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Man Utd and Chelsea target Kieran McKenna has decision to make as manager criteria alters | Football | Sport

Man Utd and Chelsea target Kieran McKenna has decision to make as manager criteria alters | Football | Sport

Kieran McKenna

Kieran McKenna has been linked with Chelsea and Manchester United (Image: Getty)

If you are a football club looking for a new manager then there is a chance you have been linked with Kieran McKenna. Chelsea and Brighton are keen, while even some whose head coach position is filled, including Manchester United, are rumoured to be intrigued by the potential appointment of the highly-rated Northern Irishman.

It is no wonder that McKenna is attracting so much interest. When the then-little-known former United assistant coach was appointed by Ipswich in December 2021, the club were 12th in League One and had struggled to win promotion back to the Championship since their relegation in 2019.

Two-and-a-half years later, McKenna has guided Ipswich to back-to-back promotions and he will manage in the Premier League next season. For which club, though, remains a slight mystery. It is a situation that Ipswich, preparing for their first top-flight campaign since 2002, will want resolved as soon as possible.

Chelsea are widely reported to have shown an interest in McKenna in the aftermath of Mauricio Pochettino’s departure on Tuesday. Brighton, meanwhile, are believed to have shortlisted the 38-year-old after deciding to part ways with Roberto De Zerbi after the final day of the Premier League season.

Man United could still sack Erik ten Hag after Saturday’s FA Cup final against Manchester City. McKenna has been linked with a return to Old Trafford, where he was previously an academy coach before stepping up to assist Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and briefly Ralf Rangnick.

In a summer where there is a notable dearth of genuinely elite coaches available on the market, clubs are seeking to unearth the best of the next generation. Those with knowledge of the managerial market this summer point out that attack-minded coaches with a reputation for nurturing talent are being favoured.

Kieran McKenna

Kieran McKenna won back-to-back promotions with Ipswich and will manage in the Premier League (Image: Getty)

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Arsenal’s appointment of and subsequent success under Mikel Arteta is seen as an example of how that model can work extremely well. Arteta, of course, had never been a head coach before he was lured to the Emirates Stadium from Manchester City.

It is why Bayern Munich are about to take a punt on Vincent Kompany despite Burnley’s underwhelming attempt to survive in the Premier League. The Belgian’s stock has fallen considerably in the year since he was linked with Chelsea and Tottenham after breezing the Championship with Burnley, but Bayern seemingly feel that with a better squad he can achieve results in the Bundesliga.

Enzo Maresca, who topped the Championship with Leicester, is also liked by Chelsea. Like Arteta, the Spaniard spent time working under Pep Guardiola at Man City which will be viewed favourably by owners and sporting directors.

McKenna, a former midfielder who was forced to retire aged just 22, slides into that category of an inexperienced coach relative to the level, but one whose preferred style fits what big clubs are looking for. Those with knowledge of how he works have described to Express Sport an “excellent people-person” who would be capable of guiding young teams at Chelsea or Man United.

At Ipswich, there has been an emphasis on building possession through short passing in a double-pivot system, notably similar to the tactics adopted by Chelsea, United and Brighton last season. There has also been evidence of excellent tactical versatility, with Ipswich switching between a back four and back three during his tenure. Wing-back Leif Davis benefitted in particular, registering a staggering 21 assists.

Ipswich’s Expected Goals average in the Championship was 1.64 per-game, which rose to 1.84 in matches at their Portman Road home. A potential concern for some clubs considering making an approach for McKenna, though, might be that his team conceded over one Expected Goal per-game. There were 16 occasions when his team conceded two or more goals in Championship outings.

Games involving McKenna’s team were high-scoring, seeing an average of 3.24 Expected Goals. Although that includes a 6-0 and a 4-0 victory, big clubs will expect more comfortable triumphs.

Interest in McKenna is not a phenomenon new to this summer. Express Sport understands that there was mutual interest in the Crystal Palace job earlier this season. However, there was ultimately a sense that remaining with Ipswich was the best course of action, with interest likely to arise again whether the Tractor Boys won promotion or not.

Kieran McKenna

Kieran McKenna is a ‘people-person’ who could be tasked with developing Chelsea talent (Image: Getty)

That has proven true and McKenna could now have the pick of some very big teams. Chelsea is an interesting project, although a lack of control over key elements such as transfers became a frustration of Pochettino’s and was a factor in the Argentine’s decision to leave. Recruitment at Ipswich is said to be “collaborative” between McKenna, sporting director Gary Probert and performance manager Andy Rolls.

At Man United, INEOS will not need to go far for glowing references. Express Sport has learned that McKenna remains well liked by first-team and academy staff at the club’s Carrington training base. His successes, first with the U18s and then with the senior squad, are spoken of fondly.

There is of course the scenario in which McKenna remains at Ipswich. Finishing the job by cementing the club’s place in the Premier League might be an attractive challenge, but Kompany and Luton’s Rob Edwards are proof that opinions can change quite quickly after a tough campaign. Ipswich are not commenting publicly on McKenna’s situation but are understood to be privately willing to reward their head coach with a bumper new contract.

If McKenna does leave Ipswich for a more established Premier League side, questions will arise over his suitability and experience. But his potential appointment will follow a trend of highly-rated coaches being elevated into top roles as football seeks its next generation of elite talent developers. After all, there seem to be few people in football who do not believe he is ready for an opportunity at a big club.

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