Danny and I have been friends since we were kids…literally. We met as teens on a field trip and you could just tell by the way he engaged in conversation (even at that age) that he was genuinely a good soul. Whoever sat across from him got his undivided attention. After that, an eighteen-year-old Danny wandered across the Atlantic Ocean to England to play professional soccer for the Arsenal football club.

When he made his way back to the States a few years later, we'd hunker down at a small Vietnamese restaurant in a seedy part of Los Angeles to catch up over noodle soups. Since then, he's scouted soccer players from all over the world and created an interactive tech company for football enthusiasts. From his youthful days as a kid who just loved playing soccer, Danny's evolved into a fashionable, well-spoken, and upstanding gentleman…and this week he's opening up to share his Kung Fu!

Danny Karbassiyoon on the field at Everton in 2004 at Highbury (Arsenal’s former stadium)

Danny Karbassiyoon on the field at Everton in 2004 at Highbury (Arsenal’s former stadium)

1. What's your name (and do you have any nicknames/how'd you get it)?

My name is Daniel (Danny) Karbassiyoon - I don’t particularly have any nicknames that people call me now. While living in England, nickname culture is quite big in soccer locker rooms, and all my teammates either called me K-bass or Kabass. When I say nickname culture is big, I mean it - hardly anyone calls anyone by their first name over there when you’re in a team environment! 

2. Can you please explain what it is that you do?

I’ve scouted for Arsenal - the team I used to play for England - since 2007 and recently started a company with a friend of mine. The scouting used to be crazy and beyond full time but I’ve toned it back a bit now. I’d be on planes going all over the US, Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America weekly looking for players basically from 13-adults who were good enough to play for Arsenal. 

I’ve recently started a tech company with a friend of mine and we are developing a fantasy soccer game that will look to bring fans even closer to their favorite players and clubs. We are starting to get some pros involved so fans can challenge their idols in a fun and engaging spinoff of fantasy soccer. 

3. What would you say are the top skills from your background which developed over time that help you perform your current job well?

I think I’ve always been a people person and open to conversation with people from everywhere. My parents (Father Iranian and Mother Italian) taught me the value of respect and integrity from an early age and I think its helped me make incredible relationships around the world that have helped me in life after soccer. After being forced to retire from playing at 22, I was called by Arsenal and offered the job of North American Scout - obviously being able to identify talent is the most important thing about a scout’s job, but being able to work on your own, away from the office (some 5000 miles in my case) and still retain the trust of your employer and boss isn’t easy. My upbringing has helped me greatly in that respect as I’ve had to prove myself not only as a talent scout, but also as a person that can be trusted and relied upon. 

4. When was the first time you realized this is what you wanted to do?

I think I’ve always wanted to be involved in soccer somehow or another since I was a kid and started kicking a ball at five. Obviously no kid remotely thinks about being forced out of doing what they love at the age of 22, but I had to pick myself back up off the ground and really focus on what it was I wanted to do. Arsenal’s loyalty to me has been amazing and getting the chance to represent the club on a completely different level has been challenging, exciting, and rewarding.

From a startup perspective, I’ve always enjoyed tech and been fascinated with things that scale efficiently and quickly. The idea of creating something within the soccer world that could both benefit fans and those involved in the game at the highest level excited me and continues to do so. 

5. What would you say is your greatest challenge? Have you had any setbacks?

From a soccer perspective, my dream was always to become a professional player. I had no idea how the opportunity would come but I trained everyday and knew that if it ever did come, I’d be more than ready. My greatest challenge on the field was breaking into Arsenal’s first team and actually representing the club at that level. Thousands of players have represented the club at the youth and reserve level but playing for the first team is another level, and I was fortunate to represent the first team on three separate occasions. 

From a scouting perspective, finding players in a region that is behind the likes of Europe and South America has always been difficult. It is improving but it took me four years to sign my first player and then the second came just about a year later. To date, those are the only two I’ve signed so that continues being a challenge!

From a startup perspective, growing something from nothing has been one of the biggest challenges of my life. I’ve got a new found respect for entrepreneurs that start companies from scratch and grow them into global monsters that people need in their everyday lives. Building something, creating jobs, and creating value isn’t easy, and I think I’ve learned that and continue to respect it on a daily basis. 

6. Have you ever had any crazy experience that - at the time - felt impossible to resolve but ended up being a blessing in disguise?

Scoring on his debut against Manchester City (in Manchester - October 2004) 

Scoring on his debut against Manchester City (in Manchester - October 2004) 

Ha, yes - my playing days at Arsenal! My first six months - a year were pretty difficult. I was 18, had just moved to London, England from Roanoke, VA and wasn’t sure if I’d made the right decision. Dealing with adapting to life in England took up a lot of energy and I really struggled with the soccer side of things - the main reason I was there. I matured both mentally and physically in my first year as a person and as a soccer player and upon returning my second my year, I was full of energy and ready to really get after my career. I ended up using that negative energy in my first season, turning it around, and using it to push on and finally represent Arsenal’s first team in my second year. 


Want more? Stay tuned for Part II of Danny's interview on YourKungfu (spoiler alert: it's pretty inspiring). In the meantime, follow Danny on Twitter at @dkarbassiyoon