup. The group I was assigned to composed of Costa Rica, Japan, Scotland, and Nigeria while Uruguay and Zambia played one of their group games there as well.
Never mind the fact that Victoria quickly became one of my favourite places on Earth, but the talent on show at that tournament was unbelievable. Uruguay’s front line boasted Edinson Cavani and Luis Suarez, Argentina had Sergio Aguero and Angel Di Maria, Spain featured Juan Mata and Gerard Pique, while Brazil brought the likes of David Luiz, Willian, Marcelo, and Pato.
Since that U20 World Cup in 2007, Vancouver now has an MLS team and football continues to grow and thrive in the region.
Though not immediately in my region, I’ve also been to several of the smaller countries that make up Central America. I actually originally saw Joel Campbell while in Guatemala during the U20 World Cup qualifiers in 2011 and made a trip to Honduras to watch a player in 2012. In Guatemala, when the sun went down and we’d be driving through Guatemala City at night, our driver refused to stop at red lights. Instead, he’d slow down and creep up to them at a decent speed to avoid getting car-jacked by people hiding around corners. Of course these were just precautions, but considering we were often the only car on the road at night, it certainly made me wonder!
Honduras was unbelievable. Once again, the people I met down there couldn’t have been nicer but I’d never seen so many guns in my life. The hotel I stayed in hosted some sort of high school dance during my stay and nearly every girl and guy that got dropped off that night had a bodyguard standing outside with a belt of bullets thrown over their shoulders and guns in holsters. The box I sat in for one of the games I went to had a man in military fatigues assigned to it. Though I desperately did my best to focus on the game, I was left feeling a bit uneasy at times when I’d catch the barrel of his assault rifle in my peripheral vision just about two feet behind me.
I met with one club’s owner during that trip and when we arrived at the Italian restaurant we’d be eating at that night (a Friday) we had to casually nod to a security guard with a shotgun stood outside the door of the restaurant before the owner of the restaurant unlocked the door, let us in, then relocked the door. It was 7:30pm. I also specifically remember seeing old, beat up American school buses that were no longer in service acting as public buses in Honduras. Most of them still had a faint outline of the school district they served during their time in the States.
My travels have taken me all over the Caribbean as well for various qualifiers and friendly matches. The one thing that never ceases to amaze me in all these countries is the unifying love of football. Cultures, food, people – they all vary, but the one thing that brings everyone together is that love of football. I’ll see Arsenal jerseys absolutely everywhere I go. In some of the smaller countries, I’ve seen some cars completely decked out in Arsenal shirts, and scarves with words like “Highbury” and “Invincibles” spray painted on the doors.
That never gets old. I sometimes take for granted just how big of a reach the Club actually has. From Kingston to Guadalajara to Victoria, I’ve never failed to see an Arsenal shirt during my travels, and I have to say, no matter where I am, it always put a smile on my face.
Other articles by Danny on Untold Arsenal
The Untold Books
Woolwich Arsenal the club that changed football, is now available on Kindle at £9.99. For more details and to buy a copyplease click here or go to Amazon Kindle and search forWoolwich Arsenal.
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal
- The Arsenal Yankee By Danny Karbassiyoon
- Arsenal: The Long Sleep 1953-1970. By John Sowman. Introduction by Bob Wilson.