Arsenal’s rich and diverse history has bred many an interesting tale. Danny Karbassiyoon’s “The Arsenal Yankee” is one such window into the club that we all love.
Every so often, Pain in the Arsenal is given the unique opportunity to review a book associated with our fine club. These opportunities opened up with James Durose-Rayner’s Arsenal trilogy (bring on part three!). Now, we have the privilege to review the work of Danny Karbassiyoon, the only American to ever score for Arsenal, in his account “The Arsenal Yankee”.
The first thing that will strike you about this book is that you don’t have to just be a Gunner supporter to read it. I am making my 13 year-old, footballing cousin (he’s a United ‘fan’) read it because it gives a fantastic window into what it actually takes to distinguish yourself from the mass of people with the same dreams as you.
Karbassiyoon grew up in Roanoke, Virginia, where he was given each and every possible chance to make it as a footballer, but he still had that inherent talent as well. It was aided by an insatiable desire to push himself to the limit and constantly improve.
Still, that big breakthrough didn’t come right away. This was no instance of Jack Wilshere being born and raised at Arsenal. Not in the United States. That’s not how life works. Karbassiyoon was noticed by Arsenal scout Steve Rowley and, believe it or not, he actually had to think if he would rather go to Arsenal or go to college.
Arsenal it was. From the moment the narrative switches over to the Emirates, we get a window into the daily lives of the players that you won’t find anywhere else. I have read numerous accounts of the Invincibles and dug through countless interviews, but the picture Karbassiyoon paints is more ‘real life’ and less ‘television’.
Between Sol Campbell’s jests in training and Thierry Henry’s legendary swag, these larger-than-life superstars are portrayed in such a way that you can see them as regular human beings rather than the stars we see on TV. Even Arsene Wenger seems human, but he carries such a high level of mystique given how little we see of him.
Cesc Fabregas and Sebastian Larsson are also brought to light as regular human beings with an uncanny knack for playing football. There are numerous refreshing accounts of the players just hanging out like regular people do.
As we know from history, Karbassiyoon’s career in North London was cut short and he had to continue pursuing his footballing career elsewhere in England. It started at Burnley, but a debilitating knee injury continued to plague him and, in the end, he had to call it quits.
“The Arsenal Yankee” doesn’t beat around the devastation that this sort of setback brings. Karbassiyoon was told that he would never be able to play again and the emotion is practically dripping off the page. For as happy and elated as you will be when reading about that historically American goal against City, you will be equally as gutted when hearing the doctor’s news.
Of course, that is when Karbassiyoon got that all-important phone call from the gaffer and became Arsenal’s North American scout. There, he discovered Gedion Zelalem and Joel Campbell and his Arsenal life carried on.
“The American Yankee” has to rank in with some of the better accounts of the club that are available. He may not have the same name value as Tony Adams and his book or Bergkamp and his, but Karbassiyoon and his humble beginnings will let you see the club through a lens that isn’t what you’re used to. Adams and Bergkamp were superstars and their accounts reflect that (though their accounts are fascinating as well).
Karbassiyoon never reached that level of footballing popularity. The happy ending you as the reader may want is not the happy ending you get, but that is part of what makes the story so compelling. You will be rooting for Danny to recover and make a career at Arsenal, despite the fact that you already know where the story is headed.
Do yourselves a favor, Gooners, and give this book a read. Investigate it more here.