Former Manchester United assistant manager, Kieran McKenna, has been hailed as the best manager plying their trade outside of the English Premier League by high-profile pundits, Gary Lineker and Alan Shearer.
Lineker raised the topic of up-and-coming managers outside the English top-flight and mentioned in ‘The Rest Is Football’ podcast that McKenna had “done a brilliant job” since taking the helm of Ipswich Town in December 2021. Shearer agreed, declaring the Northern Irishman is “doing a really good job” of rejuvenating the Suffolk club, which has been outside the EPL since 2002.
In his first full season in charge at Portman Road, McKenna steered Ipswich to automatic promotion out of League One. The Blues finished runner-up to Plymouth, posting 98 points and scoring 101 points with a +66 goal difference. Many analysts have declared this Ipswich team to be one of the best League One has ever seen in terms of on-pitch dominance and they’ve maintained their momentum in the Championship with seven wins from their opening eight games.
Town’s exceptional start to life back in the second tier has seen them installed as second favourites to win the EFL Championship this season. Betano’s licensed online betting markets have the Tractor Boys priced as 3.50 to win the title behind outright favourites Leicester City (2.25), who also registered seven wins from their first eight fixtures under new boss, Enzo Maresca.
Most Ipswich fans would have accepted a season of consolidation in their first year back in the Championship since 2018/19. However, their start to the campaign has already got many supporters dreaming of back-to-back promotions and a tilt at the Premier League under McKenna.
What’s been the secret to Kieran McKenna’s success with Ipswich?
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Multiple Ipswich players have gone on record to state that McKenna is the best manager they’ve ever played for. The Northern Irishman is meticulous in his planning and provides clarity with his training methods. McKenna is known to set very high standards in training, expecting players to train as hard as they play on a matchday – and it shows.
McKenna enjoyed a successful career as a youth coach, working his way through the ranks at Tottenham and latterly Manchester United. He became part of Jose Mourinho’s backroom team during his tumultuous Old Trafford reign, and can provide a healthy dose of pragmatism, just like Mourinho, as well as a steely will to win.
McKenna’s preferred formation of 4-2-3-1 also appears to be getting the best out of the players at his disposal. He has revitalised central defender Luke Woolfenden, who has regained his confidence as a ball-playing sweeper. Meanwhile attack-minded full backs, Leif Davis and Harry Clarke, have the licence to get forward as much as possible, providing the width for inverted forwards like Nathan Broadhead and Connor Chaplin.
The double-pivot in midfield has also been the bedrock of McKenna’s Ipswich XI. Skipper Sam Morsy and Australian Massimo Luongo have been virtual ever-presents in Town’s surge to League One promotion and the top two places in the Championship. Both players have been around the block in the English football pyramid but appear to have found another gear under McKenna.
Will McKenna and Ipswich be in the 2024/25 EPL lineup?
It’s still a huge ask for Ipswich to be promoted in their first season back in the Championship. The Tractor Boys’ squad is not as deep as some of the teams relegated last season from the EPL, but that doesn’t mean they can’t do it. Providing they can stay clear of long-term injuries, there is every chance of them being in the top six shake-up at the very least.
It’s worth noting some of their players will be absent in the New Year for the African Cup of Nations and the Asia Cup, with lynchpins Sam Morsy, Massimo Luongo and centre back Cameron Burgess also likely to be absent for at least a few weeks. However, the club is now backed by the deep pockets of an Arizona pension fund, which means McKenna is likely to be in a good position for the January transfer window if the promised land of the Premier League is a credible prospect.