Monday 19 August 2019

Irishman Kieran McKenna will be at Manchester United next season as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirms backroom team

United they stand: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with coaches Emilio Alvarez, Michael Carrick, Mike Phelan and Kieran McKenna. Photo: Matthew Peters/Getty Images
United they stand: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with coaches Emilio Alvarez, Michael Carrick, Mike Phelan and Kieran McKenna. Photo: Matthew Peters/Getty Images

Simon Peach

Michael Carrick, Kieran McKenna and Mark Dempsey will remain part of the Manchester United coaching staff next season, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has confirmed.

A challenging Premier League season came to an ignominious end on Sunday as relegated Cardiff won 2-0 at a shell-shocked Old Trafford.

A lot of work is required this summer to improve United's squad and background set-up, but Solskjaer is happy enough with the coaching staff.

Former captain Carrick and ex-Under-18 coach McKenna joined predecessor Jose Mourinho's backroom team at the start of the season, while Dempsey came in when the Norwegian was appointed caretaker.

"They are all going to stay," Solskjaer told United's official app.

"I think that's important, that we keep that team going forward. We do bounce off each other and they are some excellent coaches.

"Kieran, with his 32 years of age, you'd think he's had 32 years in coaching.

"Demps - I've worked with him now since 2011 when I moved back to Norway, he came with me to Molde.

"He's a Manchester United lad through and through, he came through with Norman Whiteside and Mark Hughes in that youth team. I think he was captain and he played once for the first team. He knows what this means.

"Michael - what can I say that no-one else knows about Michael? When he came in, it was my last season as a player so I played with him for one year.

"He's a personality I can really connect with."

United assistant manager Mike Phelan signed a three-year deal on Friday and goalkeeping coach Emilio Alvarez has been with the club since Solskjaer's predecessor Mourinho arrived in 2016.

The 1999 treble hero replaced the Portuguese as United manager in December and shone as caretaker manager, only to struggle to hit the right note as permanent boss.

Solskjaer says this season has taken a physical and emotional toll on his group, but the ups and downs have taught him a lot.

"I've learned that I don't like losing," he said. "I like winning. We started off fantastically.

"The boys were unbelievable when I came in. We were positive. We won games. The whole group gelled together and I enjoyed winning but I know that football is hard.

"You can't just expect everything to go that way and the reality hit us. We are in a league with loads of very good teams and, to be at our top (level), we need to be 100 per cent focused.

"We came into some games really, really focused with the full team and I thought that was fantastic.

"Then you learn a lot when you go through tough times and think about 'who can we build this team around?' and who we think is going to take the next step because we need to go to the next level."


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Who is Kieran McKenna?

Age: 32

Hometown: Co, Fermanagh

Playing career: McKenna played for Ballinamallard United before joining the Tottenham academy as a teenager. He was handed a contract by the north London club in 2002 when he was just 16. He went on to captain the reserves and played for the senior side in friendlies as his career progressed. He was even capped at U21 level by Northern Ireland.

So what went wrong? His promising career was unfortunately brought to an end when he was just 22 due to a chronic hip injury. McKenna went through two operations and two years of rehabilitation before the eventually decided to hang up his boots.

Crushing blow turned opportunity: McKenna didn't give up on his dream of a career in football and set about completing his coaching badges. He kept up links with his former club, coaching at the Tottenham Academy before being named U18 boss in 2015.

The move to Manchester: After leading his Spurs side to the semi-finals of the FA Youth Cup just months into his tenure, he was snapped up by United in 2016, taking charge of the club's U18s to replace Paul McGuinnes. In just his second season in charge, his team were crowned Premier League Northern champions, another addition to his increasingly feathered cap

First team honours: While he never made it to competitive senior football as a player, this season McKenna's swift rise through the coaching ranks reached Manchester United's first team. When Rui Faria left Jose Mourinho's staff, McKenna was promoted to sit alongside the boss and the recently-retired Michael Carrick in the Old Trafford dug-out.

He could have ended up at Liverpool: Yes, he met with Brendan Rodgers back in 2014 when Alex Inglethorpe was promoted from coach to academy director, creating a vacancy. He spent the day at the club's Melwood training complex but decided to stay at Tottenham.

A former United fan: Like so many in Northern Ireland, he grew up supporting the Red Devils and perhaps that's why he decided their offer was enough to finally leave Spurs.

What's been said about him? "He changed everything," former United teenager Indy Boonen told the Manchester Evening News of McKenna's arrival at the club's U18s. "The way we trained was how the opponent played on the Saturday. If you played against West Brom, you trained how they are and focused on their weaknesses."

The Irish FA's elite performance director Jim Magilton agrees: "He is a meticulous planner yet every session is spontaneous. Nothing is set in stone. He adjusts the session to how the players are and gets what he wants out of the session. Everything is linked and game related. Nothing is for show - it has to be about the game."

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