By Danny Karbassiyoon
Football. What a game. I never thought a game that features 22 players, a ball, and two goals would ever give me so much.
The game has literally taken me everywhere - as a player, as a fan, and as a scout. I’ve played in loads of matches, and at this point of my life, I’ve probably seen just as many.
I love the game and everything about it. To this day I still dream of scoring goals in big-time games and being greeted by the roar of the crowd for doing so. I love the physical part of the game. I love the mental side. I love the smell of a freshly mowed pitch - whether it is the backyard of my parents’ house, or one of Europe’s finest venues. I love the tunnel. I love the feeling of a perfectly-hit half-volley. Basically, I love it all.
I was lucky as a teenager to be plucked from relative obscurity in the States and brought over to the finest club in the world. There, I was greeted by a set of players that decided to go 49 Premier League games without losing. There, I was greeted by class and tradition. I thought I knew everything I needed to know about the game when I moved to London. I was certainly wrong, but I was lucky to have teachers in the form of Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, and Arsene Wenger at the head of the class.
I learned a lot in England. I was forced to grow up quickly as an 18 year old moving across the world, but most footballers are. I learned what hard work meant. I learned what dedication was all about. I learned just how lucky and just how blessed I was to have the opportunity I was given. Most importantly, though, I learned what it meant to pull an Arsenal shirt over my head and represent a club that was far bigger than I’d ever be - far bigger than any player could ever be.
My goal when I arrived in London was to get a shirt with my name strewn across the back. I wasn’t really interested in buying a shirt at the team shop with my name on it, though after my first six months abroad, I felt as if that was the only way I’d ever get one. My luck changed in year two, however, and through incredibly hard work and pure dedication, I managed to earn a shirt with my name on the back on three separate occasions.
"Through incredibly hard work and pure dedication, I managed to earn a shirt with my name on the back on three separate occasions"
I made my debut for the Arsenal away at Manchester City, and it turned out to be a night I’ll never forget for obvious reasons. The crowd. The lights. The cameras. Everything was perfect. Everything was the way I’d dreamed, and I’d never want to change a thing.
My second outing for the first team afforded me the honour and the luxury of playing at Highbury. I’d watched enviously for a year and a half every weekend as the team coach drove down Avenell Road and pulled up in front of the marble halls. Cheers and applause would welcome our first team as they disappeared into the stadium. It was my turn now, and I’ll always remember walking up those steps surrounded by a sea of support. Our 3-1 win over a full-strength Everton team wasn’t a bad memory, either.
With my first two games, I’d made my debut and gotten the chance to play at Highbury. My third and final game in Arsenal’s first team brought with it a whole new challenge, and a fixture that fans and players everywhere dream of. When we drew Manchester United at Old Trafford in the Cup, I knew I was in for something special.
Some 67,000 fans showed up for that one, and a very unlucky goal in the first 20 seconds of the match was enough to knock us out of the tournament. What an experience, though. It wasn’t just Old Trafford. It was Arsenal v Manchester United and it was an experience no money could buy.
I left Arsenal after that year and made my way up to Burnley where I signed a new contract and prepared to continue my career in England. An injury during my second year failed to heal, however, and after literally being told “you should hang your boots up, mate,” by a doctor in Bolton, I flew back to the States to sort out my life.
After several months in limbo, I ended up back with the club that changed my life in my teens: Arsenal. Though I’d left Arsenal at 20, Arsenal had never really left me. I’d always checked the results and watched them on TV whenever I could. I just loved the way they played. The way they moved the ball.
I’ve been looking for talent ever since and have learned from the best. I now watch games in a way I never previously thought possible - analysing this and breaking down that. It’s the small things at the top level that make a player complete, and I’ve learned to watch games in such a manner to recognise these.
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