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Kieran McKenna takes a big step up

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McKenna could be a breath of fresh air for the United first team

The Manchester United coaching staff will have a new — and youthful — look next season. Earlier this month, Rui Faria shocked the football world by announcing his departure from Old Trafford, spreading his wings after nearly two decades alongside José Mourinho. The Portuguese duo’s working relationship dates all the way back to 2001 with U.D. Leiria.

Faria’s exit leaves a huge hole in the United setup, but also allows Mourinho to freshen up his staff ahead of the new season. Michael Carrick’s much-publicized transition from player to coach has drawn all of the attention, but the more exciting addition just might be Kieran McKenna.

Nothing’s official — at least from Manchester United — but reports are flying in from all quarters that McKenna, the club’s U18 manager, has been elevated to the first-team coaching staff. It’s a big move for the 32-year-old (and boyhood United fan) to enter an Old Trafford dugout helmed by the legendary José Mourinho.

This is just the latest step in McKenna’s meteoric rise. United snapped him up from Tottenham Hotspur in 2016, shortly after he turned down a similar opportunity to join Liverpool. McKenna wasted no time in revitalizing United’s U18 squad, leading them to the 2017/18 Under-18 Premier League North title.

Most pleasing to Reds fans, though, will be McKenna’s penchant for attacking football.

And the results were almost immediate. In one 2016 match against Wolves, the United youngsters jumped out to a 5-0 lead in the first thirty minutes! The U18s kept it up this season, scoring six goals on multiple occasions as they tore through their league.

It was a season to remember for the U18s, marred only by a loss to Chelsea in the one-off national final. That 3-0 defeat marked only their second scoreless match all season. Kieran McKenna doesn’t do boring football.

While both Manchester United and McKenna remain silent on his promotion, the new first-team coach’s brother revealed some salient details to the local Fermanagh Herald. According to that report, McKenna will be tasked with planning and running United’s first-team training.

Such a move parallels Sir Alex Ferguson’s setup at Carrington in his later years. Sir Alex famously delegated a lot of the day-to-day training duties to Rene Meulensteen and Carlos Queiroz. For Mourinho, this speaks to the trust that the boss must have in McKenna. Trust that might extend to a shift in tactics.

Some supporters find it hard to believe that this move could herald a new offensive approach, believing Mourinho too resistant to change. But Mourinho is no ideologue. The only thing he cares about is winning — and he’ll do whatever’s necessary to achieve that.

If that means shutting up shop against Liverpool or Manchester City, then that’s what he’ll do despite howls from the stands and media about negative football. But he also surely realizes that too many points were dropped outside the top six. Fixing that with a more attacking style is the quickest way to a title challenge.

Mourinho actually has a long history of working with young coaches, dating back to Faria himself in Portugal. Since then, Brendan Rogers, Andre Villas-Boas, and Aitor Karanka learned their trade on Mourinho’s bench. The United manager has never been afraid to surround himself with young coaching talent, seeing the value of fresh ideas and advice.

While he will never be known as The Attacking One, Mourinho gets a bit of a bad rap for defensive football. He’s worked with some of the world’s top forwards, who all did well under his management, and created an offensive juggernaut at Real Madrid between 2010-2013.

Mourinho recognizes the importance of a potent offense — and hopefully Kieran McKenna can help him unlock a free-scoring style from this United squad.

There’s already a solid base here to start from. Romelu Lukaku proved he can ably lead the line, Alexis Sánchez should look much better after a summer of rest, and Paul Pogba rarely misses a chance to attack from midfield. But United only managed to rank fifth in goals scored this season, a number that certainly needs improvement.

And some of that could come from within. United’s youth ranks are teeming with talent and, in McKenna, they now have an advocate on the first-team staff. Whenever they manage to break through, the likes of Tahith Chong and Angel Gomes will be glad to see a friendly face in the first team.

It’s hard to say what the end result of Kieran McKenna’s promotion will be. But, with a summer of high-priced signings ahead, this could be the move that pays the most dividends in the years ahead.