Saturday’s FA Cup fourth round clash between Ipswich Town and Burnley is an intriguing meeting of third place in League One and the Championship leaders. Managers Kieran McKenna and Vincent Kompany have both steadied the ship at clubs who were struggling before their arrival, with promotion looking like a real possibility for both.
But the two managers share more than a common goal and an upcoming fixture. They used to share a city, with both spending significant periods of their careers in Manchester. On opposite sides of one of English football’s biggest rivals, they represented United and City. This compelling FA Cup tie was very much made in Manchester.
Burnley boss Kompany’s links to the North West almost don’t need expanding upon. In 360 games in the sky blue kit, he lifted 12 major honours. Kompany served as arguably the club’s greatest ever captain and was one of the only constants through the transition from perennial underachievers to monied superclub. What he did on the pitch is so indelible that a statue of him now stands outside the Etihad Stadium.
But one should not underestimate the work we didn’t see publicly. The learning he did by the side of his last City manager, Pep Guardiola. Kompany has lifted the lid on their teacher-student relationship. Speaking to the BBC about his shifting outlook on football when the former Barcelona manager took over, the 36-year-old said, “As soon as I met the guy (Guardiola). It just made so much sense.”
You can see the guiding hand of Guardiola in the way Kompany has set up his Burnley side. The Belgian took over a team used to playing a physical, defensive style under Sean Dyche and transformed them into possession-hungry purveyors of attacking intent. Like Xavi and Mikel Arteta, Kompany is a disciple reaping the rewards from Guardiola’s mentorship. All three are currently top of their respective league tables.
McKenna’s path is a little less well-documented. That’s not to say he’s toiled in obscurity, far from it. But a curtailed playing career that ended aged 22 in the Tottenham Hotspur age group teams pales in comparison to the status Kompany enjoys in the game. As a coach though, the debate between the pair is much closer. McKenna certainly has the edge in experience, having served as a youth coach at Nottingham Forest and Leicester City, he was hired as Spurs’ Head of Academy Performance Analytics.
McKenna’s success in the role saw him offered a position in the Liverpool academy, which he declined. Instead, he remained in North London and coached Spurs at numerous age levels. When he led the under-18s side to the FA Cup semi-final, Manchester United’s interest was piqued. They lured the Northern Ireland under-21 international to Old Trafford to manage their own under-18 set-up.
McKenna’s side secured a signature win on which to hand their hats when they became the first team to beat Chelsea in an FA Youth Cup game in five years. The young coach’s efforts didn’t go unnoticed in the corridors of Old Trafford power either. When then-manager Jose Mourinho’s assistant manager Rui Faria left his role in 2018, McKenna was installed as his replacement.
Mourinho was sacked after a poor start to the 2018/19 season, but replacement Ole Gunnar Solskjaer kept McKenna on. Working alongside Michael Carrick, now manager of Middlesbrough, the Northern Irishman was praised for his training sessions at Carrington. Those that dealt with him found McKenna a straight-talking, positive training ground influence who would adjust well to the rigours of management.
We would soon find out. While McKenna’s services were retained when interim head coach Ralf Rangnick took over from Solskjaer in November 2021, our subject would soon depart for pastures new himself. When Ipswich Town offered him their managerial post the following month, McKenna accepted, taking United coach Martyn Pert with him as his assistant.
Two very different paths have led to this Saturday, when these two young coaches will test their skills against each other. While they represent the two ends of the managerial spectrum, one a career coach and the other a decorated ex-pro, they have more in common than you’d think. Not least a wealth of experience gained in Manchester.
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