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How does an Arsenal scout decide if a player is good enough or not?

By Danny Karbassiyoon

Danny Karbassiyoon is a former Arsenal player 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.

I’ve both written and spoken a bit about the two players I brought over to England that eventually ended up signing for us, but there have been a host of others that I saw, was initially interested in and for whatever reason ended up either passing on or being unable to act upon. Some have gone on to have successful careers while others have faded into obscurity, sometimes out of the game completely.

A variety of reasons can contribute to a scout losing interest in a player or finally deciding that the player just isn’t good enough or wouldn’t fit into their club’s system. For me, finding players in my region that were not only good enough but had a clear path to a work permit/passport made things slightly more challenging at times, but generally it was the player’s ability rather than lack of a passport that made up my mind most of the time.

Initially, I found it very difficult to really stand behind my decisions and opinions. Yes, anybody can say, “why didn’t we sign ____” or “why don’t we sign ____” in conversation, but it becomes a very different matter when your name is on the line. When committing to a player or passing on a player, a scout has to be 150% confident in his or her decision, which clearly makes conversations like the above a bit different!

Sometimes I’d see players from outside of my territory that had already had their immediate futures sorted. I saw both Neymar and Coutinho play as 15 and 16 year olds, and needless to say, they were excellent. Coutinho had already committed his future to Inter Milan by that point and Neymar was also well known throughout Brazil.

At that level, against boys their own age, it was clear that these two were going places. The most I could really do then was let our Brazilian scouts know that they’d done well in the tournament I was attending.

During my first year as a scout, I was also tracking two players in MLS who eventually ended up going overseas and signing for good sized clubs in world football. Both stood out in the league for different reasons and both have since gone out to carve nice careers for themselves, but after watching them for several months nearly every weekend, I had to decide they weren’t the right fit for us.

One of the two was playing for a team a 5.5 hour flight from where I was initially based, so going to watch him meant a 5,000 mile round trip. Luckily for me, as long as he was fit, he was starting, so that was never an issue. The other player was a two hour flight away and was still establishing himself in the league at the time and his manager gave very little away in terms of who would be starting at the weekend. Needless to say, I’d get get a bit frustrated if I had to fly two hours and make my way to the stadium only to see the player I was tracking sat on the bench.

There are also the players that are interesting and seem to have something but are quite inconsistent and really fail to make you lean one way or the other. These tend to be the most difficult and for some reason, I always feel as if these are the players that garner the most interest from other clubs because of the highs.

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Agents tend to act in the best interest of their clients and the situation always seems to get a bit more tricky when a player you are struggling to really make a decision on, suddenly has an offer on the table from several of your rivals. Once again, this is when a scout has to make a decisions and stick by it.

The last thing you want to do is miss a player, especially if he ends up signing for a rival, but recommending a player that isn’t good enough just because you are worried a rival may be interested is also best to be avoided.

While Neymar, Coutinho, and several others I’ve seen have gone on to have awesome careers in the game, one player I tracked for several months in Mexico unfortunately was presented a completely different set of cards.

Some of you may remember Salvador Cabañas, the Paraguayan striker who starred for Club America in Mexico’s top flight. Though he was in his late twenties at the time, he was scoring bags of goals and just couldn’t seem to be stopped in the Mexican League. The last time I saw him play was on a trip down to Mexico City at the beginning of January in 2010, and a goal he’d scored helped his side get a 3-3 draw. I wrote my report that night in the hotel, returned to the States the following day and began planning my next trip to Mexico soon after.

While checking out some news on Mexico several weeks later, an article caught my eye. Cabañas had been shot in the head while in a restroom in a famous bar in Mexico City. Though he survived the shooting, his career and life had seemingly taken a sharp turn. He’s since actually returned to football and is now still playing though at much lower level.

I’m not sure Steve Rowley had ever previously received a phone call saying that a player we were tracking had been shot in the head, but it was certainly a first for me in terms of reasons I wouldn’t be pursuing a player any further!


  • The Arsenal Yankee  By Danny Karbassiyoon will be published by Untold Arsenal both as a paperback and on Kindle, in the near future.

From the anniversary files

  • 4 January 1958: Arsenal lost 3-1 to Northampton in the FA Cup round 3, as Jack Crayston’s short tenure as manager slips away.  It was the first time in 10 years that Arsenal had exited in the first Cup match of the season.
  • 4 January 1986: In a howling gale and with games postponed elsewhere as the snow came down Arsenal beat Grimsby 4-3 on the edge of the North Sea.  The pitch was a slippery mud bath but still Charlie Nicholas scored a hat trick, and Rix the fourth.


15 comments to How does an Arsenal scout decide if a player is good enough or not?

  • Usama Zaka

    Danny, how often do you come in to contact with scouting teams within Europe when discussing your targets ?

    And you deserve great credit for the huge amount of traveling scouts have to do. Just today I read about Arsenal’s Polish scout Tomasz Pasieczny saying he traveled 85,000 kilometers in 14 months to watch players all around Poland.

  • Gord

    One of the newspapers has an article from an Arsenal scout from Poland, today-ish.

  • Gord

    I guess I should learn to read English. After posting, I see you almost said what I said. So I think this is the link you and I both seen.

    Thanks Danny.

  • Pete

    Danny – Presumably the agent will make you aware as soon as their client has received another offer?!

    Thanks – this is interesting stuff!

  • Al

    Thanks Danny, this is interesting stuff. Would be interesting to know what happens after the player is recommended to a club; whether that’s when they get invited for trials or the club gets someone on the coaching staff to go and take a further look. Excuse my ignorance but one other question would be are scouts involved when deals are made for already established players, such as those playing in top European leagues.. Would be nice to know what happens in those deals, as I’ve heard we have scouts in places like the French league.

  • Brickfields Gunners

    Very interesting and informative inside take in the world of scouting . Thanks very much , Danny .

  • WalterBroeckx

    Such articles bring some very interesting insight in a world that we are not familiar with. Of course we could buy a computer game and pretend it is just about clicking to make deals happen…

  • Nonny

    A really interesting read into a world we know so little about. Looking forward to more articles from you.

    Thanks Danny

  • NT

    A little bit off topic, but no too far off. Am I hearing right that Arsene Wenger is after a Watford striker, Troy Deeney? Is this an upgrade on Olivier Giroud? I think Wenger’s sentimentalism is killing Arsenal and has been for 12 years. This season’s Premier League scoring chart clearly shows who the in-form strikers and top scorers are. Have a look: Giroud (10), Deeney (6), Deeney’s team-mate, Odion Ighalo (14). So who is Wenger trying to fool here? During the summer window, we were after Pierre Emerick Aubameyang, but his club refused. Now I hear he’s available for 42m, but Wenger is looking the other way because such a top quality player will surely be ahead of Giroud in the pecking order. Yet Wenger often speaks about looking for top, top quality. If this guy is brought in he will not only help our cause in the EPL, but will also help take us far in Europe, given his speed and skill as he’s not cup-tied.

  • Andy Mack

    NT, We can all now see you’re on expert on the computer games…

  • WalterBroeckx

    NT, stop reading the media and their silly transfer rumours.
    We don’t know where and at whom Wenger is looking. It is all invention. Don’t let it get your blood pressure rising.

    Maybe the question would be: who are them (the media) trying to fool here? I think they have fooled at least one person?

  • Rich

    Love this stuff, Danny.

    As well as the interesting insights, it gives an excellent demonstration of how much goes on behind the scenes and how much we don’t see or know.

    An antidote to the talksport crap and so much else like it.

  • Damilare

    Thank you Danny for your article. It’s quite enlightening.
    If truly they care about the success of Arsenal, the aaa should stop blaming AW for not signing Pele, Maradona, Zidane and Beckham.
    It doesn’t happen by a snap of fingers or by mouse click. Besides, 9 out of 10, Arsene does know best.

  • Hisham

    Thanks Danny, looking forward to the Arsenal Yankee. It may be covered in that book, but good to know how scouts are appointed by the club. There must be hundreds of you guys out there combing the football fields all over the world.

    Arsene Wenger must be pouring over hundreds of reports from all the scouts when not coaching or attending match day games. Or are these reports vetted by someone else first, like Steve Rowley, before a shortlist is presented to the Boss? Buggers the mind how we came up with the Koscielnys and the Bellerins!

  • goonersince72

    Great stuff, Danny keep it coming.
    I love reading the behind the scenes work that goes into building a football club. I’m looking forward to The Arsenal Yankee and thank Tony in advance for making it available in Kindle format.