Exit Interview: McGuinness and Bennetts came with great pedigree but still have plenty to learn
- Credit: Archant
Mark McGuinness and Keanan Bennetts have returned to their parent clubs following season-long loans at Ipswich Town. Andy Warren looks at their time in blue.
Former Ipswich boss Paul Lambert had repeatedly discussed how Town needed to stop relying on loans to fill their squads, but the game had changed by the summer of 2020.
Lambert’s intentions were good but, on the back of a curtailed season due to the coronavirus pandemic and with the hasty introduction of the now scrapped salary cap at League One level, the Scot had little room for manoeuvre in the transfer market.
David Cornell, Oli Hawkins and Stephen Ward were the only three permanent additions last summer, all arriving on free transfers, while the two remaining additions prior to the transfer window closing in October came in the form of loanees Mark McGuinness and Keanan Bennetts.
Both came from good stock, with McGuinness schooled at Arsenal, capped by Ireland at Under 19 level and heading out on his first loan. Bennetts came from Borussia Monchengladbach, having moved to Germany from Tottenham for a significant fee in his teens.
McGuinness’s Town story actually began before he ultimately joined the Blues, with an imperious display in Arsenal Under 21s’ victory over a near first-choice Ipswich side in the EFL Trophy on September 8 leading to his signing just a fortnight later.
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At the time his signing felt a little surprising, given Lambert had Luke Chambers (playing at right back at this point), Luke Woolfenden, Toto Nsiala, James Wilson and Corrie Ndaba all available at centre-half, and it took the then 19-year-old more than a month to fight his way through that traffic and finally get on the field.
But from the victory over Gillingham on October 27 until the 0-0 draw with Northampton on February 16, the young Gunner was a regular in the side, largely alongside fellow youngster Luke Woolfenden.
The pair had their ups and down, with both possessing clear ability but at times also showing the rawness of youth as the Blues stuttered through the winter months of a season which was heading the wrong way.
McGuinness came out of the side after that Northampton draw, as Matt Gill took on a more prominent role during the final days of Lambert’s reign, with the experienced pairing of James Wilson and Toto Nsiala returning to the side for a good run which put Ipswich on the cusp of the play-off places again, as Paul Cook took charge.
At this point it looked like McGuinness’s time at Town was over, as he dropped out of the matchday squad entirely during the early weeks of the new boss’s tenure, but he returned down the stretch once Ipswich’s play-off chances were as good as over, finishing up the final six games alongside Woolfenden once again.
In all he made 25 appearances.
Bennetts will go down as one of the more frustrating Ipswich loans in recent times.
He came with pedigree and clearly possesses ability but, more often the not, seemed to lack application and an understanding of what he was supposed to be doing as part of the Ipswich team.
The youngster arrived in October and filled a position of need, given Ipswich have struggled to attack and score goals from wide areas during both of their attempts at League One promotion.
Cameos from the bench came with promise but he had to wait nearly two months for a league start, at which point he struggled to make an impact before, in start number four, he lashed home an early goal against Burton Albion which threatened to kickstart his time in blue. Sadly, though, he left that game before half-time with a hamstring injury which kept him out for two months.
He returned in the final days of Lambert’s tenure but wasn’t able to produce consistently, a story which continued under Cook while in-and-out of the side during the final weeks of the season.
The 22-year-old made 30 Ipswich appearances in total, scoring once.
What went well
At his best, McGuinness showed he could be a confident, dominant and powerful defender who possesses all the attributes needed to have a long career in the game.
With his low socks and high shorts, the Arsenal loanee was comfortable with the ball at his feet and, at times, could run out with the ball from the back and break the lines to move his side upfield.
In the air, whenever he won the ball it stayed won, with big defensive headers thumping away and clearing danger for his side.
His attitude was spot on, too, which certainly stands him in good stead. He’s mature beyond his tender years.
His one Ipswich goal proved to be a winner as he nodded him which, at the time, felt like a vital goal away at Burton in January.
For Bennetts’ part he clearly possesses footballing ability and his close control can be excellent at times. Like so many of Ipswich’s wide loanees before him, he looks to make something positive happen with his first touch.
His first-half display and early goal against Burton in December really felt like progress for the youngster but, sadly, injury meant he wasn’t able to finish what he started and ultimately missed two months of football.
Areas to improve
To put it simply, and perhaps a little bluntly, Bennetts needs to work out how to effectively play team football.
Lambert and his staff would repeatedly coach the youngster from the touchline to the point of exhaustion, with the Scot shouting ‘it’s always you, Keanan’ on more than one occasion when barking out orders to his young loanee. You could see Bennetts’ team-mates to be visibly frustrated with him, too.
His positioning, intensity and decision-making all raised questions at times, as did the quality of his final ball, while his body language wasn’t always great at a time when the Blues really needed all 11 players fit and firing on all cylinders.
He’s still young so has time on his side but, at 22 and with the pedigree he has behind him, better was expected in League One.
For McGuinness, his best moments were coupled with others where he looked raw and excitable, which was often to the detriment of his side.
He had the tendency to get sucked into contact high up the pitch while overcommitting to headers and tackles, which often left room in behind for opponents to exploit.
He and Woolfenden are talented defenders, no doubt, but playing them together felt like something of a gamble, which didn’t always come off, given the experience void their partnership left.
Both defenders could surely have performed more consistently alongside experienced heads.
What the future holds
Both players head back to their parent clubs following a first taste of regular football at senior level, with both likely to be heading out on loan again next season.
McGuinness and Bennetts are both some distance from the Arsenal and Gladbach first-teams, of course, but it remains to be seen at what level they will be playing at next season.
Did McGuinness do enough to progress to Championship level for his next loan? Possibly, though a starting role at a second-tier club may be tough to come by.
Bennetts will now enter the final year of his deal at Gladbach, having failed to make any real impression on the senior set-up at the Bundesliga club.
A move back to England was said to be an important factor when it came to his Ipswich loan and it’s a route he’s likely to be doing the same again this summer.
In all likelihood he may have to go backwards in order to go forwards again.