Kieran McKenna.

McKenna exclusive: Why Spain was so important

Saturday 15 February 2020 07:00

Manchester United assistant coach Kieran McKenna has provided a fascinating insight into the meticulous planning and attention to detail that underpinned the squad’s successful warm-weather training camp in Spain, explaining exactly why the trip was so beneficial.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad returned from the Marbella Football Centre late on Friday afternoon after enjoying a week of galvanising, morale-boosting, sweat-inducing sessions on the continent. 

In this exclusive interview with McKenna, conducted midway through the week, the Northern Irishman gave a great insight into the workouts and detailed the importance of tactically-minded conversations. 

McKenna was also full of praise for the quality and experience that our January signing Bruno Fernandes is bringing to the squad, as you can read here… 

Kieran, just to begin with, this is the first winter break in Premier League history, so how pleased are you that it has been introduced?
“Yeah, I think it should be a good benefit, not to just to ourselves but to all of the teams. But especially for us with the schedule we've had, which has been pretty relentless in terms of a game every three or four days, with some injuries as well, so it has been a really busy schedule. It's a chance to have a break, for the players to have some family time, and then to come somewhere like this to train should be really beneficial. And hopefully we will get some good work in and see the benefits in the next few months.”
McKenna: A positive start for Fernandes Video

McKenna: A positive start for Fernandes

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It was interesting to see in the first week of the break that some of the lads spent time with their families, while others continued to train with members of the staff. What was the thinking there and how carefully was that planned?
“Yeah, very carefully, very much so. It is just about doing what is right for each individual. They are all at different stages. Some of them have had a clear run through the season with no injuries, have been available for the games and have played or trained a lot, while other boys have missed time over the course of the season and don't feel like they need, or even want, a break at this period in terms of training. So we looked at it across the board, everybody had a different week and we hope we managed to give everyone the best opportunity to get the right balance of relaxation, family time and maintaining fitness levels where appropriate.”

You've got six days out here in Spain, so how are you going to use this time and what are you looking to achieve?
“There are lots of different outcomes. Obviously, we have got Bruno with us as well, which is a big positive, so he did well to put his hand up and make himself available for the Wolves game, going straight into the team. It is a great chance for lads like him to come into the group and get to know the players better. Again, for the younger players, some of them have been around it for quite a bit now, but I still think it is a big opportunity to come away and train on a consistent week with the team to make an impression. And for the team, it has been such a run of fixtures every three days - I think this is the first time we haven't had a midweek game since August, so with the amount of recovery that they need we haven't had too many opportunities to train. This is the first time since the summer that we've had an opportunity to train as a whole squad for a run of days. It is the best time to work on things as a team, to tactically improve in and out of possession, on set-pieces, to get some good work in and individually there are lots of things we can get from it. As a team, it's a really good chance to work on some things as a collective.”
That tactical work is really fascinating for us to see and, speaking of Bruno, he obviously needs to learn how to play with the lads here, but is it also a case of the lads learning how to get the best out of him?
“Yes. As I say, it is a credit to him for coming in, putting his hand up straightaway and saying he wanted to go into the team for Wolves. It was a really positive start for him. It is the same process as all of the players. It is trying to find the right balance, playing in positions where they can complement each other, building relationships all over the pitch, so that players understand each other's games, where to pass and what runs different players make. That is part of the process with him this week. Thankfully, he is an experienced player, he has played in a lot of different positions and roles, so he is very versatile in that way, so it is obviously the manager's job and us as staff to find ways to make him settle into the team quickly. That is the same for all of the players really. It is a good chance to get some work in, work as a team, on patterns and some movements off the ball as well that will really bring out the best strengths in the individuals.”

Our average age is generally 22 or 23, depending on the selection, so is that tactical mindset also improving week by week, and is that something that can take a little bit of time to develop with such a young group?
“Yeah, it is just the experiences that you accumulate over time. We've all had a good chat with Bruno since he came in and you go through it. He's a young guy, but you speak to him about his experience in Italy with Udinese and Sampdoria, then in Portugal with Sporting, and the amount of matches that he has accumulated, the different players he's played with, the different systems he's played in, the different roles he's played in, his experience level is going to be a lot further down the line than guys who are 18, 19 and 20, and even the guys who are 21, 22 and 23. So, I think it is obviously a young group and that is nothing but a positive. It is certainly a group that will improve, will grow together, and they are picking up experiences all of the time, good and bad. They have obviously just been to a semi-final and lost narrowly to Man City and things like that are a massive for disappointment, but from all of these experiences as a group it is important they take the lessons from it, take the positives and learn from the experiences, to keep getting into semi-finals, finals and to find ways to win those games to hopefully win trophies for Man United.”
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At what point will minds turn to that big game against Chelsea?
“I think that is more for the back end of the week. After having had the break, also with quite a lot of the boys who have played two games a week, they haven't had the time to work individually and technically on things they want to improve on, and also physically to get that sharpness from training, rather than the repetition of playing game after game. So in the first part of the week it is really important that the boys enjoy training together, they can work individually, without the pressure of thinking about the next game for a couple of days, but certainly as the week goes on we will turn minds very much towards Chelsea and preparing for that game.”
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How is the mood in the squad ahead of a massive 10 or 12 weeks to come that will ultimately define the season?
“Yeah, I think that has been good all season. I don't think there can be questions about that. It is a good group. They've had ups and downs over the course of the season, but they have given a lot to the team, they have worked to a really high level and I don't think there are times when you can accuse them of quitting, or dropping their heads. They have shown character, they have shown resilience, they have tried their very best to bounce back from setbacks when they have come along, they have stepped up in some big games and big moments, so I think the character and the spirit of the group is strong. That is something that will only grow in the short and long term, with some good characters in there, some experienced players and also a good nucleus of young players who want to improve, grow and be part of the club for a long time to come.”
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Finally, the Premier League is always the priority at United and everyone's determined to get into that top four, but we also have the massive incentives of the cups and realistic opportunities to win trophies. Just how important for development would silverware be for this young group?
“It would be massive. Everyone is very determined to make that happen. We can say it is a young group and one that has to grow, but it is Man United and everyone wants to be part of trophy-winning teams. That would be a big step. It's a group that is growing in experience. Last season, we had two quarter-finals where they came up short against Barcelona in the Champions League and obviously in the FA Cup. The first cup competition this season, we have just lost to Manchester City over the course of two legs, 3-2, so they are gaining some experiences. We have a couple of players in the group who have won trophies, but for a lot of the group they haven't been to semi-finals, or finals, or competing for league titles, so they are only going to benefit from putting themselves to play in big games, in big semi-finals, in big finals, and when you get to those stages you want to win them. For the growth of the team, it is about the process of getting to those big matches, understanding what it takes to win them and the more they go through those experiences, the more likely they are to win trophies.”

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