football

Kieran McKenna: Why Ipswich manager was in demand this summer and linked to Brighton, Chelsea and Manchester United

Kieran McKenna was a wanted man this summer - for all the right reasons.

The 38-year-old coach guided Ipswich to back-to-back EFL promotions and a first Premier League campaign at Portman Road for 22 years and has put weeks of speculation to bed by signing a new four-year contract at the club.

Sky Sports News had revealed McKenna was a candidate for the vacant Brighton job, while Man Utd officials had met with representatives of the Ipswich boss.

Ipswich were aware of the links but received no official approach from any club.

McKenna was also linked with replacing Mauricio Pochettino at Chelsea, but was told by phone on Sunday that the club were looking elsewhere.

So why was McKenna a manager in demand? Sky Sports takes a look at the reasons...

Ipswich's attacking style of football caught the eye of many in the Championship this season.

McKenna's side ended up as the division's top scorers - despite being a newly promoted side - with 92 goals scored across the 46 matches.

Ipswich were also one of the second tier's set-piece kings, with only Cardiff (21) scoring more goals from dead-ball situations than the Premier League newcomers' tally of 19.

But what really got supporters on the edge of their seats was the sheer number of late goals scored by McKenna's side. Ipswich scored 25 goals in the Championship last season after the 76th minute, and many of them were decisive.

It meant that Ipswich won 32 points from losing positions last season - a third of their overall tally.

Sky Sports' Adam Williams:

On December 16, 2021 Ipswich confirmed 35-year-old Manchester United assistant manager McKenna had been appointed their new manager on a three-and-a-half year contract.

"Kieran who?" was understandably the majority of the reaction beyond those who may not have been familiar with McKenna's work under Jose Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralph Rangnick at Old Trafford alongside Michael Carrick.

Softly spoken at first, but methodical, clear and honest in his media engagements, fans soon welcomed the departure from McKenna's more brash and at times, overbearing predecessors.

Promotion would prove too tough a task to achieve in the remainder of that season as Ipswich finished 11th but already McKenna had irons in the fire for his first full season in charge.

Freddie Ladapo, Dom Ball and Leif Davis would be the notable summer signings and from the off, it was clear the race to win League One that season would be hotly contested.

Plymouth set and maintained the pace throughout while Ipswich, Sheffield Wednesday and Barnsley tried to keep up.

After slipping down to fourth on February 14 with a goalless draw at Bristol Rovers, thoughts were understandably turning to another season of disappointment with them eight points adrift of the top two.

But January's transfer window had already seen four key additions in George Hirst, Harry Clarke, Massimo Luongo and Nathan Broadhead. They would prove to be massively pivotal as Ipswich went on to win 13 of their 15 remaining league games, including eight in a row, to amass 98 points and automatic promotion back to the Championship after a four-year absence.

It felt good to be back in the second tier and as this season began, many supporters were hoping to just win more games than they lost and use it as a chance to continue building on the good work of the previous 18 months.

But 46 games later they are heading back to the top flight. A season of free-scoring, free-flowing, full-throttle football has seen both Ipswich's and McKenna's stock soar.

Ipswich defender Leif Davis to Sky Sports back in November:

"From day one when I walked in the door he [McKenna] told me he'd help me to improve my game, and he has done massively, going forward and defensively."

Davis, now 24, joined Ipswich last season from Leeds United - the club they beat to promotion - and helped in their promotion from League One. This season, he is the top assister in the Championship, with 18 goals created from left-back.

"I didn't think I had that quality in the final third, it definitely wasn't my strongest point, but now I'd say it is.

"The way he has worked with me in training to be more comfortable with the ball at my feet in the final third, and to find passes instead of just getting it into the box and hoping for the best.

"The way I play in the team is more advanced to a normal left-back. I don't really have anyone in front of me, and I've got to do a lot on that side myself.

"But that's my job. It's why I was brought in and he trusts me to play that role - at least I hope he does!

"It was one of the best choices I made to come here. It was a move down two leagues, but it's what you've got to do to play football. The rewards come if you work hard.

"It's a similar kind of training under Kieran and Marcelo Bielsa.They both have very high demands in training in the way they both want you to work hard, learn every day and keep improving."

Ipswich winger Wes Burns to Sky Sports in January:

"The boss always says as long as we give 100 per cent, stick to our principles and execute the game plan that he gives us, then he's more than happy with that.

"He's such a brilliant coach that we have 100 per cent trust in everything he says. That trust has been taken onto the pitch and we're executing it brilliantly for him. I think that's why we are where we are.

"We're such a hard-working team, and I think hard work goes a long way in this league.

"From the first day he came in, there's been so much information to take on board. But you can see from the outside the improvements that we've made as a squad and as individuals. He's taken us all to the next level, which is a sign of an incredible coach.

"For me personally, he's just simplified my game right down, and for so many players just doing that can get so much more out of them.

"I have key things that I bring to the team that he wants from me every single week. Set roles within the system, and as long as I execute them on a match day, it's effective.

"I went to Fleetwood [in 2015] as a No 9, and I'm definitely not a No 9. So finding my position has definitely helped me progress.

"And then obviously coming here and the boss coming in, he's tweaked my position again ever so slightly. And that's really where I'm starting to reap the best rewards from it."

Ipswich loanee Omari Hutchinson to Sky Sports in March:

"I spoke to the manager and got a real good connection with him from seeing him for the first time. And I thought, you know, this could be the best place for me.

"He's been in the academy, he knows how the young boys are. So I thought he made it a no-brainer to come here.

"Sometimes when you come into the team as a sub the manager tells you we need a different dynamic. A skillful player that's going to get at your man and who can go both ways.

"For me personally I enjoy that. I like to entertain the crowd, and the manager gives you that freedom."