The first tasks on McKenna's to-do list as his Ipswich Town reign begins today

Kieran McKenna officially takes charge of Ipswich Town today following his appointment last week

Kieran McKenna officially takes charge of Ipswich Town today following his appointment last week - Credit: PA

Kieran McKenna begins his tenure as Ipswich Town manager today. Andy Warren looks at some of the first tasks on the new boss's to-do list.

First impressions 

Kieran McKenna briefly introduced himself to the Ipswich Town players before Saturday’s game with Sunderland, but will have a first real opportunity to address the squad today. 

The Northern Irishman’s CV demands instant respect. He's been coaching some of the world’s best players in recent years and, up until the middle of last week, was working with Cristiano Ronaldo on a daily basis.  

Clearly, he will bring a level of expertise to the training field that should hugely benefit this group of players. That seems a given. But how will he handle the step to become the main man for the first time? That’s maybe where the question marks lie. 

Manchester United's interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (right) and coach Kieran McKenna during the

Kieran McKenna, pictured on the Old Trafford touchline with former Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer - Credit: PA

First impressions will be important, both for McKenna towards his players and back in the opposite direction to him from the squad.  

Then there’s McKenna’s first opportunity to talk to the club’s thousands of supporters, which comes at a press conference this afternoon. The new boss’s appointment has been largely well-received but even those on the more cautious side of optimism will listen to his words desperately hoping his appointment proves a masterstroke. 

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It’ll be fascinating to hear him spell out his aims in his own words. In many ways this is when it will feel like his tenure has truly begun. 

Assess what he has 

The incoming Ipswich Town boss got a good look at his team on Saturday, watching on from the directors box as the Blues drew 1-1 with Sunderland. 

He’ll have seen some good performances from his players. He’ll have seen Sam Morsy lead from the front, Wes Burns play on the front foot, Sone Aluko look to pull the strings behind a hard-working front two of James Norwood and Macauley Bonne and a new-look back three function well as a unit. 

But this certainly won’t be the only Ipswich Town game he’s watched. He’ll have watched the humiliation at Barrow on Wednesday night and will no doubt have studiously worked his way through plenty of the Blues’ recent games as he decided whether or not this was the job for him as he went it alone for the first time. 

Town players congratulate James Norwood after his goal.

McKenna watched Ipswich draw 1-1 with Sunderland at a packed Portman Road on Saturday - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

He’ll know a fair amount about these players and will already have thoughts on how he intends to use them but there is plenty still to learn. Ipswich have used 29 players in League One games this season, with a host of youngsters also featuring in cup games. That’s lot of individuals to get to know. 

There is a certain level of information coaches can only glean from working with players on the training ground and meeting them face-to-face, though. Who are the leaders? Who trains the best? Which individuals need special attention and how does the squad operate as a group?

McKenna assess all that properly for the first time this morning, alongside assistant Martyn Part, with the new management duo needing to quickly make sense of what they have as they formulate their plan to get this stalled Ipswich side moving forward. 

Impart his philosophy 

The quicker McKenna knows what he has, the quicker we can expect to see the new boss’s approach to the game make its way onto the field. 

When Paul Cook arrived at Ipswich Town, we knew from history that the incoming boss wanted to play in a 4-2-3-1 system and we knew the kind of players he liked to use and where he liked to sign them from.  

We already knew he liked attacking full-backs, a stay-at-home midfield who switch the play and inverted wingers who could cut inside to attack the box. You could begin to piece the squad he inherited at the end of 2020/21 together and make some well-educated guesses as to how he might use the players at his disposal. 

There’s very little of that with McKenna, though, given he’s never taken charge of his own senior team before.  

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the man he worked under at Old Trafford, largely used the same 4-2-3-1 system employed by Cook but it wasn’t McKenna’s name above the door. And even if that is how the new boss would like to go, there are a huge number of subtle variations within it. 

We can’t assume anything, especially given the new Town manager appears to work in a methodical way, is a critical thinker and will likely arrive with his eyes open as he swaps the Champions League for League One. 

He’ll begin getting his point across to his new players this morning in what will no doubt be a learning process for all involved. 

Incoming manager Kieran McKenna speaking with Ipswich Towns Chief Executive Officer Mark Ashton duri

Incoming manager Kieran McKenna speaking with Ipswich Towns Chief Executive Officer Mark Ashton during the Sunderland game. - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Build relationships 

The final days of Paul Lambert’s time in charge of Ipswich saw the Scot repeatedly discuss just how poor the football ‘structure’ was at Portman Road. 

Nearly 10 months later, there’s a structure in place and things are very different as McKenna walks through the door. 

Most notably, CEO Mark Ashton has created a ‘performance team’ headed up by Andy Rolls, with the former Bristol City, Arsenal and West Ham man leading a group which includes head of sports science Andy Costin, fitness coach John Ashton, strength & conditioning specialists and the club’s medical department. 

McKenna is a modern appointment and he comes into a modern set-up, built with sustainable success in mind, rather than heavy turnover of staff as managers come and go. 

So the strength of the relationships within that set-up will be hugely important as another new era gets underway.  

Clearly the relationship between Ashton and McKenna is one of the biggest and most important at the football club. But the fact the Town CEO has gone out and recruited his new manager, who in turn has agreed to leave a Premier League giant for League One, is probably a good indication that the pair are already on the same page. 

Caretaker manager John McGreal, in charge for his last game, with U23 manager Kieron Dyer behind.

John McGreal and Kieron Dyer led Ipswich Town following the sacking of Paul Cook - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Fill out the coaching staff 

McKenna arrives alongside only assistant Pert, with the duo working together at Old Trafford for the last couple of years. 

The pair will lead the Ipswich Town first team but they can’t do it alone. Not in the long-term at least. 

Cook’s exit saw the former boss leave alongside three coaches – Gary Roberts, Francis Jeffers and Ian Craney – as well as goalkeeping specialist John Keeley.  

That’s four exits and only two arrivals. The coaching staff will need filling out, one way or another. 

It may not happen rapidly and it may not see McKenna bring anyone else into the club, with some potential in-house options surely likely to be explored in the short-term at least. 

Incoming manager Kieran McKenna, (right) and assistant Martyn Pert look on.

Incoming manager Kieran McKenna, (right) and assistant Martyn Pert look on as they watch Town face Sunderland - Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com

Kieron Dyer has proven himself to be an excellent young coach (though he is seven years older than McKenna) in recent years, with many of those who have worked with him full of praise for his attention to detail, ability to build relationships and overall approach to his second career in the game.  

He had a brief spell working with the Town first-team in the early days of Cook’s tenure and must surely come under consideration again, given the way he can help ease the transition following McKenna’s appointment. If that does happen and the pair click, you then can’t rule out that becoming something more permanent. 

Or could former interim boss John McGreal remain working with the senior side, having led it during a rocky period? He seems keen to get started in the youth coaching job he was originally brought in to do, though. 

Rene Gilmartin, brought in as a short-term assistant for McGreal, seems a logical choice to fill the goalkeeping vacancy, given his career between the sticks, his reputation as a good coach and the fact he already has a good relationship with Ashton and many of those who joined Ipswich from Bristol City in the summer. 

Prepare for a game? 

As things stand, McKenna will lead Ipswich for the first time against Gillingham at Priestfield on Boxing Day. Coincidentally, that’s the same ground on which Cook’s tenure began back in March. 

But there has to be an element of doubt surrounding that game at this time, given rising Covid cases around the EFL which led to a raft of postponements at the weekend. Gillingham’s game with Crewe was one of those, with the Kent side not able to field a side due to a number of positive cases in their squad. Whether they can raise a team a little over a week later remains to be seen. 

Safety comes first, of course. That goes for the players, coaches and supporters alike. But it would be a real shame if Town’s Boxing Day game was postponed for a second-successive year. 

But in many ways the extra time that would give McKenna on the training ground could prove extremely useful, while the chance to begin his time in charge on home turf (against Wycombe on December 29) might be preferable.  

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