Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna has been strongly linked with the managerial vacancy at Brighton. EADT and Ipswich Star chief football writer Stuart Watson gives his thoughts.


In the space of 12 months, Kieran McKenna has, with varying degrees of strength, been linked to no fewer than nine jobs.

First, having just guided Ipswich to League One promotion, it was Celtic and Leicester after they had parted ways with Ange Postecoglou and Dean Smith respectively. McKenna soon signed a new contract Portman Road until 2027, with Brendan Rogers and Enzo Maresca the men to come in at Celtic Park and the King Power Stadium.

On February 9, McKenna was the bookies' 4/7 odds-on favourite to be the next Crystal Palace manager following reports that Roy Hodgson was on the verge of being sacked at Selhurst Park. The Northern Irishman, who'd just seen his team slip to fourth in the Championship table after securing one league win in eight, gave a typically diplomatic response when quizzed on the speculation

At that juncture, was the Blues boss tempted by the prospect of moving to an established Premier League club that has exciting young English talent like Eberechi Eze, Marc Guehi, Tyrick Mitchell and Adam Wharton? Only he will know that. Ultimately, there was no formal approach by the Eagles, they went for Oliver Glanser and finished the season in style, ending up 10th.

East Anglian Daily Times: Kieran McKenna is hot property after guiding Ipswich Town to back-to-back promotions.Kieran McKenna is hot property after guiding Ipswich Town to back-to-back promotions. (Image: PA Images)

Ipswich, of course, went on to secure remarkable back-to-back promotions to the Premier League. The scale of that historic success - 194 points and 193 goals over two seasons - has seen the rumour mill go into overdrive for McKenna.

The likes of Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, West Ham and Brentford have all been credited with 'monitoring his progress' or 'pondering a move' over recent weeks. In truth, those reports haven't overly concerned me. Here's why.

Let's start with United. Do I think McKenna is good enough to manage one of English football's big boys right now? Yes. Do I think he'd back himself to take on that pressure? Absolutely. The former Manchester United assistant boss has repeatedly insisted: "I have worked at the highest levels of the game in club football, I felt very confident there and I feel like that's somewhere I want to be again." Anyone who thinks he'd turn down the main job at Old Trafford is naïve in the extreme.

But do I think United - or any of the super powers for that matter - would go for McKenna? I might be wrong, but I just can't see it. Rightly or wrongly (the latter in my view), he'd be seen as too much of a risk. Anyway, Liverpool have appointed Arne Slot, while it's far from guaranteed that Erik ten Hag or Mauricio Pochettino will depart their posts.

East Anglian Daily Times: It remains to be seen if Erik ten Hag stays on as Manchester United manager following this weekend's FA Cup Final.It remains to be seen if Erik ten Hag stays on as Manchester United manager following this weekend's FA Cup Final. (Image: PA)

West Ham are now reportedly on the verge of bringing in Julien Lopetegui as David Moyes' replacement. The Hammers going for McKenna would always have been a drastic style shift anyway. Brentford's alleged interest, meanwhile, is based on the mega 'if' of Thomas Frank being lured away by United. Even if that did happen, would McKenna leave well-run Ipswich for well-run Brentford? I don't think so. The Bees average crowds of 17,000.

Noise can be easy to filter out with the use of a bit of common sense.

There has, however, always been one club that has worried me when it comes to McKenna potentially being lured away - and that's Brighton. Long-term listeners to our Kings of Anglia podcast will know I've been saying that for more than a year now. The pair just seem like a good fit in terms of values and playing style.

That job is now available following Saturday's news that Roberto De Zerbi, linked to the likes of Bayern Munich and Juventus, is leaving. Within hours, several major news outlets had put McKenna in the frame and this time, tellingly, the language - 'expected to make a move for' - is much firmer.

East Anglian Daily Times: Roberto De Zerbi is leaving Brighton after guiding them to successive top half Premier League finishes.Roberto De Zerbi is leaving Brighton after guiding them to successive top half Premier League finishes. (Image: PA)

I hear a lot of people say 'why on earth would McKenna walk away from Ipswich now?' and with good reason. He's adored by a big supporter base. He is fully backed by an ambitious ownership group and driven chief executive that believes the club can thrive, not just survive in the top flight. He has settled into Suffolk life with his young family. 

All that will undoubtedly count for a hell of a lot, but I sense the 38-year-old is also someone who can easily strip back emotion and think logically about the bigger picture. He picked his first senior job very carefully and he'll do the same when it comes to the timing and destination of his next move.

Right now, McKenna's star burns bright. His eyes are wide open to the scale of the challenge ahead though. A large number of his players are ones he inherited when taking over a League One team. He's labelled the step up to the Premier League as 'humungous in every department of the football club'. He'll be very well aware that reputations can change very quickly.

Vincent Kompany provides a cautionary tale. He was hot property last summer, after leading Burnley to the Championship title in swashbuckling fashion, and got heavily linked to both Chelsea and Tottenham. He stayed at Turf Moor though and the Clarets won just five league games on their way to instant relegation. Now the talk is whether the Belgian deserves to keep his job rather than get a better one. That's football. You're hot until you're not. You're as good as your last season. There's always a 'next best thing' coming behind you.

East Anglian Daily Times: Ipswich Town chief executive Mark Ashton (left) put a significant release clause in Kieran McKenna's contract last summer.Ipswich Town chief executive Mark Ashton (left) put a significant release clause in Kieran McKenna's contract last summer. (Image: Pagepix)

Would jumping ship to Brighton be worth the calculated risk for McKenna? The south coast club may not have two stands named after former England managers, but the reality is they are much further along in their own exciting journey. 

The Seagulls are preparing for an eighth season in the Premier League, have just had successive top half finishes and recently reached the last 16 of the Europa League. Their new state of the art £8.5m training facilities opened in 2021. Their squad contains players who have played for Brazil, Argentina, England, Holland and Japan. Their recruitment, particularly from South American, has been exceptional for some time. They paid a £30m club record fee to sign João Pedro last summer. 

The fact of the matter is that Ipswich aren't there yet. Chief executive Mark Ashton has often spoken about 'building an airplane in flight'. Head of recruitment, Sam Williams, was recently lured back to Manchester United and it's unclear how ready the Blues are to cast their net further when it comes to transfers. A multi-million pound training ground rebuild starts this summer and won't be finished for several months.

Many supporters have called on Ipswich and/or McKenna to issue a statement and kill off the uncertainty in the air. Respectfully, that's not going to happen.

McKenna was asked about his future immediately after promotion was secured. Carefully choosing his words, he replied: "I love it here, it's a fantastic club. I'm so proud to be the manager of this football club and I've worked so hard at it every day. I give so much of myself. I'm just focused on enjoying that journey. The speculation has been there for the last two years to be honest and I've shown loyalty to the club through that. I'm really pleased that I've stuck with it and how we've achieved what we have achieved. There are some big and exciting steps to come for the football club."

Ashton was subsequently asked if he McKenna was going to stay and replied: "He’s certainly not told me he’s not! Look, he’s invested. It’s a continued pleasure to watch him grow and develop. I’d class Kieran as a friend as well as a colleague. We work well together. He’s instrumental in what we’ve done and everything we can do. As I’ve said all along, I want Kieran here for the long-term."

Neither man can say much more than that. Both have been in the game long enough to know that you can't paint yourself into a corner.

Meanwhile, Brighton chief executive Paul Barber declined to comment on the McKenna speculation. He told the Brighton Argus: "There have been lots of names thrown at me, but I'm not going to get into names or styles of coaches because I think it would be disrespectful to Roberto, who has barely left his seat. 

"Obviously we have got a squad who play a certain way. We have a style of football that the fans enjoy. Roberto built on Graham (Potter)'s work, Graham built on Chris (Hughton)'s work. We would like to progress from where we are. We are still ambitious and we don't feel there is a ceiling."

The current state of play is this. McKenna is away on a well-deserved family holiday. As recently as Friday, he and Ashton were together discussing transfer targets and plans for the future. No-one has made an official approach to speak to him. As far as the club are concerned, it's business as usual.

The hope is that an approach doesn't come. If it does, Ipswich will quote the multi-million pound compensation clause in his contract and reiterate their grand vision to McKenna. If that's not enough, then succession plans will be in place.

“My job is to plan for everything," said Ashton, speaking to the EADT and Ipswich Star last November. "I have to try and be ahead of the curve in all areas of the football club. I’m looking right across the world at best practices and the next people in all positions." 

For now, we just have to wait out a period of uncertainty and live with that knot in the stomach. That's the price of success.