Why Chelsea and Manchester United want Kieran McKenna

Why Chelsea and Manchester United want Kieran McKenna

Chelsea, Brighton and possibly Manchester United are on the hunt for a new manager and there’s a surprise name at the top of their shortlists: Kieran McKenna.

The 38-year-old is set to manage in the Premier League next season after securing back-to-back promotions with Ipswich Town, with the Tractor Boys set to play in the top-flight for the first time since 2002.

It’s an incredible achievement, but even so, McKenna is still a very inexperienced coach, and far different to the other names linked with Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford.

So why the great interest? Metro takes a look at how McKenna got this far:

Playing career

McKenna’s playing career is practically non-existent, having never actually played a single minute of senior football.

He was part of the youth teams of Enniskillen Town United and Ballinamallard United in his native Northern Ireland, before joining Tottenham aged 16.

He would remain at their academy for seven years and even represented his country at youth level a dozen times, but in 2009, aged just 22, he would hang up his boots for good thanks to a recurring hip injury.

Managerial origins

Still determined to have a career in football, McKenna studied for a sports science degree while learning the ropes as a youth coach at Spurs, Leicester City, Nottingham Forest and Vancouver Whitecaps.

He would make a home for himself in North London, working as Tottenham’s Head of Academy Performance Analysis before becoming Under-18s boss in 2015, but just a year later he was whisked away to Man Utd, the team he has supported since childhood.

Success with their U18s side followed and his work caught the eye of Jose Mourinho who promoted McKenna and Michael Carrick to assistant manager ahead of the 2018/19 season.

The Special One was sacked a few months later but McKenna and Carrick, who have known each other since their days in Spurs’ academy, were retained by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and much of the squad he worked with is still at Old Trafford today.

Incredible Ipswich

Solskjaer was sacked in November 2021 and McKenna initially stayed on to help interim boss Ralf Rangnick, but in December Ipswich came calling.

His arrival at Portman Road brought with a remarkable turnaround in form, with his side losing just four of his 23 games in charge that season, keeping 13 clean sheets, though it wasn’t enough to earn promotion from League One.

They carried on that great from in the next campaign to finish second and win automatic promotion to the Championship, losing just four games out of 46. finishing on a 19-game unbeaten run and recording a league best 101 goals scored and just 35 conceded.

Fans were no doubt hopeful that their club could get a solid mid-table finish upon their return to the second-tier, but McKenna surpassed all expectations, with Ipswich finishing second again with the highest number of goals (92) and 96 points – one shy of champions and big spenders Leicester.

The first team since Southampton in 2012 to secure back-to-back promotions from League One to the Premier League. Not bad despite a net spend of just £5.6million.


Initially, McKenna implemented a 3-4-2-1 or 3-4-1-2 formation, but midway through their triumphant League One campaign he switched to a more familiar 4-2-3-1.

Regardless of the shape, a midfield double pivot is paramount to the success of his tactics, which encourage plenty of short passes, possession and high pressing when without the ball.

Comparisons have been made to Roberto De Zerbi’s Brighton so it’s clear why the Seagulls are keen…

Where will he go?

McKenna is contracted to Ipswich until 2027 and though he has reportedly turned down a new deal, the club are confident they can hold onto their most prized asset.

But if they fail to do so, the East Anglian side already have a replacement lined-up in the form of Rob Edwards who has impressed despite suffering relegation with Luton Town.

Brighton would seem the natural fit, given the players are already seemingly accustomed to his tactics, and the last time they hired a promising, young English manager from the Championship, Graham Potter revolutionised the club.

Chelsea have held talks already however, and are stepping up their interest after Mauricio Pochettino left ‘by mutual consent’ with the Blues needing to pay £4m in compensation to acquire his services.

Odds for next Chelsea, Man Utd and Brighton boss:


Enzo Maresca – 5/2

Kieran McKenna – 3/1

Roberto De Zerbi – 7/2

Man Utd:

Mauricio Pochettino – 6/5

Roberto De Zerbi – 7/2

Kieran McKenna – 11/2


Kieran McKenna – 1/1

Francesco Farioli – 6/4

Russell Martin – 8/1

And then there’s United who are expected to dismiss Erik ten Hag after Saturday’s FA Cup final no matter what the result, and the temptation to return to Old Trafford might be too hard to turn down.

He also has the backing of Sir Alex Ferguson, who said of the 38-year-old: ‘He is an incredible young talent who had a great reputation when he was on the coaching staff at Manchester United.

‘Kieran is humble and carries tremendous composure, as well as great technical and tactical insight and awareness – all the hallmarks to become a top manager at the very highest level.’

It’s clear McKenna will manage in the Premier League next season. The only question is, which dugout will he be in?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *