Why McKenna swapped Ronaldo and Manchester United for a chance to go it alone at Ipswich
- Credit: PA/Focus Images
Only a week ago, Kieran McKenna was coaching Cristiano Ronaldo and Paul Pogba at Manchester United’s Carrington training base.
So, to many, the decision to leave some of the best players in the world and make the switch to Ipswich Town in the third tier will raise eyebrows.
But, despite being a boyhood United fan, it’s a jump McKenna always planned to make. And as it so happened, the Ipswich job came up at the time he had always planned to make it.
The 35-year-old, who already has a 13-year coaching record to his name after his own playing career was ended by injury at just 22, hasn’t been looking for jobs. Ipswich went to him, attracted by a glittering coaching CV and a stack of extremely positive references.
And now McKenna, Town CEO Mark Ashton and thousands of others, will hope it’s a perfect fit.
“The ambition all along was to take this step to lead a team and lead a club, so I knew the day would come (where I’d have to leave Manchester United),” the new Ipswich boss said.
“But when you work at the club with the size and scale of Manchester United, I was so focussed on the day-to-day there and put my heart and soul into the club to try and make it better.
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“I don’t think it would have been right, with the responsibility I had there, to be applying for jobs or even looking too far forward.
“I was happy there and could see a future there, but this is an ambition I’ve had right from the start of my coaching career. I’ve worked really, really hard to get this opportunity and I’ve developed myself as a coach very well over the last 12 or 13 years to become the best coach I can be.
“I always trusted and knew that it was a case of, if I worked to develop myself and my skillset as I knew I could, then my reputation within the club and within football would eventually lead to the right club coming to approach me.
“Thankfully that was the case with Ipswich. It was done in a very respectful way and I’m grateful to United for how they handled it.
“When the initial contact came from Ipswich Town I knew the background of the club and knew it was a club of fantastic traditions and history. I also knew the current situation with the ownership and the investment that has been put into the club.
“I had some good conversations with Mark (Ashton, CEO) about the direction and how the club wanted to take it forward and we had a really similar view on how that could best be done.
“It was a really good match and the right time for me to take the step and it was the right club with the right profile for what I was looking for.
“This is the right offer at the right time.”
McKenna was highly-rated at Old Trafford, having joined from Tottenham in 2016 before being promoted from his role coaching the Red Devils’ Under 18s to work with Jose Mourinho’s first-team a couple of years later.
He remained in the frame under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer before United’s current boss, Ralf Rangnick, tried to keep him around.
“That’s a good question - I’ve been asked that privately a couple of times,” McKenna said, when asked if he would have taken the Ipswich job had Solskjaer not been sacked.
“This is an opportunity that I wanted at the age I wanted. I feel I’m ready for it.
“Ralf Rangnick is not too long through the door and I’ve built a really good relationship with him over a couple of weeks. He was fantastic and wanted me to work for him going forward.
“You can’t really say (if I’d have stayed with Ole) because it’s a situation that never happened. But I know this was an opportunity I wanted to take.
“I’m just very happy to have taken that and to be here.”
On Solskjaer’s struggles and suggestions of poor coaching standards leading to his sacking last month, McKenna said: “When you work at a club like Manchester United its par for the course and rightly so. If they are not winning the league every year then there will be criticism for the players, manager and staff.
“That’s been the case for Ole and was the case for Jose (Mourinho), Louis (van Gaal) and David Moyes. Some fantastic managers over the last 10 years.
“It’s a club that’s so used to success and has had that over a long history, so that external pressure is nothing unusual.
“I thought Ole conducted himself fantastically through that period and I never saw it impact him. He had a couple of years of really good progress, taking the club to some very good league positions ahead of some great teams and reached cup finals.
“He can be proud of his work there at the club and was a fantastic boss to work for. He’s fondly remembered by everyone there and the fans.
“There’s nobody bigger than Man United and you have to get used to, if the team isn’t winning trophies, having the criticism.”