|Ipswich Town 3 v 2 Swansea City|
Saturday, 11th November 2023 Kick-off 15:00
Swans opposition : The man taking Ipswich Town back to the Premier League ?
Tuesday, 7th Nov 2023 12:22 by Keith Haynes
Ipswich Town provide the opposition this Saturday at Portman Road with a thirty seven year old manager in charge who has quietly gone about his business at the Tractor Boys since December 2021. Now his side sit in second place in the Championship with one loss all season.
Kieran McKenna Is a graduate of Loughborough University. His sports science qualification alongside his coaching journey - which really took off at Manchester United is a solid one with the young London born Northern Irishman bucking the normal trends in football coaching. When Jose Mourinho was Manchester United manager McKenna found himself working alongside him before reaching the attentions of Ipswich Town. A brave appointment where he found himself being referred to as ‘some young bloke from Manchester United’ has turned in to the single most inspired coaching appointment in the English Football League ( EFL ) in recent seasons.
So what makes McKenna any different to the majority of coaches and managers we see week in week out in the EFL ?
His ideas and strategy most certainly stand out. His desire to know everything about the opposition brought him success at Manchester United (Under 18) which first earned him the recognition of first Mourinho then Ole Gunnar Solskjær - and finally Ralf Rangnick. As they lost their positions United saw value in retaining both McKenna and Michael Carrick, and their journeys have been notable. The key for McKenna is ‘how the other side play’ At United he trained his age grade side exactly how the opposition trained. Whoever that was that week McKenna would pay attention to that and then how they introduce their strategy on a match day. A part of the pre match build up for McKenna involved mimicking the opposition and their style.
And of course his own combative style which has seen a nigh on fifty nine percent win rate as Ipswich manager over nearly one hundred games. To date it has been a fifteen year journey for the Ipswich boss, an enforced retirement from football when only twenty two, his learning as it does for many bright coaches never stops. It is too easy to describe McKenna’s approach as a dominant possession based game, within his formations there are inter changeable assets, players who can adjust dramatically on the pitch. A good example is their comeback at home to Cardiff City who were 2-0 up with around half an hour to play. The young manager turned it around to secure the points 3-2.
How fallible is this Ipswich Town side ? Quite simply their ability to concede goals, or more accurately to stop teams scoring. The aforementioned Cardiff game, their only loss of the season (4-3 at home to Leeds United) another three conceded to Blackburn Rovers at home, and even Preston North End where they conceded two at home will give Swans head coach Michael Duff some hope. Ipswich defenders do take their eye off the ball at times. When pressure is applied in overloads they can look out of sorts when a high ball is put in to their penalty area. Pace can win games if the side with that trait has a goalscorer ready to take advantage. Ipswich fans reading this can be rest assured that is an area the Swans are deficient in this season. So, set pieces will be an area the Swans will concentrate on. Duff relies upon a carefully managed build up through Matt Grimes or any number of co-partners in the midfield. However, unlike the coach he replaced in Russell Martin he will look for a sharp ball forwards which can look like a hopeful punt at times. And at times it is. Duff prefers a wide overload with support for striker Jerry Yates coming from Jamal Lowe and Liam Cullen. That is expected to be the formation this Saturday despite calls now for Yates to have a rest and Liam Cullen being pushed in to Yates role up front. Regardless, Duff has to come up with something different if he is to break through the Ipswich defence and take at least something from this game.
Really over the fifteen years or so of his coaching journey McKenna hasn’t suffered the negative pressure of a coach or manager, to any extent. He most certainly can do no wrong at Portman Road, but as we know that will change. It changes for everyone. In McKenna’s case it could well be a bigger club comes in for his services. The Swans know all about that scenario. Brendan Rodgers, Graham Potter and Steve Cooper are excellent examples, there are numerous others. However, if McKenna’s Ipswich stay the course this season and nothing yet indicates they won’t he will most certainly want a crack at the Premier League as the club’s manager. His contract is rumoured to make him a millionaire every eight months or so, so finance isn’t really his concern, but you can be rest assured the big boys are watching.
And some of those make their managers a millionaire every month, and some.
Read our ‘Burning History’ feature from Monday. When the Swans were top of the league, and that 3-2 Portman Road win in 1981.
Photographs licensed from Reuters
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