Purves Ali is a ‘jack of all trades’ having stepped into coaching, scouting and business development, and is the Founder of the Professional Football Scouts Association (PFSA). He’s achieved an array of successes throughout his sports career including his current scouting company being endorsed by footballing stars Ryan Giggs, Shaun Goater, David Dunn and more! This interview sees Purves touch on how his sports career journey began, the value of transferable skills and what makes an efficient football scout.
Q1) Purves, it’s brilliant to have you on Ash’s Sports Talk. Let’s kick this off by understanding how your sports career began?
As a young lad, I played multiple sports, including boxing, cricket, and football. While being a youth, I had a season and a half playing for Accrington Stanley FC. The passion for sport then began to grow on during my childhood, when I was 12-13 years old, I picked up a pair of boxing gloves and started boxing which led to me, unfortunately, breaking my hand. Sports participation was my luxury during my childhood compared to kids playing video games during this era.
However, my sports career kick-started when my son started playing football. This inspired me to run a junior football team which eventually found me become the chairman of the club. With patience, hard work and commitment, I got headhunted by the head of recruitment at Manchester United, Derek Langley, to be a scout. Now, I’m proud to be the Founder of the PFSA who are the Pioneers of the Scouting Industry.
Q2) The Professional Football Scouts Association looks fantastic. Could you share what inspired you to start this project, what it represents and the future ambitions you have for it?
When I was appointed as a scout, I was under the guidance from Derek Langley and Mike Glennie, both are responsible for me getting were I am today. I really enjoyed the role at the Red Devils, which is where the inspiration came from to set up The PFSA. I knew more could be done to promote scouting in football, in the sense of educating more people through it, providing players with more robust support and creating stronger bonds with governing bodies.
The PFSA has been around for over seven years now, and it’s seen a multitude of successes. Including ourselves building networks across Australia, UAE, Croatia, South Korea and more. Plus, our courses have been accredited by my former club, Manchester United. Regarding future ambitions, we want to keep pushing to provide as much value as possible for our stakeholders worldwide.
Q3) I see you’ve had a massive career history external to sport, particularly in business development. How has this benefitted you developing transferable skills to stand out in the sports industry?
I consider myself to be very lucky as I’m a father who’s worked in multiple trades, including paper rounds, working on the markets, doing the milk round and being an electrician. I also did an apprenticeship in engineering which sparked lots of enthusiasm in me to become an entrepreneur. Soon enough, as I developed more working experience, I started my own engineering company. Starting my own business taught me lots of fundamental but transferable skills such as being able to network, not being afraid to work for free and people skills.
Regardless of where your experience lies, many values resonate well when working in sport. Such as etiquette, behaving differently depending on who you’re working with, staying humble, networking and being respectful. It’s fair to say lots of my success has been from networking with excellent and influential people; this has led to opportunities in business and developments in my career.
Q4) What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in the sports industry? And, how have these experiences developed your character in a super competitive sector?
At the PFSA, we’ve always been open to working with anyone, including governing bodies. However, the same reception hasn’t continually been received back. The nature of scouting can be complicated. For example, when we turn up for games, scouts don’t talk to each other, which is what I teach our members at the PFSA. The lack of transparency as a scout can be challenging, but this builds resilience and a strong sense of initiative.
When working in football, there are always daily challenges, but ultimately, you’ve got to put your head down and get on with it. You’ll have long days, it’s not a typical 9-5 job, but you get used to it.
Q5) Throughout your work in the football scouting world. What are the most important values that create a successful and effective scout?
Integrity, honesty and communication. When people invite me to scout at a game, I’m always honest whether it’s optimistic or brutal honestly. Honesty can hurt but giving false hope is worse. For example, if I were scouting a player as a potential recruit for United, despite how talented they may be, I’d always stick to my gut when deciding on bringing them into the club or not.
When scouting, it’s also vital to know your club inside and out when recruiting players. You could be scouting one of the hottest young prospects, but you’ve also got to ask if they’re the right fit for the club. What I mean by this is interpreting their mentality fitting in with your club’s values, does their playing style marry well with your other recruits and can you see them in your jersey for years to come.
Plus, despite the growth in technology to support scouts with their roles, you’ll never get a better perception of a players ability than your own eyes. Therefore, having the dignity never to decide on recruiting a player unless you’ve seen them physically is imperative.
Q6) On the topic of values, what skill-sets have been imperative to driving The PFSA to be the successful business it is today?
Working with people, remaining authentic and creating a network with the right people. Plus, I always try and mentor my team when I can as that’s important for continuous professional development. Patience is another factor to master when it comes to scouting as you can’t expect to find the next Wayne Rooney overnight.
Q7) Purves, reflecting on your sports career journey, what is your killer piece of advice for the new generation to pursue a career in the industry?
Work hard, do your research and find a role model. I coached and watched football, and now I get to do what I love. Don’t be afraid to volunteer as something could come out of it to give you your break.