Man Utd stars have already slammed Ten Hag replacement as ‘too British’ and ‘basic’ – but was mole sold?

Matt Stead
Kieran McKenna and a cracked Man Utd badge
Kieran McKenna and a cracked Man Utd badge

Man Utd players might already have downed tools and undermined their next manager after a familiar ‘surprise candidate’ emerged to replace Erik ten Hag.

As Raphael Varane bid farewell to Old Trafford on Tuesday, the man whose “very detailed” training sessions he once praised despite widespread disapproval both internally and further afield, became far more prominent in the race to become next Man Utd manager.

Kieran McKenna is said to be a ‘surprise candidate’ to replace Ten Hag, as he remains ‘highly regarded’ by the club he left to join Ipswich in December 2021.

The 38-year-old has transformed the Tractor Boys since then, guiding them to successive promotions which will return them to the Premier League for the first time since 2002 next season.

That has helped put him ‘under serious con­sideration’ for the Man Utd manager’s job if it is made vacant, although Ipswich are determined to retain the services of a coach contracted to them until 2027.

If McKenna is chosen to lead this next step in the planned Man Utd revolution, he will have to overcome suspicions over his credentials which were prevalent in his previous role with the first team. He has been absolutely phenomenal at Ipswich, but does he still favour Brits too much?

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‘More suited to the academy’ – Chris Wheeler
The first rumblings of discontent emerged in September 2019, little over a year after Jose Mourinho promoted McKenna to the first-team coaching set-up.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer retained both him and Michael Carrick in their positions when his interim appointment was made permanent the previous March, but in the middle of a run of just three wins and four defeats in their opening 11 Premier League games – which also featured a League Cup win on penalties against Rochdale and an uninspiring Europa League start – McKenna was catching strays fired at a club in turmoil.

In one report from the time, it was said that ‘some players harbour reservations over Kieran McKenna having such a key role in first-team training little more than a year after being promoted from the Under 18s’, and that ‘his sessions are thought by some to be more suited to the academy’.

 

‘Ill-prepared for matches’ – Sean Kearns
A month later and with neither results nor performances improving, that bled into more anonymous complaints from the more apparently mature members of a struggling squad.

One common theme throughout McKenna’s three-and-a-half years with the coaching team at Manchester United was the praise for his work helping develop younger players, a natural by-product of his time as manager of the U18s.

But that seemed to foster a degree of resentment upon his promotion, as in October 2019 there were further ‘doubts over the Northern Irishman’s suitability for the position’ and ‘more senior members of the first-team squad’ had expressed concern as to ‘whether he has the experience to carry out the role amid concerns that they’re ill-prepared for matches’.

📣 TO THE COMMENTS! Would McKenna make a good Ten Hag replacement? Join the Man Utd debate.

 

‘Too basic and very British’ – John Cross
By February of that season, Manchester United had sort of stabilised in fifth, with FA Cup progress and a place in the Europa League knockouts secured.

But still, the presence of McKenna was too much for some and this time ‘the overseas players in particular’ had started to air their issues over his ‘increasing input’.

The claim was that McKenna was ‘too basic and very British’ with his training sessions, while it was added that ‘some of the foreign players believe that English speakers are favoured by the current set-up’.

Nine players who featured for Man Utd in the 2019/20 campaign remain with the club in 2023/24: Victor Lindelof, Harry Maguire, Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Dalot, Luke Shaw, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Scott McTominay. Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams are on loan – the latter at McKenna’s Ipswich.

As an aside, Eric Bailly left in September 2023, about a year after he accused Man Utd of English bias in an obvious dig at Maguire.

 

‘School-teacherly’, ‘schoolmasterly’, ‘uninspired’ and biased – various
Towards the end of Solskjaer’s reign, eventually triggered by a 4-1 defeat to Watford in November 2021, McKenna was named relatively frequently in the Inside Stories of the Norwegian’s almost three years in charge.

One report continued to lament his coaching methods, saying that ‘some squad members have been left uninspired by his training sessions’.

Another added that McKenna ‘does not command respect’ and ‘is dry and school-teacherly in his delivery’, leading to internal questions about ‘how he had risen to such a position of power’ at the club.

That criticism over a ‘”schoolmasterly” approach’ and ‘tone of voice’ was echoed by another source at the time, along with ‘accusations of “favouritism”‘ towards younger British players such as Greenwood and McTominay.

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‘”The way he delivered things was maybe more abrupt because he was used to dealing with 16, 17 and 18 year-olds and you don’t necessarily speak to senior professionals in the same way,”‘ another source added; it was said by another insider that McKenna ‘looked more at home’ when ‘demanding’ foreign players such as Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez had been offloaded and those good old malleable British boys Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James joined in summer 2019.

And in another article dissecting the problems which preceded Solskjaer’s downfall, one unnamed ‘former United defender’ was said to be ‘convinced he wasn’t being picked simply because “McKenna doesn’t like me”‘.

Apropos of nothing, Eric Bailly was one of five players ‘excluded’ from the Besiktas first-team squad in December ‘due to poor performance and incompatibility within the team’ – he joined Villarreal in January and has played nine of a possible 18 La Liga games since.

Again, the main charge levelled at Manchester United’s training sessions, which McKenna led, was that the techniques were “too British” and ‘unsuited to the requirements of the modern game at the elite level’.

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