Back in 2004, Danny Karbassiyoon was a member of our first-team who netted on his debut against Manchester City in the League Cup. Fast-forward 18 years and he's back at the club as a product manager in our IT department, combining his knowledge of technology and scouting footballers.
Here he tells us more about his role.
Essentially I lead the direction and design of our two bespoke, in-house platforms. The first is our recruitment platform, geared towards the players that we want to bring into the club, and is led by Edu and the recruitment team.
Secondly, the performance hub is driven by our coaches, sports science team, medical and strength and conditioning staff.
They are both unique to us at Arsenal, and I was able to combine my experience from my days as a scout, with my knowledge of tech and development.
Let me tell you a bit about my background. After I finished my playing career I came back to Arsenal as a scout, then I left and started my own mobile gaming company. It might sound a bit random, but I did it with my friend, because we both love tech and knew a few people in the industry.
We raised $2 million, moved the company to London, built the workforce and I led product there, taught myself how to code, and led the developers. Then we wound it down, I went back to Arsenal scouting part-time, and that’s when I saw how the tools I had could make Arsenal a lot better, very easily. I pitched my ideas to the club, and now here I am, sitting between the tech and football sides of the business.
My initial idea was to centralise everything and streamline the whole process. When Edu first arrived as technical director, he needed to make three or four different calls if he wanted information on a specific target or new player. He would call the StatDNA guys, the scouts, the analysts – it would take a while. My solution was to have all that information ready by just typing in a player’s name to a database. It’s a bit more sophisticated in that the various stakeholders are given the information that’s relevant and pertinent to them, but essentially it brings everything together in a usable platform.
That’s the scouting side, and the coaching side is similar, but it deals with our current squad, and the analysis of how they are all performing. Again it’s easily accessible for the coaching staff, management, medical team or anyone else who needs to make decisions based on that data.
It was great for me to be involved in the scouting tool, as I had been a scout myself. I guess there aren’t many people who have a background in both scouting and product development, so it’s worked out well. That’s the fun side. I was a player here when Edu was playing here too, so when he was looking at the list of scouts, mine was a name he knew. That’s when I told him that I could add more value than purely scouting, and could help the club be more efficient in the decision-making.
It’s been good because I have the trust of the football side, but can also hold my own on the tech side. I know what they want from the platform, because it’s what I would want as well, then it’s about putting it together.
The scouting platform has been live for two years, and all of our scouts are using it now. They use it throughout the year, and then hopefully during the window is when we act upon all that data.
Once the scouting platform went live, we took that same technology into the strength and conditioning side as well. I work with Tom Allen and his team on fine-tuning what they need from it, and we have just come out of our second pre-season using it. Honestly, that platform deals with so much data and information. Every club has access to all these numbers now, via GPS tracking and so on, but it's about having a great team working on it who can cut through it all and make the right decisions, based on the data. Then it’s presented to the manager to have the final say, which is hopefully informed by the numbers.
I’m part of the IT department, so I’m technically based at Highbury House, but I also work closely with the guys at Colney, and am usually there a couple of times a week. I work across the departments, which is great, because there is input from the medical team, recruitment, sports science, Edu as well of course.
It's very different to when I was a player here 20 years ago! There is a lot of data in sport now, but football will always have that charm of being unpredictable as well. I still love the fact that you need that element of traditional scouting as well, and going to watch the players up close. What the analysis and numbers do is help you narrow down what players to go and watch, and how to identify them in the first place, but I believe that a lot of what happens in football is difficult to quantify.
You need to have that balance between more traditional scouting methods and all the data we have at our disposal as well. I’m halfway between the two camps. When I started in scouting I worked for Steve Rowley, and that was probably a bit more old school, but I covered such a huge area in CONCACAF that I needed rudimental numbers to get started, and help identify where I should be focussing my attention. All that’s happened is that the data and numbers available to us has got more and more sophisticated over time.
It was Steve who got me into scouting in the first place. I had to stop playing early because of my injury, I was 22 at the time, but I still had a good relationship with Steve from when he scouted me and brought me to Arsenal aged 18. The club had a link with Colorado Rapids, Steve brought me in to scout the American region, and it was great for me to stay involved with the club.
I’m still in touch with a few of those guys who I played alongside. I speak to Philippe Senderos often, Moritz Volz, Cesc Fabregas as well. I saw a lot of them at Steve’s funeral recently too.
Seeing how much he meant to so many people was incredible. He meant a lot to the guys he brought in, and they know they are only where they are today because Steve gave them a chance. As well knowing about absolutely every player out there when he was chief scout, he set the bar for how to look after a player once they arrive at the club too. He was so far ahead of his time in that. It was an amazing send-off for him, a guy I’ve known well for 20 years.
I’m proud to be involved in continuing our work on the recruitment side. The market gets more and more challenging and competitive all the time, so any way we can help improve our process has got to be beneficial.
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