DES Buckingham has come a long way since leaving Oxford United three years ago – in every sense.

“It’s scary how things have fallen into place,” the head coach of the Wellington Phoenix admits as he recounts his entirely unexpected career path.

Thanks to a series of chance meetings, coincidences and years of hard graft, the former U’s under nines coach is now the youngest boss in A-League history.

He said: “I was 29 when I left Oxford. I had worked in several jobs and it was fantastic for me, especially being a local lad.

“But to come here and at 31 to lead a team at this level of competition is hard to put into words.

“Pinching yourself is probably right.”

Buckingham, from Cowley, started in United’s coaching set-up aged 18 and over the next decade helped bring through the likes of Callum O’Dowda and Sam Long.

He became part of Chris Wilder’s first-team staff, but midway through the 2013/14 season he left to become a football development manager with New Zealand’s FA.

The plan was to improve his CV with a view to being in a position to take over as an academy manager at a club back in the UK.

But before long, Buckingham had a meeting with Phoenix staff as part of his role.

It just so happened New Zealand’s only professional football club, who play in Australia’s top-flight, had lost their goalkeeper coach to West Brom the week before.

Buckingham said: “I said I’d done some stuff and they were happy. I went in for the rest of the season to help out.”

That turned into an assistant coach’s role, which became full-time last year.

A poor start to the season saw head coach Ernie Merrick, the only man to win two A-League titles, unexpectedly resign in December.

In response, Phoenix put Buckingham and fellow coach Chris Greenacre in temporary charge.

But a four-game unbeaten run lifted them off the bottom of the table and saw the pair appointed until the end of the season.

A-League bosses must have a Pro Licence qualification, something Buckingham had gained while working with the New Zealand FA, ensuring he was made head coach.

Buckingham said: “After going from Oxford where I had Les Taylor and Mickey Lewis, who I got a lot from, Ernie had drip-fed a lot of information without us realising, which put us in a good position to take it on.

“We’ve changed a couple of things and they’ve worked. It’s gone OK so far.”

Three wins and four draws in his first ten games have put Wellington in contention to reach the play-offs for only the second time in five seasons.

It also pits Buckingham against ex-Australia internationals such as Kevin Muscat and John Aloisi in the technical area.

While the Englishman did not have their professional careers, the foundations he put down at United means he is far from a rookie.

Buckingham said: “There’s not been too much made of my age, which I’m happy about.

“I started coaching when I was 18, so it’s not like I’m (retiring as a player at) 35 and starting out, although there’s plenty to learn.”

Given what has happened to him over the last couple of years, it is probably unwise to speculate what comes next.

“A lot of work has gone in, but it’s about being in the right place at the right time and hopefully doing a good job,” he said.

“That’s what’s got me where I am now. Where that leads, who knows, but it’s an exciting time.

“I’d be lying if I said there was a plan.”