B/R Exclusive: Danny Karbassiyoon on His Arsenal Days, Iran & US Soccer

Yoosof Farah@@YoosofFarahSenior Writer IIIJanuary 29, 2010

LONDON - NOVEMBER 9:  Thomas Gravesen of Everton battles with Danny Karbassiyoon of Arsenal during the Carling Cup Fourth Round match between Arsenal and Everton at Highbury on November 9, 2004 in London.  (Photo by Ben Radford/Getty Images)
Ben Radford/Getty Images

After first gracing the pages of the World Football section on Bleacher Report back in October 2008, Danny Karbassiyoon is back!

He is probably B/R's favourite ex-Arsenal, Burnley and Ipswich Town striker/left-back, and he's here in 2010 on Bleacher Report answering Yoosof Farah's questions about his Arsenal playing days, his current role for the Gunners, as well as questions on Iran, the Iranian connection in his family, and Team Melli (the nickname for the Iranian national soccer team).

If you want to know more about Danny, go to Wikipedia  or alternatively the 

official Arsenal club website .

1) It's clear that despite its development, soccer isn't the biggest sport in America. How did you first become involved in this sport?

I think soccer will always be behind the big American past-times. Baseball, football and basketball have always been so big here and Americans find it difficult to embrace soccer the way it has been embraced around the world. Its like saying American football has the opportunity to become the number one sport in England. I just don’t see that happening.

My father is Iranian and my mom is Italian so soccer was always on around the house. My Dad still plays today in his mid-fifties, so a natural love for the game was in me the day I was born. Soccer seems to be a very popular sport at the youth level in the States, because it is a great way to stay fit and some parents are hesitant to sign their children up to a sport where a helmet and other huge pads are necessary to prevent injuries.

2) And what was the transition like, both on and off the pitch, moving to Europe and Arsenal Football Club?

I was only 18 when I left home and moved to England, so the transition was quite tough. I’d only ever lived in Roanoke, Virginia – a small city of 250,000 – so when I moved to a city with 11 million people it was quite a shock. The culture in England is very different from the States and especially different from the culture in southwest Virginia. Adapting to the food, people, weather, and accents was interesting, but fun at the same time.

On the pitch, the style and standard of play was much higher than what I was used to. It took me roughly a year to settle and it was very obvious. I only played in seven or eight reserve team games my first year and ended up playing in almost thirty reserve team games and three first team games my second year.

There was only one other American on the team, so relating to my teammates was at times difficult. Kids from Sweden, France, England, Ireland, Africa, and South America were all contracted at the time, so it made for an interesting mix of boys that shared the same dream. Everything at the club was done in a first-class manner, though, so the transition was made a little easier.

3)Your playing career unfortunately came to a premature end. Despite that, are you pleased overall with what you've achieved?

I obviously would have loved to accomplish more, both at a club level and for my country, but I’m content with what I was able to squeeze into my four-year career. While I was at Arsenal, Frankie Simek became the first American to represent the club in 2003 when he started against Wolves (Wolverhampton Wanderers) and I became the first American to score for Arsenal in 2004 against Manchester City.

I dreamed of that, but I never knew it would and could become a reality. I was given the chance to play for a top of the table [Coca-Cola League] Championship side that was pushing for promotion when I went on loan to Ipswich, and really enjoyed the opportunity.

Finally, when I signed for Burnley, I was given another opportunity that I was grateful for. Although my playing experience wasn’t considered all that successful at Burnley, I was still honored to have gotten the chance to wear their historic shirt and represent the club as best as I could. I made my debut for one of the biggest clubs in the world and played for two Championship sides during my time as a professional [soccer player] in England. I really can’t be too upset about that!

4) And how's the job now, working as Arsenal's scout for North America?

I’m enjoying my scouting job with Arsenal. I’m still very happy to be a part of such a great team and I'm doing my best to find the best players in my region.

5) Changing the subject, what's your Iranian connection?

My Dad was born in Abadan (a city in the southwest region of Iran) and only came to the United States in his late teens for university. His entire immediate family moved to the States as well, so we have family in Los Angeles and up north as well. I’m very much attached to both of my parents ethnic backgrounds (my mother is Italian and came to the US for school as well), but consider myself American and embrace the fact that I was born and raised here just as much.

I love the Iranian culture and everything about it. My father only spoke Farsi (the official language in Iran) to me as a kid and I still speak Farsi with him. Considering the fact that I’m only really half-Iranian, many of my full Iranian friends are impressed with how well my Dad did to preserve the culture, language, and food in our household considering the fact that I have an entire different culture (Italian) to tend to as well!

My mom has learned how to cook many (difficult) Iranian dishes and my parents both know that I could eat Tachin and kabob all day long.

6) Politics aside, what is your opinion of the country? Any sites or cities you'd recommend?

I haven’t had the chance to visit Iran, although I’d like to very soon. I know my father would love to go back to his hometown and show me where he grew up and where he hung out with his friends. I do know that the people are incredibly sincere and very welcoming. All you have to do is step foot into an Iranian household to see that.

The press has a way of making its viewers believe Iranians behave a certain way, simply because the press is only there when turmoil is around. The press is never around on a sunny day when adults are going about their business normally and children are laughing and playing in the streets. I look forward to visiting and seeing everything that my Dad has told me about, and I know my Dad does, too.

7) Moving onto the football aspect, do you follow Team Melli?

I follow Team Melli’s results but not the players as much as I used to. Before I started my work with Arsenal and had to designate half of my brain to a database for players in my region, I used to know the players quite well. I especially enjoyed watching [Ali] Karimi and [Mehdi] Mahdavikia when they were in their prime. I was actually able to watch Mahdavikia at a game in Hamburg when I was there for several months. I must have taken about 1000 pictures of him, none of which really came out.

The support the team receives in Iran and by Iranians living outside of Iran is amazing, though. My friend in Roanoke watches every game religiously and wakes up at 5am to watch some of the league games as well. He recently flew over to Tehran to watch a qualifier at the Azadi Stadium as well, despite the team not making it to the World Cup. I think that is pretty incredible considering he is also half-Iranian and was born in the States.

8) And what's the support for Arsenal like in Iran?

I think the support for Arsenal in Iran is similar to every other country in the world. It is just a matter of opinion and taste. I have several cousins that think Manchester United is the best team ever and I have several cousins that swear on Arsenal. Because I haven’t been there, I haven’t been able to experience it first-hand, but there is definitely a good amount of support, if my relatives are anything to go by.

9) Do you personally receive much recognition by the Iranian public?

While I was playing for Arsenal, a good amount of Iranians knew who I was and what I was doing. The Iranian FA (IRIFF) asked me if I would be interested in playing for Team Melli and I graciously rejected the offer. That didn’t go over very well with some Iranians, who thought bashing me on forums was the best thing they could do (thanks again to my friend for showing me all those "great" comments!).

I suppose those people didn’t realize that I was born in the United States and wanted to represent the country I was born and raised in. That didn’t mean I was put off by Iran as a country by any means. I’m just as much Italian as I am Iranian, but I consider myself American, because, well, I was born and raised an American. I’m not sure why people find that hard to understand. With that said, the vast majority of the Iranian fans that contacted me or left me messages while I was playing were very supportive and courteous. Knowing I had support from people I didn’t know that lived across the world made for a great feeling.

10) Finally, how's life treating you at the moment?

I’m doing well – when Arsenal does well, I’m quite a happy person to be around. We are currently doing well and my friends would probably agree that they enjoy hanging out with me a lot more now than back in November!

Yoosof Farah would like to thank Danny Karbassiyoon profusely for taking time out of his busy schedule and answering all those questions.

Yoosof would also like to thank Arsenal Football Club for their cooperation and allowing this interview to go ahead.

Finally, let's hope for football's sake Danny, in his role as Arsenal's scout for North America, can uncover the next big soccer superstar to come from the region.


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