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A Decade with Oxford Utd, then to Olympic Qualification - Des Buckingham

'The saying of ‘knowledge is power’ is only true if the application of that knowledge can be transferred effectively to the people you work with. People don’t care about what you know, until they know you care....'

Name, age, where are you based?

Des Buckingham, 35yrs old, Auckland – New Zealand

Current Role:

Men’s U23 Head Coach for New Zealand Football


Pro Licence,


FA Academy Managers Licence,

MSc Advanced Performance Football Coaching

How did you get into coaching and what has your path been like?

I started coaching in Oxford United’s Academy at the age of 18 which turned into a wonderful eleven-year period working at every age group, transitioning into the Head of Coaching role and then 1st Team Coach.

A move to New Zealand followed and I took on the role of Assistant Coach in the Australian A-League with the Wellington Phoenix. This progressed into the Head Coach position after three years at the club, at 31yrs old becoming the Leagues youngest ever Manager.

A move to the then Premier League side Stoke City to work with their U23’s followed for a season before, being offered the opportunity to return to New Zealand, this time with the National Organization. I accepted the role as New Zealand Football Men’s U20 Head Coach and Assistant Coach to the Men’s Senior Team (All Whites).

Post FIFA U20 World Cup in Poland 2019, I accepted the role as U23 Head Coach with a view to continue the playing style and culture we had built into a Pacific Games and Olympic qualifying campaign.

Any Major achievements?

· Qualification to Tokyo 2020 Olympics as Head Coach

· Highest place finish at a FIFA U20 World Cup, reaching the round of 16 in Poland 2019 as Head Coach

· Gold Medal at the Pacific Games as Head Coach of New Zealand

· Oceania Football Confederation U19 Champions as Head Coach of New Zealand

· Oceania Football Confederation U23 Champions as Head Coach of New Zealand

· Coaching and helping the transition of 24 players from Youth into First Team Senior Professional Football Contracts at Oxford United Football Club

· Youngest Head Coach in the Australian Hyundai A-League professional league

· Coach Educator for UEFA, Asia and Oceania Confederations at ‘A’ and ‘B’ licence level

How valuable was your 10+ years with Oxford Utd and what main experiences from the various roles there, have helped you in later roles?

Oxford United allowed me the opportunity to work with some excellent Players and Staff over a sustained period of time and grow on and off the field. Working across every age group during my time gave me the chance to be continually challenged in a hugely supportive environment. This helped me to gain great experiences and develop my own coaching beliefs and values which would become important in the later roles.

It helped hugely in the past two and half years to create and develop a playing style and culture for the New Zealand U20 & U23 teams and has been one of the proudest moments of my coaching career.

The team now has a clear identity and players are able to express themselves in a framework that is able to constantly out possess, out pass, out shoot and out score opponents and has led to several historical and memorable moments over 23 games.

What was it like competing in the A-League as Wellington Phoenix’s Head Coach and how was the transition from previous 1st Team Coach roles, to being the Manager?

To be entrusted to lead New Zealand’s only professional club into the A-League was a huge privilege. I was fortunate, the previous Manager, Ernie Merrick, had exposed me to a lot of the workings of a Head Coach on a daily basis in the previous two seasons, working as the Assistant. I had been fortunate to spend my final years at Oxford United working under Chris Wilder and had been able to gain so much value from these Managers’ that helped the transition.

Coaching can be similar to players wanting to play – you work hard and wait for somebody to give you the right opportunity.

What main advice would you suggest to coaches, who are looking to make the transition from working with youth teams, to moving into senior football?

I think everyone has to find their own path. When I started out coaching, I wanted to be a Senior Coach, as that was where the full-time jobs were. With the development and expansion of the game across the World, this is no longer the case, and allows people to become specialised Coaches with age groups / phases from foundation through youth into the senior game.

There are a lot of courses and books available but, gaining the ability to watch others work and being open minded to other people’s ideas has certainly been key for me.

How have your previous roles in coach education, 1st team environments and being the Assistant Coach of the New Zealand Senior National team, helped you in your current U23 National Team Head Coach role?

Firstly, aside from the experiences afforded as part of these roles the biggest I have found, is the importance of relationships with Staff, Players and everyone involved with what you do. The saying of ‘knowledge is power’ is only true if the application of that knowledge can be transferred effectively to the people you work with. People don’t care about what you know, until they know you care.

Secondly, has been recognising the importance of surrounding yourself with good people. As a Head Coach you cannot know everything, there is still so much to learn and find out. The ability to recognise where other Staff are stronger across various aspects that help to enhance and add value to the environment has been so important.

Lastly, would be the environment and culture created to allow players to be themselves, while working towards common, shared and agreed targets alongside Staff. I want players and staff to firstly, enjoy what we do, to be successful in what we set out to achieve, to learn while they are with us by contributing and being part of our overall culture and to want to come back.

What are the main differences and similarities between coaching at professional clubs in England, Coaching an A-League club and coaching in the New Zealand National team setup? Have you had to adapt your coaching and management styles?

The biggest difference has been the change from day to day work in club coaching to less frequent but consolidated blocks of time in the International set-ups. Having less time with the group makes you think in different ways on how to maintain communication and information but, gives you more time to prepare between camps / tournaments.

The differences in coaching between England and overseas has been the importance of recognising the culture and unique landscapes, which can be vastly different. This is my sixth year in New Zealand (across two stints) and the way I have been welcomed and made to feel at home has been truly special.

What’s been best for your development so far and what challenges have you had to overcome?

I have been fortunate to be invited on a three-year course (Coach Accelerator Programme) run by High Performance Sport New Zealand in which a development plan is built around selected coaches, I have found this to be invaluable. It has opened up the opportunity to work with a wide range of excellent coaches across different sport codes and includes previous alumni of ex-All Blacks Coach Steve Hansen among its cohort.

The challenges of gaining access to watching Professional Football Coaches work, has been limited due to location. However, I have been into two Premier League Clubs, two J-League Clubs and two A-League Clubs this season, to try and continue gaining development opportunities. This has also extended into being welcomed into Cricket and Rugby Teams here in New Zealand, to try and see the differences between codes and how other Coaches operate.

What’s next for you, any thoughts on the future?

I think it is just important to focus on the here and now and continue to try and do the best job possible with the job at hand. The opportunities and success from the past few years has been largely based around that and has allowed me to continue my coaching journey.

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