Who is Des Buckingham, the globetrotter influenced by Guardiola now favourite for Wales job

-Credit: (Image: Getty)
-Credit: (Image: Getty)

The search for a new Wales boss has taken an intriguing twist this week.

Having already seen Osian Roberts pull out of the race, and with Craig Bellamy seemingly set to stay on with Burnley as part of Scott Parker's backroom team (for the time-being at least), you'd perhaps be forgiven for thinking there might already be an air of frustration around the efforts to secure a successor to Rob Page.

Both Roberts and Bellamy were among the top choices with supporters, but the Football Association of Wales has already said it will cast the net far and wide in a bid to find a suitable candidate.

READ MORE: Inside Wales' new manager hunt: What happened before and those in running this time around

READ MORE: Leading candidate for Wales manager job rules himself out as statement issued

Thierry Henry is another the early name to have cropped up, but the man now heading up the list of bookies' favourites is one that's unlikely to be as familiar to many Wales supporters.

Des Buckingham is currently preparing his side Oxford United side for their first season back in the Championship since 1999, having already masterminded a sensational promotion push that ended with jubilation in the play-off final at Wembley.

However, there's a growing suggestion he could now be a possible candidate to take over the biggest job in Welsh football.

For what it's worth, WalesOnline understands there hasn't yet been any formal approach for Buckingham at this stage, but his name will nevertheless spark plenty of intrigue.

At 39, he is seen as something of a rising managerial star. But despite his tender age, he has no shortage of air miles under his belt. Already, his journey has taken him to New Zealand, Australia, India, and er... Stoke.

He's arguably now come full circle, having begun his coaching journey at the Kassam Stadium when he was just 18, having previously been a part of the youth team set-up as a player.

"I started playing football late, aged 12," he told Coaches Voice when looking back on his career. "I went into Reading as a 15-year-old, then to Oxford at 17. There was no hard-luck injury story with my playing career, though.

"I did my badges while I did my scholarship. My youth coach at Oxford, Mickey Lewis, took me under his wing. He’s the reason I got into coaching, and I found myself really enjoying it.

"It ended up that I was enjoying coaching more than playing. Then Oxford said they weren’t going to renew my contract, so it was a natural transition into a coaching career."

After working his way through the development sides, Buckingham's breakthrough as a coach arguably came when he turned 28. Chris Wilder, U's boss at the time, brought his coaching talents up to the first team ahead of the 2013/14 season.

"He was very supportive in those early stages, which really allowed me to settle into the first-team environment," he said when quizzed on his time working under Wilder. "I also knew a lot of the players, because the club wanted ex-academy players to make up at least 30 per cent of the first-team squad.

"I had come from more of a development role, into one where the emphasis was on winning. I got the taste for it."

The taste for winning led him to New Zealand, where he took on a development role with the New Zealand FA in a bid to boost his CV.

Then a chance meeting with members of staff at Wellington Phoenix, the country's only professional football club, changed everything. As it happens, Phoenix had just parted with their goalkeeping coach, and were impressed enough by Buckingham to give him a shot.

“I said I’d done some stuff and they were happy," he told the Oxford Mail. "I went in for the rest of the season to help out.”

From there, he became assistant coach in 2016, and then caretaker head coach alongside Chris Greenacre following the dismissal of Ernie Merrick. After helping Phoenix to a four-game unbeaten run in early 2017, Buckingham's contributions helped drag Phoenix away from the bottom of the A-League table.

At 31, Buckingham was the youngest head coach in the A-League's history, but in the July of that year he was on the move again, taking up an under-23s role at then Premier League side Stoke City.

But New Zealand soon reeled him back in. In 2018, he was handed his first taste of international football, taking up a combined role as head coach of New Zealand's under-20s, as well as assistant head coach with the senior side.

His tenure was, by and large, a huge success, with his under-20s side earning the country their highest-ever finish at a men's FIFA tournament by reaching the last 16 in the 2019 World Cup, where they were cruelly knocked out on penalties by Colombia.

Buckingham's side earned lavish praise in the Kiwi press for their attacking, front-footed brand of possession-based football, a style that would later largely underpin Oxford's triumphant march back to the second tier last season.

All Whites great Wynton Rufer couldn't believe the transformation, remarking at the time: "This is the first time we've looked like a footballing nation."

Sadly, when the Covid-19 pandemic hit, New Zealand Football were forced to part with Buckingham, despite vehement protestations from the players, who had also reached their third Olympic Games under his guidance.

Melbourne City soon picked him up as an assistant, and he was quickly introduced to the wider philosophy that runs through the City Football Group, which obviously includes Premier League champions Manchester City.

Pep Guardiola, he admits, has been a huge influence on his coaching philosophy. "He [Guardiola] has had continued success," Buckingham said. "But he is still evolving and forever trying new things.

"That’s inspirational."

"The idea is that, if you flicked the TV on and you weren’t aware of the team you were watching, you’d be able to look and say: 'That is a CFG club'," he explained.

"There will be differences across the clubs. We can’t play like Manchester City, but what we can all do is follow similar principles. That fits strongly with how I want to coach."

After winning a historic double with Melbourne, the first in the club's history, Buckingham was persuaded to take a head coach job at another of the CFG's clubs.

During his time at Mumbai City, Buckingham was afforded the chance to really flex his tactical muscles, implementing a ferocious brand of football that delivered an Indian Super League title, and an impressive showing in the Asian Champions League.

"We’re very clear on how we want to play," he said when asked to describe the style of his Mumbai side. "We’re a team that will always have around 60 per cent possession. We’ll always try to outpass our opponents, to outshoot our opponents. Our approach is always to go out to win a game, in the way that we say we want to do it. Attacking football.

"It’s about putting a framework around what we’re trying to do, people being clear on what that is, and allowing players to showcase what they can do within that. It’s more principle-based coaching than formations or specific details, game to game."

Those principles are easy to recognise during his time back at Oxford, who came calling last November, and a promotion back to the Championship after 25 years away indicates his skills might have some purchase at a higher level.

Certainly, there's a growing argument his potential is likely to lead him to bigger and better things. Whether that's with Wales remains to be seen.