Ashton: McKenna has same traits as Brendan Rodgers

New Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna (right) with CEO Mark Ashton

New Ipswich Town manager Kieran McKenna (right) with CEO Mark Ashton - Credit: Daniel Hambury/Focus Images Ltd

Ipswich Town chief executive Mark Ashton believes Kieran McKenna can blossom at Portman Road, just like his young managerial appointments did at previous clubs.

A promising young player on the fringes of the Tottenham first team, McKenna was forced to hang up his boots at the age of 22. After that he rapidly climbed the coaching ladder and has been head-hunted by Ipswich, at the age of 35, having spent the last two-and-a-half years working as a first team coach at Manchester United.

Ashton has a history of hiring young managers. At Watford, he gave Leeds first team coach Aidy Boothroyd his first big job at the age of 34 and the Hornets subsequently won promotion to the Premier League. He also hired Brendan Rodgers, then the 35-year-old manager of Chelsea's reserves, in 2008 (only to resign as chief executive the following month).

At Oxford United, Ashton hired a 38-year-old Michael Appleton (his fourth job following spells at Portsmouth, Blackpool and Blackburn). At Bristol City, Ashton hired a 35-year-old Lee Johnson (his fourth job following spells at Oldham, Barnsley and Bristol City) and later Dean Holden, the 40-year-old having largely been an assistant manager throughout his coaching career.

“We said we’d follow a process and we did," said Ashton, on his 'extensive search' to find Town's new boss.

"We certainly weren’t talking to anyone while we had Paul (Cook) here, that’s just not how we operate. 

“We put together a list of people that we wanted to see and talk to. In the current world that’s a balance between Zoom calls and meeting people in person. 

Watford manager Brendan Rodgers

Ipswich Town chief executive Mark Ashton hired a young Brendan Rodgers as Watford manager back in 2008. - Credit: PA

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“It became apparent very quickly that Keiran sat right at the top and front of that list of people. 

“I have to say that when I met him my hopes were realised in what I hoped he was going to be. 

“We track young coaches, it’s something I’ve done historically. I spent some time with Kieran to learn more about him. Once we did that we spoke to our board, we spoke with Manchester United and they were extremely professional. 

“Ed Woodward and the hierarchy a Manchester United have been absolutely first class. Albeit reluctantly, I think, they gave us permission to speak to Kieran. 

“I think once Kieran had made his position to them really clear, that he wanted to take this opportunity, whilst they were ultimately disappointed to lose him they supported his decision. I'm very grateful to them for the way they dealt with it."

Watford manager Aidy Boothroyd during the Coca-Cola Football League Championship match at Vicarage R

Aidy Boothroyd led Watford to the Premier League after being appointed by Mark Ashton at the age of 34. - Credit: PA

Asked if he had any concerns that McKenna's coaching background has been entirely at an elite level given Ipswich are currently mid-table in League One, Ashton replied: "Not at all. Look at my background and the young coaches I’ve given first opportunities to in Aidy Boothroyd and Brendan Rodgers. People asked me very similar questions when we appointed them. 

“I think Kieran has more than enough football intelligence to adapt to whatever circumstances and whatever league he finds himself. 

“So, no, that wasn’t a worry for me."

He continued: “If you look at some of the young coaches who I have given their first or second opportunities in management, they are very similar in their football intelligence, their work ethic, their integrity and are very, very clear minded in how they want to deliver success. I’ve seen that in other managers and I certainly see those traits in Keiran. 

“To be honest, I just can’t wait to get started and get to work with him."

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