Why Kieran McKenna Should Avoid The Manchester United Job – Opinion

Kieran McKenna‘s stock has sky-rocketed over the past two seasons as he has guided Ipswich Town from League One obscurity to the Premier League. His success has not gone unnoticed and he is, naturally, attracting suitors, including Manchester United.

The Northern Irishman has put together a free-scoring side who have scored close to 200 league goals in two seasons on their way to a combined total of 194 points. McKenna has won 76 of his 131 matches in charge of the Portman Road outfit since joining the club from Premier League giants Manchester United in December 2021.

Now, amidst the chaos and uncertainty at Old Trafford, McKenna is being linked with a sensational return as manager to replace the under-pressure Erik ten Hag. The reported interest raises a huge question: should Kieran McKenna avoid the Manchester United job?

Manchester United have had 23 full-time managers, with incumbent ten Hag being the fifth permanent boss since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure a little shy of 11 years ago. Since the 13-time title-winner departed Old Trafford, the club have experienced a sharp decline and finds itself miles off the pace in terms of winning the top prizes.

Since Ferguson entered retirement, United have a net spend of a staggering £1.2 billion on transfer fees for players who have failed to take the club back to the heights expected. The board have brought in big egos on colossal wages that have delivered little. Would the ‘stars’ accept a manager from a ‘smaller’ club with no playing background?

According to a report from The Mirror, the answer to that question is clear – McKenna is not the choice of the players at Old Trafford. In his previous spell at United, the Ipswich boss was reportedly labelled as ‘dry and school-teacherly’ and questions were raised regarding his lofty position compared to his modest playing career.

With these doubts and thoughts filling the dressing room, the Northern Irishman would start any new role at Old Trafford as the leader of a squad that doesn’t support him. The job, already one of the most pressurised in world football, would be almost untenable from the off.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s INEOS agreed on a deal to take over football operations from the Glazer family in December 2023 for over £1 billion and have set about changing the club and the way it operates. Despite the positives for United fans, the Americans could eventually ‘force’ the Englishman to sell his shares should they wish to facilitate a full sale.

Why would McKenna wish to walk into an uncertain environment as the club is looking to overhaul the staff behind the scenes such as new chief executive Omar Berrada and technical director Jason Wilcox? The club are still very much in a transition period. 

During this time of transition, what is success for United? Louis van Gaal won the FA Cup and was sacked, Jose Mourinho won the Europa League and League Cup before being fired and club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer managed two top-three finishes and lost a Europa League final before his dismissal. Now, ten Hag has taken the Red Devils to a second successive FA Cup final to add to a League Cup win and looks set to lose his job, so what would McKenna have to do to keep his? 

Leaving a stable club such as Ipswich Town where his reputation is on the rise for the turmoil in Manchester could seriously impact the young manager. With five managers in a little over a decade, how long would it take until McKenna found himself unemployed? How will he be judged a success? Surely the club cannot be realistic about winning the league title when faced with the challenges of Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool?

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Ten Hag was a well-respected, much-admired manager as he was guiding Ajax to three Eredivisie titles, two Dutch Cup wins and a Dutch Super Cup triumph but is now viewed, by some at least, as not having an identity or a plan. The intense scrutiny placed upon the manager of Manchester United and enormous expectations have proved too much for previous coaches with worldwide reputations, so why would McKenna place himself in that situation?

Manchester United’s playing staff requires an overhaul on a large scale. McKenna will need to move on some big names and be ruthless in his decision-making when it comes to who he shows the exit door. Making too many changes in a short space of time can have a negative impact, meaning any new manager would need multiple transfer windows to improve the squad. 

The need for time goes against the earlier point – how much time will McKenna get and how will he be judged? If the club are going to give a manager a short time to turn around this giant of a football club, then the Tractor Boys’ boss would be best served to remain in his current job and add to the excellent team he has built to compete in the Premier League.

As well as a playing staff overhaul, the facilities at the Carrington training ground and Old Trafford itself need urgent updating. With the improvements needed to the infrastructure of the club and talk of a new ground, would McKenna be given the necessary transfer budget or would the money be siphoned away from the playing side, similar to the Arsenal situation when moving to the Emirates? 

Manchester United are not the club of the 1990s and 2000s where trophies were almost guaranteed and players would sign for the club regardless of wages. With the dominance and financial power of Manchester City, the club will have to spend big on fees and wages to even think of closing the gap. If the manager doesn’t receive the funds, then the struggles will continue, intensifying the spotlight on them and increasing the pressure.

Ipswich Town Star May Not Return Next Season

Kieran McKenna has an advantage over all the others linked with the top job at Old Trafford – he has been at the club before. Since 2016, the former midfielder held different roles within the setup at the Red Devils before working as assistant manager to Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and Ralf Rangnick prior to taking over at Portman Road.

He saw first-hand the condition of the club behind the scenes and the stresses and strains brought onto the manager. If a club legend like Solskjaer can eventually get hounded out of the building in such a way then ‘former Ipswich Town boss’ McKenna could well be easy pickings.

McKenna’s stock has risen sharply in a short space of time and a year in the Premier League will only see that grow. Most onlookers believe the promoted clubs will get relegated due to the gulf in spending power. Therefore, if his Ipswich side plays in a style they have over the past two seasons but he demonstrates his ability to change tactics when needed, his reputation will continue on its upward trajectory and big jobs will come around in the future. Who knows, perhaps he will be in a position to take over at Manchester United once the club are stable and a tilt at the title is the next step.

Kieran McKenna is proving to be an excellent young manager with an exciting style of play, bringing lots of goals and entertainment but also delivering results. Moving to Old Trafford having never managed in the top flight would be a sensational story, but it would be too early in his career.

Jobs at the top clubs will come about for the 38-year-old but timing is so important. If the job were to be offered to him, it would be a monumental decision to say no, but continuing this project at Portman Road and gaining Premier League experience would be the best decision for him.


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