By Danny Karbassiyoon
Danny Karbassiyoon is a former professional footballer with Arsenal 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 as a player, Danny 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, Danny re-signed for Arsenal as a scout and has since been credited for finding Gedion Zelalem and Joel Campbell.
This is the first of a series of articles that Danny is writing for Untold Arsenal on the subject of the world of the football scout.
I’m often asked how I stumbled across my scouting job and how others could similarly get into the scouting and professional football industry. While the age-old saying “it’s not what you know, but who you know” certainly applies for helping one get into the industry, it’ll only take you so far before you really have to prove you know what you’re talking about.
It is true that managers, chief scouts, sporting directors, and other positions of high regard often turn to ex-players when it comes to scouting. It’s quite simple why as well – ex-players not only understand the immediate needs and requirements for the club and manager on the pitch, but they also understand what it takes for a player to make it at that specific club.
In my specific experience, I came to London as an 18 year old, signed professional forms upon arrival, and was immediately thrown into the reserves. There was an incredible mix of players in my group at that time. Guys that had been scouted like myself and brought in at 16, 17 or 18, and local lads that had been with the Club since they were 7, 8, and 9 years old.
Over my two years in London, I saw players get released that had been with the Club for over a decade, while others who had recently been brought in catapulted their way into first-team selection over the course of months.
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I saw first-hand the technical requirements and the tactical acumen required to make it at Arsenal. I sometimes compared my time at Arsenal as being at a university where football was the only path one could go down, the teachers coming in the form of veteran first-teamers who had won World Cups, Premier Leagues, FA Cups, and so much more.
As a striker, I could get individual advice from guys like Henry and Bergkamp, and when I converted to left back, I found myself speaking with Sol Cambell, Ashley Cole, and Martin Keown regularly. Above them, Arsene Wenger did the proper coaching and preaching of the curriculum of style of play that Arsenal fans have came to love.
To me personally, this education helped prepare me in my role as a scout. Don’t get me wrong, these guys also set a bar so incredibly high that I wondered how I could ever find a player that could have broken into a team that went 49 unbeaten, but that’s besides the point. I subconsciously understood what it meant to be an Arsenal player during my first stint at the Club and then was able to apply it to my work as a scout when I returned.
With that said, not all scouts are ex-players and not all ex-players make great scouts. It is a very trust-driven and recommendation oriented business. As a scout, you serve as the eyes and ears of the manager and chief scout that employ you. There has to be a high level of trust and respect, especially when the scout isn’t local and works several time zones away from the actual club.
For those that aren’t ex-players, networking and proving to those in the industry that you know the game and what to look for in a player is key. There are loads of events focused around football networking and even scout-specific forums are held yearly to bring like-minded individuals together to network and discuss the scouting world.
I’ve come across scouts from all over the world now. Some are former legends of the club they now represent, while some seem to be walking, breathing football databases with no link to ever having played the game. Those stories are often just as interesting as the guys who once captained the teams they now scout for. There is generally a recurring theme, however, regardless of the scout’s background – they understand what the manager they work for looks for in a player and they know their region inside and out.
Regardless of past playing history, I can give some advice for breaking into the scouting world:
1: Learn to watch games as a scout, not just as a spectator. Pick a game, pick a player, and watch everything he does in that game. Make notes about his technical ability, his movement off the ball, his contributions when his team are defending, how he reacts to different situations, and everything in between. Really do your best to create a profile of that player based off that one game.
The following week, do it again. Try to watch a player in different environments against different types of opponent. How does that player do when his side are down a goal away from home? Does he go into a shell or does relish those moments? Really understanding a player means watching that player over and over in different circumstances. Take notes and make organized reports.
2: Network the best way you can. Just like any job, networking is huge and can lead to exciting opportunities if done properly. Many will say ‘no’ or fail to even respond, but building relationships locally, nationally, and of course internationally will not only help get your name out there, but also help you understand the landscape even better.
For example, showing a youth team coach you are passionate about the field can be as simple as scouting next week’s opposition and providing a report about that team’s best player. Do it enough times, do it well, and provide value, and you’ll soon begin building trust with that coach. It may not lead to something directly, but you could always ask to use him as a reference if another opportunity emerges elsewhere.
3: Finally, as in any field, stick at it and don’t give up if success doesn’t come immediately. Perhaps starting at a smaller club and proving your worth on a smaller scale can be more valuable than shooting for the bigger clubs right out of the gates.
What matters most in the world of scouting is being on top of your region and always being able to identify players that could help make an impact at your club if brought in. Personally, I was lucky to have my link with the Club because of my time as a player. I’d formed a positive relationship with them that ended up paying off when it was time for me to hang up my boots. Although that connection certainly helped getting me back in front of Arsenal’s technical staff, I had to quickly show that I was competent in what I was doing in what I’ve learned to be a very cut-throat industry.
Danny is writing a series of articles for Untold Arsenal on scouting, and they will appear approximately once every two weeks. In addition we will be publishing the first volume of Danny’s autobiography in the next couple of months, and you will be able to purchase it through Untold. Details will follow in a few weeks time.