A key club user of Scout7 technologies was recognised at the recent Asian Football Awards, which were held at Wembley Stadium and supported by several industry stakeholders including the FA and PFA.
Irfan Kawri, who is currently an opposition scout at Wigan Athletic, was handed the ‘Inspiration Award’, in recognition of not only his achievements in professional scouting, but also for his positive contribution to local coaching, and for the co-ordination of a physical activity project run in collaboration with the Liverpool FC 1st team Doctor, Dr Zaf Iqbal, and the Zesh Rehman Foundation.
Kawri is widely recognised as being one of a small number of people from a South Asian (Muslim) background to be currently working in elite professional English football. In receiving his award, he joined other notable figures including Swansea City full-back Neil Taylor and Tottenham Hotspur doctor Shabaaz Mughal, who was part of the medical team who helped save the life of Fabrice Muamba following his collapse at White Hart Lane in 2012, in being recognised for making a positive contribution to the professional industry.
“It was both a privilege and very humbling to receive the award, especially as it was chosen by a panel of leading industry figures.” says Kawri.
“It was great to see all the major football authorities there to recognise the achievements of people from an Asian background working both in the professional game and at community level around the country.”
Having spent time on the books of Rochdale and Bradford City as a schoolboy, Kawri spent most of his playing career playing at semi-professional level in the Conference North. He also went on to win several U20 international caps for Zambia, who he was qualified to represent through his mother.
After electing to go to university with a view to pursuing a career in teaching, he got his first break in scouting back at the Rochdale Centre of Excellence, although it wasn’t initially a career path he was intending to go down, as he freely explains:
“I started doing my coaching badges when I was at university, but there wasn’t really any full-time opportunities in coaching at the time. I ended up speaking to Keith Hicks, who was then running the Centre of Excellence and also coincidentally happened to be my old schoolboy coach.
“He invited me to do some scouting for them, and whilst it wasn’t something that I had aspired to do from a young age I was very happy to get involved with it. In fact, it led to me getting a job at the centre, coaching a number of the various different age groups.”
With all of the game’s stakeholders keen to increase the representation of people from minority backgrounds, Kawri’s rise from voluntary youth scout at Rochdale to first team assessor for Wigan does highlight that such a career progression is possible, irrespective of someone’s background.
Whilst he acknowledges that there is a lack of people from a South Asian background in scouting, he is also quick to point out that if an opportunity does arise for someone, irrespective of the circumstances, they have to have the willingness and desire to grasp it.
“When I think about the community I come from, I don’t think the first or second generation of migrants ever saw football or sport as a career option,” he explains.
“They came into this county to educate their children, hoping to send them on to university to become doctors, lawyers or work in other well regarded professions. This could be a contributing factor as to why there are relatively few professional scouts from this background.
“There are a lot of organisations trying to address the issue of under representation and reach out to various communities, but reaching out is just the starting point – people also need to knuckle down and grasp any opportunity given to them.
“I’ve always believed that nothing in life is handed to you on a plate and that you really have to work hard to achieve what you want. You must be prepared to give up your time, make sacrifices and work voluntarily as well – if you speak to anyone involved in coaching or scouting, no matter their background, they will tell you that they have worked long hours for nothing at some point on their journey.
“A lot of people like the idea of working in professional football, but when it comes to putting the hard work in many people can go missing. It is not all about glamour and success, it is actually about hard graft. For example being an opposition scout, you have to realise that by the time you have travelled to and from the game and finished writing up your report, your weekend has pretty much gone, so whilst everyone else is relaxing or enjoying themselves, you are busy working ahead of your next midweek assignment, then the process starts all over again.
“I know there are people in the communities willing to put in that application. In fact there is someone who I am currently mentoring in my work with the Zesh Rehman Foundation who is doing voluntary scouting assignments with an academy in London. He is really showing an eagerness to learn and improve himself and is always consulting me for advice.
“His attitude is fantastic and he is a great example of someone who is grasping an opportunity given to him to learn about the art of player scouting.”
In terms of his own career development, Kawri is very quick to acknowledge the influence of others as he has refined his own working processes on his path to becoming a professional scout.
He first started doing first team opposition assessments whilst still scouting at youth level for Rochdale, before going on to scout opponents for Marine FC in the Northern Premier League. Then in the autumn of 2012 he made contact with Scout7, offering his services to the company’s consultancy arm.
Following a period of in-house training overseen by Operations Manager Kevin Russell, Kawri spent the next six months completing a variety of opposition team reports on behalf of the company’s client clubs in the Football League and Conference.
Looking back, he believes that this experience was crucial in his personal development.
He says: “You can tell anyone to go out and report on a game, but it is crucial that you know how you go about presenting your information about the opposition, structuring the report and using words and content that are going to stand out to a Manager.
“When I got the position with Scout7 that really acted as a catalyst to improve my work, both in terms of getting used to the technology and liaising regularly with Kevin Russell and Andy Kidby, who was also working for Scout7 at the time, and both offered me brilliant constructive feedback each time I went out and submitted a report.
“To be honest if I didn’t have the opportunity with Scout7 I don’t think I’d be as good as I am at my job now.”
It was Kidby, who is now working as a scout at a Premier League club, that initially recommended Kawri to Wigan as the club looked to extend its team of scouts at the start of the season.
Since taking on his position he has been tasked with watching teams not only in the UK, but also overseas following the club’s participation in the Europa League. All of his reports are entered into the club’s Scout7 management application, which enables Chief Scout Tony Coton, members of the first-team staff and the Manager to quickly access his assessments from a central environment as soon as they are submitted.
Now with an FA Cup semi-final to look forward to, coupled with an objective of securing a play-off place, he will have a key role to play in supporting first-team preparations as they look to achieve their objectives between now and the end of the season.
With these objectives still to be met, Kawri is reluctant to look too far ahead in terms how he would like his career to develop in the future, other than striving to continue to learn and improve his existing skills, both as a scout in the stadium and as a coach on the training field.
“It is always good to have dreams, aspirations and targets, but I believe you always need to focus on what you are doing in the short-term because in professional football circumstances can change very quickly. On that basis I wouldn’t like to set myself any specific targets in terms of where I could potentially see myself in five years’ time.
“That said, I do see myself as being a student of the game and I am in the process of completing my B licence with the PFA, where I have spent time coaching the youth team at Macclesfield Town as well as coaching a local non-league outfit with the former Welsh international and Coventry City striker Simon Haworth. I am still involved in this activity project with Dr Zaf Iqbal and also have my PE teaching career too, which involves teaching football so I am a very busy man!
“I would like to think I would be able to continue developing all of these strands, because I do think by doing that I am developing skills that can benefit each of the different areas I work in, which means I can continue improving what I do day-in, day-out.”
In displaying such a positive approach, it is easy to understand why Kawri received recognition with his award.
And for an industry often criticised for a lack of opportunities for scouts and coaches from minority backgrounds, one would hope his example will inspire others to display the same ambition, application and hard-work to achieve their goals and establish themselves in the elite professional game.