'It shocked me how far back the club had gone' - Why Ashton will give McKenna time

Kieran McKenna, pictured alongside Ipswich Town CEO Mark Ashton at his first press conference

Kieran McKenna, pictured alongside Ipswich Town CEO Mark Ashton at his first press conference - Credit: Zoom

Kieran McKenna wants to improve Ipswich Town off the pitch, as well as on it. The Blues boss, along with chief executive Mark Ashton, has been discussing club infrastructure. 

When frazzled chief executive Mark Ashton sat down to reflect on the most hectic of summer transfer windows, two words were repeatedly used... 'time' and 'patience'.

Three months and just 15 league games later, manager Paul Cook had been sacked.

So how long does Kieran McKenna get? Ashton, with the Northern Irishman sat to his right, addressed that question during a special Kings of Anglia podcast this week. 

“If you go back through my career, I’m not one for chopping and changing every five minutes," he said. "But ultimately you sometimes get to a point where it’s a natural time to change. 

Town manager Paul Cook pictured during the game.

Paul Cook oversaw a major squad overhaul at Ipswich Town, but was sacked just 15 league games after the summer transfer window shut. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

“When you work at a football club you see everything that goes on behind the scenes. And these decisions are never a sole decision, by the way, you’re talking to your chairman, your board, you’re weighing things up. 

“Listen, Kieran will be given time, for sure, because we want to put a specific model in place where we recruit, develop, recruit, develop.  

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“That needs time. We will back Kieran and we will support Kieran with recruitment and infrastructure."

Of the current 72 Football League clubs, only 25 have got managers in place who were appointed before the start of last year.

Had McKenna sought any assurances he'd be given that most precious of commodities - time - before walking away from a prestigious role coaching Manchester United's first team?

“It wasn’t ‘I want a guaranteed 10 year contract and you can never, ever get rid of me’ or anything like that," he says, laughing. "Because I know how management works. Even with the best will to deliver a long-term project you still have to win a certain amount of games along the way to give you the time and momentum to make the long-term changes. 

Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho (left) alongside coaches Kieran McKenna (centre) and Michael

Kieran McKenna (centre) assisted Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho (left) alongside Michael Carrick (right). - Credit: PA

“But I did want to talk about the project here. I wouldn’t have left the job I was in to go somewhere that I felt was a three to six months firefight - either ‘have a run at the play-off's or ‘try and keep us up’ - and then move on in the summer. 

“I wanted the chance to build something, a chance to improve and develop a football club."

Ashton carries on the conversation.

“It's a very methodical, logical way that Kieran works," he explains. "Thus far he hasn’t said ‘look Mark I want you to throw tonnes of money at players’, what he has said is ‘I want you to help me build infrastructure as well as the squad’. 

“We’ve got to get the training ground right, because right now the training ground just does not work. I’ve spoken to historic managers who have been here and they all say the same thing; ‘there are too many people on site, the pitches aren’t good enough, the facilities aren’t good enough, it’s a challenge’. 

“One of the things Kieran is saying to me is ‘I want you to back me with technology, I want you to back me with the quality of the pitches, I want you to back the infrastructure because that will ultimately allow me to develop players and bring more sustainable success’. 

“It’s a balance as to where we spend the money.

Kieran McKenna and assistant Martyn Pert head out onto the training pitch at Playford Road

Kieran McKenna and assistant Martyn Pert head out onto the training pitch at Playford Road - Credit: ITFC

“We have so much to do and it concerns me at times that the supporters and the key stake holders... I don’t think they fully understand just how run down this amazing football club has been over the last 10, 15, 20 years. 

“Here at Portman Road we are battling every day with so many different projects just to get this up to speed and up to date, let alone move it forward. It takes time. 

“The playing side is the same. Whether that’s the recruitment structure, whether that’s the academy, the development squad, the pitches, the infrastructure...  

“It shocked me, if I’m honest, in those first six months, just how far back the club had gone and the lack of investment into those key areas. That’s not me trying to personally criticise anyone, but you have to get that right. 

“I’d use the words ‘this is like turning an oil tanker’, but it’s not. This is like turning two super oil tankers. 

“I’ve been shocked by the natural size of this football club. Twenty-nine thousand against Sunderland, 29,000 against Wycombe, there would have been 27,000 for the Lincoln game. Then 7,000 going three hours down the road to MK Dons! I’m blown away by it. 

“Kieran used the word ‘humbled’. I think that’s a really good description of it. 

Big numbers of Town fans at MK Dons.

There were 6,850 Ipswich Town fans at MK Dons last weekend. - Credit: Pagepix Ltd

“There is so much to do and there are only 24 hours in a day. 

“My God there is so much to do to get tis football club back to where it needs to be off the pitch. I think everything is going to take that little bit of time."

There's that word again. 

McKenna agrees. This will take time to get right. And he hopes he'll stick around longer enough to see some of this levelling-up with his own eyes.

“Improving the infrastructure was one of the main attractions of the job for me here," he says. 

"The bit that people see on a Saturday is obviously the most important part, but there’s a lot of work to be done behind the scenes.

"When I came down and saw everything first hand you can quickly feel and see how important the club is to everybody, but you can also quickly see that from a facilities and infrastructure level we’ve got a lot of work to do. We are currently behind where we want to be. It’s the same with the work at Portman Road, to bring it up to the full condition for it deserves to be in. 

“As Mark says, that’s probably been the work that I’ve been most pushy with the club about in terms of saying ‘we need this improved’ and ‘we need that improved’. 

“It’s things that people might not see the fruits of until quite a bit further down the line, but if we make those changes behind the scenes, if we make those investments in infrastructure, then over a longer period of time there’s going to be an improvement in what you see on the grass on a Saturday. 

“Yes, a new pitch, a new (oxygen) chamber, a new watt bike, a new TV screen isn’t going to win you a game on Saturday, but one of the attractions of this job for me was I knew I was going to get the backing to put in place the things are know are right and that I believe in from my experience of where I worked and from my own personal beliefs. 

“That is one of the most exciting bits of the job. It’s an all-encompassing role. We’re working really hard to win games, but we’re working equally hard behind the scenes. 

“People might not see the fruits of the labour for a while, and in management if you lose 20 games in a row you might not see the fruits of those labours yourself, but for me it’s still right. It’s about doing the right things. 

“I’ve told Mark and the directors that I want to leave the club in a better place. When I leave, whenever that may be and for whatever reason, I want the club to be in a better place behind the scenes. I want to be able to hand it over so that Ipswich is set up in a sustainable way for a successful future. That’s a really important part of what I want to do."