who is Kieran McKenna, the young prodigy coach that all English clubs are vying for?

who is Kieran McKenna, the young prodigy coach that all English clubs are vying for?
who is Kieran McKenna, the young prodigy coach that all English clubs are vying for?

Promoted to the Premier League after 22 years of absence, Ipswich Town could lose their coach Kieran McKenna. Coveted by many English big names like Manchester United, Chelsea and Brighton, the Northern Irish technician appeals to everyone. From José Mourinho’s assistant to a new star in the English elite, focus on this coach who propelled Ipswich to the top.

Last season, all Premier League followers were impatiently waiting to see the debut of Vincent Kompany, who reigned supreme on the Burnley bench during the 2022-2023 season in the Championship. A year later, the new attraction is called Kieran McKenna. Unknown to the general public, at least on this side of the Channel, this Northern Irish coach achieved the feat of allowing Ipswich Town to return to the Premier League after 22 years of absence.

With the feat achieved with a club which was still in the English third division last season, McKenna could take a step forward. Several English media are announcing concrete interests from Chelsea, Manchester United and Brighton, all (unofficially for the last two) looking for a new coach. But who is this young 38-year-old technician, who is having his first real experience as a head coach at Ipswich?

A playing career quickly ended, but a good career as an assistant

Former midfielder, Kieran McKenna did not have a great career. Spent with Tottenham’s youth team from 2002 to 2009, the London native also had a few selections with the Northern Ireland youth teams. But the midfielder is struggling to take off at the high level, due to a persistent hip injury. A pain that pushed him to retire in 2009, at the age of 22. Always passionate about football, the Northern Irishman completed a degree in sports science at Loughborough University.

With his diploma in hand, McKenna began by coaching young people at Nottingham Forest, then Leicester. Although he was never able to perform at Tottenham, the coach was the manager of Spurs’ U18s from 2014 to 2016. The former midfielder then joined Manchester United, and began to taste the joys of the high level. First coach of the U18s, McKenna was then appointed assistant in 2018. At the Red Devils, he supports big names like José Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and Ralf Rangnick. But in 2021, the protagonist decides to stand on his own two feet, and joins Ipswich who were languishing in the third division.

An offensive coach who gets the crowds on their feet

Start from lower to better rise, this adage suits McKenna well. After a first season where Ipswich missed the play-offs for accession to the Championship, the English team moved up to the second division the following season, before experiencing a new rise with a place in the English elite. But how could a team that was in League One three seasons ago have transformed to this extent?

Here are some figures which should help to understand this phenomenon. Symbolizing McKenna’s penchant for attack, Ipswich Town are the team which has scored the most this season in the Championship with 92 goals. At 38, the coach is described by The Athletic as “arguably the most interesting young manager in England”. His style of play gets the crowd out of their seats. His ability to create great chemistry between players is also highlighted. The English media even go so far as to assert that few teams can progress the ball so quickly from the goalkeeper to the attack.

If today the atmosphere is celebratory at the newly promoted team, this is not the case in training. The sessions are described as “intense”, and video analysis is used extensively. A lot of work, far from destabilizing his players who have greatly adhered to their manager’s ideas. McKenna’s young age also allowed him to build a good relationship with the locker room executives. But McKenna is not keen to take sole credit for the achievement: “It’s not just me, a lot of people have worked hard to create a positive atmosphere,” he told Sky Sports.

Element that should please Chelsea, Manchester United and Brighton: the fact that McKenna does not hesitate to rely on young elements like Omari Hutchinson (20 years old, 44 games), Harrison Clark (23 years old, 35 games), Jeremy Sarmiento (21 years old, 20 matches), and Ali Al-Hamadi (22 years old, 14 matches) in particular.

McKenna appreciated by his players

To succeed in a double promotion, it is essential for a coach to have the support of his players. Not a problem for McKenna who knew how to guide this group, while making himself appreciated.

Loaned last summer by Chelsea, the Jamaican Hutchinson (whom McKenna could find if he arrived at the Blues) explained to Sky Sports how the Northern Irishman helped him to flourish on the pitch: “Sometimes , when you come into the team as a substitute, the manager tells you that we need a different dynamic. A skillful player who will attack his opponent and who can go both ways. “That’s what I like. I like to entertain the public and the manager gives us that freedom.”

Speaking to the English media, 24-year-old defender Leif Davis explained last November how McKenna took him under his wing: “From the first day, when I walked in the door, he told me that he would help me improve my game, and he did that massively, both offensively and defensively.”

Rarely for a defender, the latter delivered 18 assists in the league, a quality he didn’t think he had, and which he credits to McKenna: “I didn’t think I would have this quality in the final third of the pitch , it certainly wasn’t my strong point, but now I would say it is because of the way he worked with me in training to make me more comfortable with the ball at my feet. .”

If McKenna is unanimous in Ipswich, it still remains a gamble on paper for the English big names wanting to secure his services, especially since they will have to put their hands in their pockets to recruit him, given that the coach is still under contract until June 2025. According to the Daily Mail, the managers are waiting around five million euros to part ways with McKenna.

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