Outside the manager’s office hangs a large framed picture of Sir Bobby Robson smiling as he embraces the European Cup and reminding Kieran McKenna every time he opens his door of the footsteps he’s following.
Nearby, another picture of the awesome Robson team appears full of talent and the familiar faces of legends like Terry Butcher, John Wark and Mick Mills.
It’s been forty years since these glorious times and not everyone finds it helpful to hold on to the past, but McKenna politely declined the opportunity to remove the photos when he was appointed president of Ipswich Town.
Kiran McKenna of Northern Ireland was appointed mayor of Ipswich Town in December
There is a print of Sir Bobby Robson embracing the European Cup outside McKenna’s office
“That’s why we’re playing in front of a full house at Portman Road,” said McKenna, who graduated as a coach at Tottenham and Manchester United.
This is why we were taken over by ambitious American owners. It’s because of the success and the managers and players that have been through here. They showed the potential, what this club can do and where it can go when everything is going in the right direction.
“That’s why I’m here, why the players are here. Everyone has the desire to bring the club back to the highest level and we have to embrace it, taking pride in the past while knowing we have to go forward and modernize all areas.
McKenna (left) has experience training with Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur
Finally, Ipswich moves in. They have struggled outside the Premier League for 20 years and are embarking on their fourth consecutive season in League One, but hope has been renewed since a US-based league called Gamechanger 20 bought the club in April last year.
They’ve invested in new players and are on top after nine games, still undefeated as they prepare for Sunday’s game at third-placed Plymouth Argyle, and their 36-year-old manager is earning a reputation.
The Northern Irish were linked with the vacancy in Brighton before they chose Roberto de Zerbe to succeed Graham Potter.
McKenna was linked to the job at Brighton prior to the appointment of manager Roberto de Zerbi
“It didn’t feel like a huge step,” McKenna told Sportsmail, 10 months after his first managerial role. “This has always been the goal since the beginning of my coaching career at the age of 22. I had the path from that moment on and pretty much wrote and discussed it. The end goal has always been to move into management. As a head coach at the major academies, you manage the players and the staff, And build your playing style.Lots of roles are the same and build your confidence.
You were introduced to Manchester United, the biggest club in the world, with world-class players in the final stages of the Champions League and the top echelons of the Premier League.
When you first come to Ipswich as a coach, you are in front of the media and the face of the club at times, but day in and day out it looks very similar and very normal. Looks like it’s the right time, with the right preparation behind me. I feel fully prepared for whatever comes my way. McKenna’s coaching career on crutches began when a second major operation on a chronic hip problem ended a promising playing career at Tottenham, working his way through the youth ranks with Jimmy O’Hara, now on talkSPORT, and reality TV star Mark Wright.
“This age group did better in the media than we did on the pitch,” McKenna smiled.
But when he finished playing for Tottenham, he found immediate support and encouragement from academy chiefs Alex Inglethorpe, now Liverpool’s academy director, and John McDermott, now technical director of the FA. They invited him to start his training journey at the academy until he left for three years to study sports science at Loughborough University, during which time he coached the university’s teams and Nottingham Forest U-10 and U-11 teams.
McKenna has worked with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (centre) and with Ralf Rangnick at Manchester United
Summers spent in the USA coaching a college team in New York, and in Canada in the Vancouver Whitecaps, he was a participant from less than 10 years to first-team level. So by the time he returned to Tottenham to coach the Under-18 team and establish the club’s academy analysis department, McKenna boasted a wealth of experience.
In 2016, the way the Under-18s coached at Old Trafford was too good to turn down for a young man who grew up supporting Manchester United in County Fermanagh. Two years later, when Jose Mourinho’s long-serving assistant Rui Faria resigned, he was promoted to the first-team staff and went on to play a more prominent role under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and worked briefly with Ralf Rangnick until a move to Suffolk in December. .
“It was a great experience,” McKenna said. “I was really proud at such a young age to be involved in some big victories against some of the best teams and best coaches in the world.
McKenna has made a promising start in life at Ipswich, who are top of the league
There have been big losses and disappointing days along the way but if you work at this level every outcome will be a great win or an absolute crunch. Scrutiny is out of scope as it is the most successful club in British football and the most supported worldwide.
Solskjaer and Michael Carrick have gone to Ipswich matches to support McKenna, who had a former strong presence with United across his back side. Among those who followed him from Old Trafford to Portman Road are assistant manager Martin Burt, first-team coach Lee Grant and chief hiring officer Sam Williams.
“I have my own goals, my own beliefs, my own values and I stick to them,” McKenna said. I have good connections but I like to work at my own discretion, think things through and try to be real and honest, and see where that takes me. Your journey in football is unique. You cannot draw it. The best thing you can do is try to improve yourself, focus on the areas where you can improve, try to help the club you are in to develop and improve, play well and win games.
McKenna hopes to help Ipswich Town climb back up the ladder of English football
After that, football will take you where it takes you. The best thing to do is enjoy this ride.
At Ipswich, they hope to bring them back to the Premier League. “I have enjoyed working at this level and it is a place where I feel comfortable,” McKenna said. It’s definitely an ambition to manage at this level and something I feel capable of.
The property group wants the club back into the Premier League. This is their stated goal, which is being liquidated. It’s a fantastic ambition, one we all share, but it’s Ipswich’s fourth season in League One without being anywhere near any serious promotion push, so everyone is well-grounded in the realities of how difficult this league is.
There are no guarantees that you will win matches because you are Ipswich Town or County Derby or because you have a large fan base and history. It will only be hard work that gets us there.