Stuart Watson: Welcome to the mad house, Kieran - and good luck!
- Credit: Daniel Hambury/Focus Images Ltd
On paper, this looked a very different type of managerial appointment for Ipswich Town. Seeing Kieran McKenna’s first press conference only backed that feeling up.
The smartly-dressed 35-year-old's near 40-minute address to reporters via Zoom can best be described as business-like.
This was the meticulous address of someone who knows that the real talking comes on the football pitch as a by-product of the hard work that happens on the training field.
From first impressions, it’s hard to picture McKenna calling fans ‘numbskulls’, trying to fight opposition coaches or giving himself the moniker of ‘Demolition Man’.
Then again, he hasn’t been exposed to the unique and immense pressures of first-team management yet.
As an Under-18s manager, the emphasis will have been on development rather than results.
As a first-team coach he will have been able to position himself as the trusted buffer between players and boss.
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Now the spotlight is fully on him. And there’s not a lot that can prepare you for that.
A 13-year period of dedicating himself to the craft of coaching within elite environments gives him a real chance though.
It’s a calculated gamble (as every appointment is) on both parties’ behalf. Ultimately the stars aligned for such a marriage.
From McKenna’s point of view, his future at Old Trafford was far from secure given they are looking to appoint a new manager in the summer.
The time for him to take the plunge was now and Ipswich Town, as lower league jobs go, is as attractive as they come given the finances behind the club.
From Ipswich’s point of view, there will have been several factors coming together.
One, the club has tried the ‘tried and tested’ route on several occasions in recent years and not had success. Roy Keane, Paul Jewell, Mick McCarthy, Paul Lambert and Paul Cook all had promotions on their CVs and ultimately that counted for nothing.
Two, giving young managers a chance is in Ipswich Town’s DNA. Sir Alf Ramsey and Sir Bobby Robson were both, as it happens, also 35 when they took the reins at Portman Road as rookie bosses. George Burley was 38 when he was plucked from fourth-tier Colchester United just a handful of games into his role as player-manager.
Three, and perhaps most importantly, Town chief executive Mark Ashton’s two most successful managerial appointments were of the same mould. Aidy Boothroyd was 34 when hired by Watford from a first team coaching role at Leeds in 2004. Brendan Rodgers was 35 when head-hunted as Chelsea’s reserve boss in 2008 (though Ashton soon departed the Hornets after that).
So, a highly-rated young elite coach facing an uncertain short-term future and a scar-ridden fallen League One giant at a juncture where something different appealed. Both have jumped in at the deep end. Is this a case of sink or swim? The fact the club’s ambitious US-based owners sacked Cook just 17 matches after he had finished assembling his squad suggests the answer to that is yes. If this appointment doesn’t work then Ashton will be feeling the heat too.
With reporters only afforded one question each at yesterday’s press conference, the subject of how long McKenna will get to make his mark, sadly, wasn’t broached.
The Northern Irishman talks of his career-ending injury at the age of 22 perhaps being fate for what has followed for him.
Perhaps it’s fate that he arrives in Suffolk mid-season when the expectation of making an instant impact is less than it would have been had he been appointed in the summer.
Welcome to the mad house Kieran and, sincerely, the very best of luck. You’ll need it. Every manager does.