Sports coaching has given Ben Knapper a career in professional football with more highlights than Match of the Day, from open-top bus trophy parades through London, to working with one of the most respected managers in the history of the game.
Ben graduated from the University of Hull with a degree in Sports Coaching and Performance in 2008. Just 12 years later, he is living the Premier League dream working alongside some of the biggest soccer stars in the country as part of the Arsenal coaching staff.
In a career which has seen him work at the highest level of data and performance analysis, Ben recently returned to his University roots to speak to current Sport, Health and Exercise Science students about his career in the world of elite-level football.
Included in his talk, on March 19, was an inspiring story about a reunion the former University football team captain enjoyed with Graham Potter – then his coach at Hull but now a manager in the top flight himself – in one of the most prestigious competitions in Europe.
But first, Ben said: “I look back on my time at Hull as being absolutely vital in underpinning my career – I really do feel a huge debt of gratitude to the University.
“The relationships I formed and the opportunities that I got as a result were directly responsible for my career accelerating over the first few years. Through the University of Hull, I was able to get access to amazing, applied work experience opportunities that gave me a first-hand insight into the professional football industry.”
While studying at Hull, Ben was given the chance to join the team at Scunthorpe United, working in data and performance analysis.
Read: How to build a winning career – read Ben’s top 8 tips for ambitious sports graduates
After a stint working at the club, and experiencing the highs and lows of promotion – and then relegation – to the Championship division, Ben applied to join Prozone Sports.
Working at one of the country’s leading sports analysis companies, and gaining experience at clubs across the top two divisions of English football, opened new doors for Ben.
Then came the day in 2010 when one of football’s biggest clubs – and greatest ever managers – came knocking.
“Sitting on a train, travelling down to London to meet Arsene Wenger, was an incredibly surreal experience,” Ben said.
“Through Prozone, I had worked with Arsenal, and the club had seen that I had been there every day within the club, and decided to invite me to work with them full-time.
“They could obviously see the value I could add to the club, but at the time, I saw Arsene as one of the most successful managers in English football history – how could I add value to that?”
Since joining Arsenal permanently just over a decade ago, Ben’s knowledge of performance analysis has helped the club land six trophies, including four FA Cups.
Today, Ben is the Loan Manager at Arsenal – a role focussed on supporting players before, during, and after they embark on a loan - either domestically or internationally.
On the pitch, Ben is responsible for helping loan players achieve their potential and develop, and from a commercial perspective, he is involved in strategically managing assets in order to drive revenue and help create and maintain a pipeline of talent into the first team.
Giving his advice to current students at Hull on how to make the most of their time at University, Ben said: “I would say that now, more than ever, it is about proactively seeking opportunities to gain relevant applied experience alongside your academic studies.
“Professional sport is a highly competitive industry to gain access to. From as early as possible, you should look to build up your offering to a potential employer in all aspects.
“Self-development is also imperative – having a desire to continue to learn. All of these things will also serve to increase your network and help to build your personal brand.
“There are no guarantees of course, but proactively taking these steps will increase your chances of success, no doubt.”
Dr Grant Abt, Associate Professor of Exercise Physiology at the University of Hull, taught Ben during his time at Hull.
He said: “It’s so pleasing to see Ben doing well - through hard work, seeking out opportunities, talent, a love of sport, and a real commitment to lifelong learning.
Professor John Saxton, Head of the Department of Sport, Health and Exercise Science at Hull, said: “Ben’s talk was inspirational and really shows how studying sport at the University of Hull provides a strong platform for great achievements, life-long learning and personal development.”
While captaining the football team at the University of Hull, Ben was coached by Graham Potter, now the boss of Premier League team Brighton.
It was during a trip to Sweden, as Arsenal competed in the Europa League competition, that Ben had a chance reunion with his former coach from his University days.
At the time, Graham was coaching Ostersund and had taken the club from the fourth division of Swedish football to the top flight. Ben and Graham crossed paths when Arsenal took on Ostersund in one of Europe’s most prestigious competitions. The pair serve as perfect examples of how – with the right attitude, commitment and determination – you can reach the very top of your industry.
You can read more about Ben's experiences at the University of Hull here.
Find out more about studying Sport, Health & Exercise Science at the University of Hull here.