portman road ispwich town football ground on a sunny day

Less than two years ago, Ipswich Town was barely drawing 4,000 fans for matches in League One, the third level of English football. But this fall, Ipswich is going to be playing games in some of Europe’s most famous stadiums while also hosting matches against some of the biggest clubs in the world as members of the Premier League. How exactly is that possible?

Over the last two seasons, the Tractor Boys achieved a remarkable feat of accumulating 194 points across two campaigns. However, quantifying Ipswich’s achievement goes beyond mere numbers. A deeper appreciation emerges when examining the lineup that played in League One at the start of the 2022-23 campaign.

It started with a significant investment and modernization under American ownership group Gamechanger 20 Ltd, which acquired the club in April 2021 for approximately £40 million. The new ownership group helped by wiping out debts totaling £100 million. However, Ipswich’s success in earning promotions stemmed largely from their consistent squad. The club has maintained a strong core of players that includes Sam Morsy, Marcus Harness, Leif Davis, Cameron Burgess, Wes Burns, Conor Chaplin, and George Edmundson. Collectively, these players amassed 265 appearances in League One and nearly as many games in the Championship.

It’s truly remarkable that 15 players who featured in at least 10 matches for Ipswich in League One have replicated this feat in the Championship. Notably, Captain Morsy, Davis, Chaplin, Burgess, Harness, Burns, and Luke Woolfenden have each exceeded 30 appearances in both divisions. Had it not been for injuries, this number could have been even higher, highlighting not only impressive continuity but also exceptional coaching.

Ipswich’s journey has been a challenging one. Remarkably, they’ve achieved this with a squad that transitioned from League One at a cost of just £10 million. Although they made modest investments of £4 million last summer, Ipswich leveraged smart loan deals, including Chelsea’s Omari Hutchinson and Bournemouth’s Kieffer Moore. Head coach Kieran McKenna favors a robust center-forward capable of holding up play and linking effectively, making Moore the perfect fit for the Tractor Boys.

Not surprisingly, Ipswich’s path has been arduous. They faced stiff competition in League One against teams like Plymouth Argyle and Sheffield Wednesday. Likewise, this season’s Championship proved to be one of the most competitive in recent years, pitting Ipswich against relegated Premier League clubs like Leicester City, Leeds United, and Southampton, all benefitting from substantial parachute payments.

Ultimately, much of Ipswich’s success hinges on McKenna. Even in his inaugural management role in the third tier, the 37-year-old drew interest from Premier League clubs like Brighton and Crystal Palace. It was widely speculated that if Ipswich failed to secure promotion, McKenna would attract offers. But Ipswich has undoubtedly provided McKenna with an environment conducive to success.

He opts against playing Sky Sports News, a common sight in football training grounds, on the television screens. Instead, the screens showcase footage from the day’s training sessions, captured by drones, or highlights from recent matches. This deliberate choice aims to convey a message—the players, when they glance up, see their efforts and the resulting outcomes.

McKenna also oversaw the installation of two Desso hybrid grass pitches, strategically relocating them closer to the first-team facilities, which have been upgraded. During training, he orchestrates seamless transitions between the pitches, meticulously organizing each exercise to maximize efficiency and maintain a high tempo.

Central to McKenna’s methodology is his “drill library of practices” that have been meticulously documented over the years. While common among coaches, McKenna’s attention to detail is renowned, maintaining an extensive database of training drills. Following sessions, McKenna, alongside his staff, conducts thorough debriefings. During this past season, 10 players on the squad spent time pursuing coaching badges, helping them take a more active and engaged role in the team.

ipswich town league performance 1938-2024
EclecticArkie, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Known for his work ethic and meticulous attention to detail, McKenna’s approach is distinctly modern. Following promotion last year, McKenna identified key differences between the Championship and League One, including the significant increase in sprints and high-speed distance in the former. He focused on improving squad speed by recruiting faster players. Additionally, he addressed the low ball-in-play time in League One, which led to measures like pitch renovations with proper irrigation and heating systems before their Championship debut against Sunderland, extending the playing time significantly.

“We needed to be able to rest in possession a little bit which was not something we focused on in League One because we were so dominant in possession,” McKenna explained.

The question now is how McKenna can help Ipswich adapt to the Premier League. It is one of the most popular and watched leagues in the world. The Premier League also gets plenty of attention from bettors. There are many credible online sportsbooks that cover the Premier League extensively, among other prominent sports leagues throughout the world.

Fortunately, McKenna’s vision aligns with Ipswich’s progressive ethos. This is why it was possible to adjust to competing at a high level this past season. It’s also why Ipswich Town will have a chance to do the same in the Premier League next season. Between McKenna’s ambitions and his success over the last two years, Ipswich’s shocking ascent up the English football ladder may not be over yet.