Who is Kieran McKenna? A look at Ipswich Town's new manager
- Credit: PA
Ipswich Town last night appointed Kieran McKenna as their new manager. STUART WATSON profiles the former Tottenham and Manchester United coach.
Growing up in County Fermanagh, Northern Ireland, McKenna soon caught the eye playing for local clubs Enniskillen Town and Ballinamallard United.
Ray Sanderson, a development coach with the IFA, said: “He was very enthusiastic player, very hard-working, very intelligent and I would’ve classed him as a box-to-box man – up and down quite regularly.
“As a captain it was a quiet leadership with him. It was a positive attitude about everything. It was about bringing people on. Not the shouting and the rabble-rousing type of stuff. He would be a quiet individual but inside there would be a lot going on.”
Tottenham snapped him up at the age of 16 and it wasn't long before he was playing for their reserves.
The Northern Ireland U21 international went away on pre-season tours under the management of Jacques Santini and Martin Jol, but a chronic hip problem which required two lots of surgery forced him to retire at the age of 22.
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McKenna studied sports science at Loughborough University while also doing some youth coaching at the likes of Tottenham, Leicester and Nottingham Forest.
At the end of his first academic year, he spent two months with the Vancouver Whitecaps in Canada as a guest coach.
Upon graduation, Tottenham were sufficiently impressed to hire him as ‘head of academy performance analysis’. By 2015 he had been made Under-18s manager.
Working with players like Kyle Walker-Peters, Cameron Carter-Vickers and Josh Onomah, his team reached the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup.
A Manchester United side including Marcus Rashford was beaten in the quarter-finals. The narrow semi-final defeat to Chelsea was against a team that included Fikayo Tomori, Tammy Abraham and Dominic Solanke.
JOINING MANCHESTER UNITED
In 2016, McKenna was named Manchester United’s new Under-18s manager.
“To go to Manchester United, there is no bigger move you can make,” he said.
“It’s a dream come true really. I was a massive United fan. My dad brought me over to my first game in the 1994 season to see them lift the Premier League trophy.”
Nicky Butt, United’s newly-appointed head of academy, said: “We had a relationship where our team would go down to Tottenham one summer for a week and then they’d come up to Manchester later in the year.
“I was watching Kieran work and I thought he was young to be so confident in what he was doing and very good at it. Everyone you spoke to about him spoke very highly of him. He is very dedicated, very committed and very, very organised. He is on the ball with everything.”
In McKenna’s second season in charge, United won the U18s Premier League Northern Division title.
CLIMBING THE RANKS
When Rui Faria left his role as Manchester United’s assistant manager in the summer of 2018, boss Jose Mourinho promoted McKenna alongside former player Michael Carrick.
When Paul Pogba was made captain for the first time, the French star revealed it was McKenna and Carrick who offered some pre-game advice.
And when Chris Smalling scored from a set-piece routine at Watford, Mourinho embraced McKenna in a nod to the work done on the training ground.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer increased McKenna's first-team responsibilities when he replaced Mourinho. McKenna then stayed on to assist recent interim manager Ralf Rangnick.
The Manchester Evening News reports: “It’s understood Rangnick had enjoyed working with McKenna, who was sat next to the manager at Carrow Road on Saturday, but he accepted that the chance of moving into a managerial position was too good to turn down.”
WHAT OTHERS HAVE SAID
Colin Little, who served as McKenna’s assistant at Manchester United U18s, said: “Kieran has come in with all that he learned from Mauricio Pochettino and John McDermott at Spurs.
“You become obsessed with it. That’s a trait of the best coaches I’ve worked with – they’re obsessive. Jose is obsessive about the way he does it, Dario (Gradi) was, Paul McGuinness, McKenna – it’s 24/7.”
Indy Boonen, the Belgian winger who played under McKenna at United, said: “When Kieran became the new Under-18s manager, he changed everything. He is one of the best coaches I ever had.
“The way we trained was how the opponent played on the Saturday. If you played against West Brom, you trained (in terms of) how they are and focused on their weaknesses. He has everything to have a big, big career as a manager in the future.”
Ex Town boss Jim Magilton, the Irish FA’s elite performance director, said: “He is a meticulous planner yet every session is spontaneous. Nothing is set in stone. He adjusts the session to how the players are and gets what he wants out of the session. Everything is linked and game related. Nothing is for show - it has to be about the game.”