The case for Kieran McKenna as next Manchester United manager

Ipswich Town v Watford - Sky Bet Championship
Ipswich Town v Watford - Sky Bet Championship / Stephen Pond/GettyImages

With United's season pretty much over and manager Erik Ten Hag's future seemingly in doubt, INEOS may look for a fresh start with their new regime. Could bringing a former assistant coach be the solution to the ever-present coaching issue?

Kieran McKenna is a former Northern Irishman midfielder who has been coaching in England since 2015. A once-promising midfielder, McKenna joined Tottenham as a youth footballer with aspirations of playing in the premier league.

Unfortunately, chronic hip injuries derailed his career, and he was forced to retire as a 22-year-old. After his playing career retirement, McKenna spent time earning his coaching licenses before being hired as Tottenham's under-18s coach.

After one season there, McKenna moved to United's under-18s, winning the 2016 Premier League North Divison title in the process. After this, McKenna got his first experience in senior football when he was promoted to be an assistant in Jose Mourinho's third and final season at the club. He was retained after Ole was hired & promoted to full-time manager. McKenna stayed at the club until the December of 2021 when he was hired to then League-1 club Ipswich Town.

Ipswich Town would see a rich vein of form following McKenna's arrival, finishing at a respectable 11th place. The year after, McKenna would guide the team to a 19-game unbeaten streak, culminating in a 2nd-place finish and, more importantly, automatic promotion to the Championship. While early favorites for relegation, McKenna and Ipswich beat all the odds, finishing 2nd in the Championship ahead of tweeners Leeds United and Southampton, and are headed to the Premier League next season. This was all accomplished with a net spend of roughly €5M.

Ipswich Town v Huddersfield Town - Sky Bet Championship
Ipswich Town v Huddersfield Town - Sky Bet Championship / Stephen Pond/GettyImages

When looking at his style of play, Ipswich plays with a 4-2-3-1 with an emphasis on fast, direct attacks off turnovers high up the pitch. McKenna isn't really interested in passing numbers or total possession.

Rather, he focuses on hard work out-of-possession and focusing attacks down the wings for players who have the propensity to shoot or cross the ball accurately to have the opposite to do so. Specifically, Ipswich like to funnel dangerous crosses from the likes of Omari Hutchinson, Nathan Broadbent, and Wes Burns into the central areas for the target men Connor Chaplin and George Hurst to attack, the latter of which has been deadly in front of goal.

While the system is aggressive and can lead to goals being conceded (Ipswich have allowed 57 goals--16 more than champions Leicester), it allows the team to be uber-aggressive in the press and in transitional duels, leading the team to score a league-best 92 goals.

Omari Hutchinson, Ben Jackson
Ipswich Town v Huddersfield Town - Sky Bet Championship / Stephen Pond/GettyImages

Going past the tactical side of McKenna, one thing to highlight is his approach of players and style of man-management. By all accounts and interviews, McKenna is beloved by the players and the fans. He has overseen the development of the likes of Hutchinson and Leif Davis, as well as using substitutes effectively such as Jermey Sarmiento and his all-important winner against Southhampton.

McKenna's training regimes seem to have a positive effect on the team, as no other team scored more goals in late-game situations. The belief and personality of this Ipswich team are modeled after their manager, which makes him a worthy candidate for United's potential opening.

Undoubtedly, this would be a huge step for McKenna. He was ostracized at the club before and put himself back in the line of fire. The United job is arguably the most stressful and taxing job in all of England. Is a man who only has 2.5 years of senior managerial experience up to the task? In my opinion, he certainly is.

McKenna exudes class and patience. He seems like the kind of individual who can lead a rebuild, something desperately needed at United. He is undoubtedly a risk and would need time to fully embrace his style of football. Hopefully, INEOS take the risk and trust them in their path to restoring the former glory of this club.