Two-week course that rekindled passion of Roy Keane

Football's most feared sergeant major revealed his studious side while earning his management stripes at the FA's school at Lilleshall. Phil Shaw reports
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The Independent Football

As he barks instructions to the Sunderland players on his managerial debut tomorrow, Roy Keane will bring years of experience in confronting hostile opponents in seething stadiums to the task of beating Derby County. But he will probably draw more on knowledge absorbed in the two weeks he spent this summer in the tranquillity of rural Shropshire.

Amid the conjecture as to what kind of "gaffer" the 35-year-old former Manchester United and Republic of Ireland captain might prove to be, one school of thought characterised him as little more than a scourge of slackers. As a novice to the profession, the theory went, his role would be that of a figurehead to attract signings and sponsors, with the nuances of tactics and technique delegated to better qualified aides.

Keane, however, is too astute to imagine that he could manage by reputation, charisma or, indeed, chequebook alone. During his first close season as an ex-player, three days before Niall Quinn completed his takeover at the Stadium of Light, he headed for the National Sports Centre in leafy Lilleshall to equip himself for precisely the problems Sunderland now face.

There he would take the first part of his Advanced Coaching Licence under the guidance of the Football Association's director of courses, John Peacock, a 50-year-old Yorkshireman who also manages the England Under-17 side.

For a fortnight, Keane's world was a residential course, somewhere between Stafford and Shrewsbury, headed by a former Scunthorpe defender, with days taken up by seminars, tutorials, written work and classes on the training ground.

Not a picture that fits the stereotype a someone who once trod on the Porto goalkeeper and elbowed a former Ireland team-mate, at Sunderland of all places. At his unveiling on Wearside, he admitted that he had sometimes "crossed that white line".

Yet at the same press conference, when Keane was asked why he had crossed the line into management, the eyes lit up and the reply alluded to the course led by Peacock. "I met some great people," he said. "I thought, 'This is what I want to do'."

Far from being a bored ex-player's whim, his interest in organising teams is long-standing; he had already gained the qualifications at the level below the A Licence. It is also a natural progression. His 2002 autobiography revealed that he set great store by the maxim: "Fail to prepare, prepare to fail."

By a country mile, a concept with which Lilleshall's long drives acquaint one thoroughly, Keane was the most high-profile of 43 students who embarked on the A Licence in July. They included a women's international, various youth-academy directors and an assistant manager with one of the last 16 nations in this year's World Cup who is now an international No 1.

Peacock, who also took Bryan Robson and Tony Adams through their A Licence, is bound by a code of confidentiality not to discuss what took place during the weeks in question. Nevertheless he confirms that Keane was "very professional in everything he did", adding: "I'm delighted Roy has got his challenge at Sunderland. He's now managing a very big club and I wish him all the best.

"He has a lot of knowledge from his playing career, but being a great player doesn't necessarily mean you'll become a good manager. There are lots of examples of that. People go on courses like this to try to give themselves more ammunition to get their points across."

To manage in the Premiership, Keane must complete the A Licence and hold a Pro Licence. "The Pro is where they get involved in how to handle professionals and get the best out of them," Peacock explains. "The A is more technically and tactically based. It's largely problem-solving and trying to get a performance from a group of players.

"There are key areas that we mark people on. One is organisation. How well is your session planned and prepared? Another is session-management. Are people playing in the right positions and areas? And there's also communication.

"The most important, though, is diagnosis. Spotting problems during a match and making changes to rectify them. If you ask why people don't achieve the A Licence it would probably be down to a failure in that area.

"On all the FA courses, what we're doing is equipping people better for what they're going into. It's not about the ticket, or the award, but 'How can this help me be better at my job?' I'm pleased Roy felt positive about it. Many others who've done the course would say the same, but it's a good endorsement."

Keane's days at Lilleshall would start at 9.15am in the tutorial room with group work on the theme of the day. That might have been how to defend set-plays, counter-attacking, operating a sweeper system, man-marking, attacking from the flanks, the merits of 4-4-2 against 4-3-3, or such specialised subjects as coaching the centre-backs to vary their passes to strikers.

After an hour of theory, often featuring statistical evidence and DVD clips, the students moved to the pitches. Peacock and four staff coaches, who included the former Stoke City and England player Mike Pejic during Keane's stay, put on "demonstrations" in which the would-be coaches were the "guinea pigs".

One day, Keane staged a session on intercepting the ball and attacking quickly with the help of 20 students from a nearby college. The boys' teacher described the one-time warrior of Old Trafford and Lansdowne Road as "unassuming", adding that he treated the teenagers with "huge respect".

The course ended on the eve of a Championship campaign that started with Quinn doubling as manager and chairman of Sunderland and the defeats stacking up. Keane, who had fancied he would bide his time before entering management, left Shropshire with instructions to fill out a log-book detailing and evaluating the sessions in which he was involved.

When he returns for part two of the A Licence, he will be required to hold and be examined on two sessions. "That's when we decide if they've become competent," Peacock says, "or whether they need to go away to gain further experience."

At Pride Park tomorrow afternoon, and on Tuesday at Leeds United, where the new manager's presence is sure to arouse old enmities, an altogether more public examination begins in earnest for Roy Keane.