TWO weeks ago Des Buckingham was looking ahead eagerly to leading a team at the Olympics, but now he is searching for a job.

The coach from Cowley has not been out of work since he began to build an impressive coaching CV with Oxford United 18 years ago.

But that all changed last week, when New Zealand Football announced his contract to lead the under 23s was not being renewed.

It was due to run out this summer, after the Tokyo Games, but the coronavirus-enforced postponement until 2021 meant Buckingham’s Olympic hopes were dashed.

“It’s really disappointing, not just for me but the staff as well,” Buckingham told the Oxford Mail from Auckland.

“My assistant, Hiroshi Miyazawa is Japanese, so he would have been going home.

“A decision has been made that’s out of our control. All we can do is look back at the two and a half years we’ve had.

“When we do that there’s been some hugely memorable and successful moments that will hopefully put New Zealand football in a better space, both now and in the future.”

By any standards, it has been quite a ride.

Under Buckingham’s guidance, the fortunes of New Zealand’s age group sides have been transformed, both in quantity of wins and quality.

The hectic period includes an Under 20 World Cup, where they were a penalty shoot-out away from a quarter-final place.

A gold medal at the Pacific Games was followed by qualification for Tokyo, only the third time New Zealand had reached the tournament.

It has not gone unnoticed. A group of his players wrote to the governing body appealing for the group to be kept together, while Buckingham has been flooded by other messages since it became known he was leaving.

He said: “It’s been pretty overwhelming. People I don’t know who have reached out, both in my time in the role but also in the last few days.

“What it’s done is show hopefully the impact the team have had on many people.

“We talk about leaving things in a better place.

“I speak to the players all the time about football being a journey.

“There are ups and downs and this is certainly a down.

“But nobody can take away the things we’ve achieved and to have been able to lead it with a fabulous bunch of staff and players, there’s no regrets there at all.”

Instead, the focus is on the next chapter.

There is a desire to get cracking again on the next challenge immediately, but Buckingham is experienced enough to know in his profession one wrong turn can undo years of work.

Given his record, there should not be a shortage of offers though.

He said: “I’ve had 18 years now coaching and I’ve been fortunate to stay in a role throughout.

“To come away from that for a few weeks, hopefully not months, it’s about trying to look at the next opportunity.

“It’s important for me to focus on the type of role I want to go into, which is as a head coach.

“But it has to be at the right place and my skillset has to match up with the club and their ambitions. I don’t know where that is yet.

“I’m 35, but with 18 years of coaching experience behind me. I think that puts me in a good space for whatever the next step may be.

“It will be dependent on what’s available, but at some point you have to make a decision to go again.

“I’m very much ready to go.”