The Rise of Kieran McKenna

Kieran Mckenna is very much the managerial flavour of the month. In recent weeks he has been linked to high-profile jobs at Chelsea and Manchester United despite having never managed in the Premier League. His stock is at an all-time high following back-to-back promotions with unfancied Ipswich Town. Here is a look at the man and the hype surrounding him.

McKenna’s Background

McKenna never really achieved much in his playing days as part of the Spurs youth setup. He did, however, manage to represent and even captain Northern Ireland’s youth sides in the early 2000s. A major injury cut his career short and initiated his off-field career. He started as a sports scientist at Loughborough before going on to have various roles at Notts County, Leicester City, Vancouver Whitecaps, and Tottenham Hotspur. However, it was at Manchester United that he started to gain recognition.

He joined the Red Devils in 2016 and coached their Under-18 team for two years, pocketing a Premier League Northern Division title in the process. His success earned him promotion to assistant manager during the 2018/19 season under José Mourinho. McKenna caught the Portuguese’s eye with Mourinho, commenting he was incredibly clear and concise with his coaching instructions. The plaudits have not stopped there. None other than Sir Alex Ferguson himself has praised the job McKenna is doing at Ipswich.

McKenna’s talents saw him survive many turbulent years at United as he continued to be an integral part of the backroom under both Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Ralf Rangnick. United had no intentions of letting him go but the lure of challenging himself at Ipswich proved too much to ignore. In 2021, he began his head coaching career with the Tractor Boys. Following his spell at Old Trafford, he has earned high praise for his incredible work at Ipswich.

Success at Portman Road

He has proven to be a popular figure at Portman Road with only four defeats in his first year, earning the team promotion to the EFL Championship. The football was also easy on the eye with a possession-based system combined with a high press. This was only the start of the good times of the squad, as he would go on to guide his squad to a second-place finish in the second tier the following year. They have now been promoted to the Premier League.

What is more impressive is that he achieved this with pretty much the same squad and minimal investment. This is illustrated by the fact that 15 players who managed at least ten appearances for Ipswich in League One have equalled that feat in the Championship. The squad in League One was estimated to have cost only around £10 million to assemble, with a further £4 million invested in new players for their successful Championship season.

What is Next For McKenna?

McKenna has proved to be a slick operator in the transfer and loan markets, as well as actively making his current players better. This is a rare combination these days and one can see why it has led to him being mentioned for jobs in the same breath as Thomas Tuchel and Mauricio Pochettino.

With his stock so high at the minute, it will be interesting to see if he does decide to move. While he has undoubtedly done good work at Ipswich, there is a tough season ahead and relegation or a sacking could damage his stock value. He is a young and ambitious coach and may feel opportunities like these might not come around again.

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