Stoke City captain Ryan Shawcross has been spending his time ringing supporters when he should have been back playing football – and taking a huge step on his path to eventually becoming a manager.
The 32-year-old centre-back has spent the vast majority of 2019/20 on the sidelines after breaking a fibula in the final friendly of pre-season.
But he did have a big part to play in a rare start, helping to inspire a 3-2 comeback win over Sheffield Wednesday on Boxing Day that proved a huge turning point as Michael O’Neill helped haul the team up from the foot of the table.
His return to fitness was derailed by niggling calf and groin problems but he had made it back into training and into the squad before the football shut down.
And last month, he was due to start the fifth and final level coaching badge – the Uefa Pro Licence with the Welsh FA.
The course – which Bleacher Report say was also set to included Tim Cahill, Juan Pablo Angel and Djimi Traore – is now unlikely to begin until November, although “course directors are considering how to deliver elements via remote learning”.
The FAW only had 22 spots on the course and reportedly received 117 applications – and candidates take on assignments including a four-day trip to an overseas club, writing a 3,000-word report and making a 45-minute presentation.
The aim is to “prepare candidates for the rigours of elite level management” and topics cover everything from scouting and data analysis to leadership skills and building relationships with media.
Shawcross said back in the autumn: “I’m interested in the managerial side of things and, looking to the future, Nathan (Jones) probably accommodated that more than any other manager.
“I’ve done my badges, so I’m ready to do it now, but obviously I’m still playing. I think I started (with badges) when I was 25. I’m looking to do a bit with the Academy, but it will all have to tie in with my playing career.
“I want to play for as long as I can, but stay in football after that because it’s the only thing I know.”
O’Neill has continued to keep Shawcross at the centre of things, whether injured or not.
He said: “Ryan has spent basically his whole career at this club and been here when the club spent a lot of time in the Premier League, so he’s been there, seen it and done it.
“Of course, he is a massively positive influence on the group of players. He’s been captain of the club for a long time. He’s been captain of the club under numerous managers as well.
“Ryan comes to the away games, he’s in the dressing room, and all of those things are important, but the main thing is we want to see Ryan back on the pitch. That’s where he can really affect things, back on the pitch.
“He’s been a little bit unfortunate and has been a little bit frustrated that he hasn’t got back before now. The injury has taken a bit longer than maybe we first thought.
“I think even in the games he played over the Christmas period you saw the benefit of his influence.”
He added: “I am learning about the club all the time in terms of where the club was, where it needs to go and where possibly issues lay in the past.
“Someone like Ryan is invaluable in that situation because he’s been through it with various managers.
“He’s been a part of the club in the Premier League and gone through relegation with the club.
“We’ve spoken about it on a few occasions, but we don’t want to overly dwell on the past, the important thing is to focus on the future and Ryan is still a big part of the future here at Stoke City.”