Kieran McKenna snubs interest and signs new contract as Ipswich manager

<span>Kieran McKenna guided Ipswich to two successive promotions.</span><span>Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian</span>
Kieran McKenna guided Ipswich to two successive promotions.Photograph: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

The Ipswich manager, Kieran ­McKenna, has signed a new contract, meaning he will lead the Premier League newcomers into next season despite interest from Brighton, Chelsea and Manchester United.

McKenna rose to prominence as one of the hottest properties around after taking Ipswich to consecutive promotions, the second a dazzling ascent from the Championship that was confirmed this month. He becomes one of the highest-paid managers in England and will be backed significantly as Ipswich prepare for their first top-flight campaign since 2001-02.

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It ends a dramatic mini-saga in which Brighton had, at one stage, felt confident of enlisting McKenna to replace Roberto De Zerbi. Chelsea also seriously considered him as a candidate for their vacant position, which Enzo Maresca is expected to fill this week, and United are understood to have listed him among possible replacements for Erik ten Hag if the Dutchman’s departure is confirmed.

McKenna, whose new contract will run until 2028, said: “I am extremely proud to have signed a new contract with the club. We have enjoyed incredible success together over the last two seasons and I’m excited to have the opportunity and responsibility of leading this fantastic club into its first season in the Premier League in 22 years.”

Ipswich had been bullish about their prospects of retaining McKenna, even when Chelsea interest became clear and Brighton firmed up their longstanding overtures. But the situation became uncertain enough for Ed Schwartz, who heads their majority shareholder, ORG, to fly from the US for talks last Friday with ­McKenna and the Ipswich chief executive, Mark Ashton. The terms of the new deal were laid out from there and McKenna is thought to have decided over the weekend that his long-term future lies in Suffolk.

Keeping hold of the 38-year-old is a major feather in the cap for Ipswich, who appointed him to his first senior position in December 2021. McKenna had been an assistant coach at United until then and, had an offer from Old Trafford this summer become likely, Ipswich would have had a bigger fight on their hands.

They are supported by deep-pocketed owners and have little intention of making up the numbers on returning to the elite. They will have to comply with profitability and sustainability rules, which may bite particularly next season because they account for financial performance in the Championship and League One, but McKenna has scope to upgrade key areas of his squad.

Among his priorities is a permanent move for the Chelsea forward Omari Hutchinson, who was instrumental as a loanee during their ascent to the top tier and is likely to leave Stamford Bridge. Ipswich have accelerated their interest in closing a deal that could total up to £20m, although they face heavy competition from Stuttgart among others and may have to wait until Maresca has assessed what he has at his disposal. Chelsea have exercised an option to extend Hutchinson’s contract until 2026 but that is not expected to have a bearing on his future.

Chelsea are discussing transfer targets with Maresca in preparation for his anticipated arrival, with the Burnley goalkeeper James Trafford among those under consideration.