With a string of poor results and little to show in performances, many questions have been raised about Manchester United’s coaching.
The coaching is led not by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, nor even his number two Mick Phelan, but rather the responsibility has been left solely on the shoulders of the young Kieran McKenna.
The former Tottenham and Northern Ireland youth captain was once a highly regarded player himself, but a chronic hip injury saw the end of his career at just 22.
Desperate to stay involved in the game, McKenna immediately moved into coaching, a perfect match for the Northern Irishman who was described by his former coach as “the inquisitive type” and someone “who would pepper him with questions and seek detailed understanding about training sessions.”
Initially working in Tottenham’s academy, McKenna went to Loughborough University to complete a degree in sports science. While there he would coach the university team as well as pick up roles in non-league and the academies of Nottingham Forest and Leicester City.
A keen student of the game, so eager to learn McKenna was coaching 10 sessions and three matches a week.
Desperate to learn different views of the game, the young coach also spent his summers abroad in New York with an NCAA team, four months with the Vancouver Whitecaps, and taking many placement studies around European clubs.
This hard work is what brought McKenna back to Tottenham as u18s coach and where he was given the responsibility of setting up their academy analysis department.
Chased by Liverpool, it was ultimately Manchester United who managed to poach the highly regarded coach from Spurs.
It didn’t take long for his efforts to be noticed by Jose Mourinho who would promote him to his first team coaching staff. Mourinho said of him “he’s smart that kid – he listens, learns,” after McKenna initally impressed him by taking notes of Mourinho’s training and trying to implement the same style in the u18s.
So with a coach highly regarded by some of the top tactical minds in the game, where does the issue arise?
Most of McKenna’s 12 years as a coach has come at youth level, leaving him to still be constantly learning at the highest stage. A perfectly reasonable fact when he has someone like Mourinho to tutor him but the hands off style of Solskjaer has seen McKenna given the sole responsibility of heading up United’s training.
With rumours of McKenna struggling to get his teachings across without treating the players like children, after all that is where his experience comes from, he has also received praise from the world class Raphael Varane who said McKenna’s training sessions are “very detailed.”
So while McKenna has been thrown into the deep end, it begs the question of what the actual manager is doing.
Said to view himself as more of a USA-style general manager, it is unclear what exactly Solskjaer and Phelan bring to the table.
Those familiar with US and Canadian sports will know the GM is largely responsible for player transactions and dealing with negotiations for player contracts. The GM is also in charge of hiring and firing coaches as well as having oversight of the entire sporting department.
The trouble is, these roles are covered by Matt Judge who is in charge of contract negotiations and Ed Woodward who is in charge of the finances and hiring and firing of staff. Then there are the football directors, John Murtough and Darren Fletcher, who are in charge of the overall football operations and structure of the club.
So, if there are already four people fulfilling these roles, is it necessary for the manager and assistant manager to fulfil them as well? Especially as it leaves a young coach, while extremely highly regarded, struggling to get to grips with being given all the responsibility for coaching at arguably the biggest club in the world.
Ultimately, McKenna has shown through the levels that he is a very talented coach but he has been let down by the club. At a time where he should be being mentored by an experienced manager, he has been thrown under the bus by an inexperienced one who is seemingly incapable of doing the job himself.