'It's happened to a few people... I don't want it to happen to me' - Woolfenden hopes McKenna can help him realise his potential
- Credit: Steve Waller - stephenwaller.com
Luke Woolfenden is hopeful new Ipswich Town boss Kieran McKenna can help him take his career to the next level.
The homegrown defender returned to the Ipswich starting XI when the Blues switched to a back three for the December 18 clash with Sunderland, which McKenna watched from the stands. He’s stayed there ever since, performing well in each of the Blues’ three matches under their new boss.
Woolfenden believes both the formation and McKenna’s style of play suit him well, with the 23-year-old accepting he’s at a point now where he needs to realise his undoubted potential following an up-and-down 2021.
“Definitely,” Woolfenden said, when asked if it’s time for him to kick on.
“It happens a lot where players break into teams but, for whatever reason, aren’t fully realising the potential they showed when they first broke in.
“It’s happened to a few players over the years and I don’t want that to happen with me.
“The new manager coming in has come at the right time for me and I’m happy to be enjoying my football again. That’s the main thing because, if you play with a smile on your face you’re going to play a lot better.
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“When you’re not playing and things aren’t communicated well then you’re not too sure what’s going on or what you’re doing.
“With the new manager now, everything is clear and we’re all on the same page. So I’m really enjoying being back in the team.
“The way that they work is the way I see myself – football-based, relaxed and learning. It can’t all be emotional and blood, sweat and fire. There are times you have to sit back and analyse, looking sensibly at what can be done better.”
On the stylistic fit under McKenna, which has seen Woolfenden line up in the centre of the central defensive three and given the opportunity to get on the ball and step forward, Woolfenden said: “I think it helps me get forward, which probably suits me more, so maybe a back three suits me there.
“As a defender you can play in a four and a three, but teams in this league go man-to-man a lot. So if you have the three at the back the spare centre back can drive out and cause trouble. They don’t know when to release and when to press.
“The whole squad suits a 3-5-2 more than a 4-2-3-1 (used by former boss Paul Cook) because of the players we’ve got, but the talent we have can play in any formation.
“I feel like it’s been going really well. I enjoy the way we play, the training sessions have been really good and are all really well worked. It’s all strategic towards the gameplans.
“It’s been really enjoyable. I think he believes in everyone but, with the way we play out from the back, he’s told me I suit the way he wants to play.
“There are times when it opens up for me to go forward which, when I first came into the team, probably was taken away from me as I made more appearances. I had to try to be more of a defender than going forward.”
Woolfenden, a Manchester United fan, has been a keen listener when McKenna and assistant Martyn Pert impart their knowledge from their time at Old Trafford. Particularly when it comes to how defenders Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane and Victor Lindelof approach the game.
“He’s worked with some of the best players in the world so I’m sure everyone was excited,” Woolfenden said of his new boss. “You’d be a bit weird if that didn’t excite you.
“Hearing some of the stories he tells about the United players is great, because it’s good to know what they’re like.
“Everyone’s been asking about those players and I’ve been talking to Martyn (Pert, assistant manager) about what Varane, Maguire and Lindelof are like. It’s been really enjoyable to hear about it from someone who is there training them every day.
“There are always things you can take from people who have worked with the type of players who have played for Manchester United and Tottenham. You have to take it in.”
Next up for Town is a home clash with Accrington Stanley, in which Woolfenden and his team-mates will be looking to bounce back from their 2-0 loss at Bolton on Saturday and close the eight-point gap to the play-off places.
“It’s something we need to keep working on,” Woolfenden said of his recent form. “The Wycombe and Gillingham games had plenty of good signs but, while the Bolton result wasn’t a good one, there were parts of the performance which will be encouraging for the manager.
“Games fly by. It’s Saturday-Tuesday now for the rest of the season, pretty much, so we need to start getting the results and getting them consistently so we can get on a run.
“We have eight points to make up to get into the play-offs so we have to put that run together.
“There’s not much thought going into next year because everyone’s giving everything to get into the play-offs this season.
“I think all of us believe we can still do it. It’s been done before and the way our performances have been going I don’t see why we can’t do it now.
“We don’t want false dawns. We want fans coming to games knowing we are going to win and I’m sure plenty went to Bolton hoping, rather than knowing.
“Our results and form this season have had some false dawns, but we want to go into games with real swagger.”