Darren Bazeley has his sights set on leading his adopted country to the Olympics after being named as New Zealand’s head coach.
The former Wolves man has been in the role on an interim basis since March but has this week had his position made permanent in good time for a busy, high-profile programme.
The 50-year-old has so far overseen a win and draw against China and a defeat against a Sweden side ranked 23rd by FIFA.
The country field their under-23 side in Olympic matches but there are no restrictions in place for when Bazeley leads the All Whites’ bid to reach the 2026 World Cup finals.
At age group level, he steered the Kiwis to the last 16 of the under-20 World Cup in 2015, 2017 and this May, having become a New Zealand citizen eight years ago.
Of the appointment, New Zealand Football chief executive Andrew Pragnell said: “I’m confident we have the right person. While the appointment process took longer than expected, it allowed us to test Darren in the role and he proved he was the right candidate.
“He has consistently delivered and has led the team to positive results and performances against higher-ranked sides. The feedback has been very positive and proven to us all that the team will be successful under his leadership.
“He is well respected and we look forward to seeing where he takes this team, starting next month with the qualifying campaign for the Paris 2024 Olympics.”
Bazeley landed Down Under in 2005, playing for New Zealand Knights and then Waitakere United, the side he represented in the 2007 FIFA Club World Cup in Japan.
He has been an international coach since 2009, his first steps in the dug-out at club level having come at Waitakere under the guidance of his good friend and former Wolves team-mate, Neil Emblen.
He later went to the MLS as assistant head coach of Colorado Rapids, then linked up in Australia with Carl Robinson as no 2 at Newcastle Jets, returning to New Zealand late in October, 2020 because of covid travel restrictions and difficulties in being away from his family.
In England, he played around 300 games for Watford, the last of them the Wembley play-off final victory under Graham Taylor in 1999. He then surprisingly turned his back on a chance in the Premier League, though, by joining Colin Lee’s Wolves on a free transfer.
After 80 matches while on the playing staff at Molineux, he made the short move to Walsall for another two years, during which he was reunited with Lee and Emblen.
He said of his new appointment: “I’m excited to be named All Whites head coach and can’t wait to officially get started.
“I’m proud of the progress we have made as a team over the last four international matches. I have known and coached many of the players for a long time, so it will be a real privilege to continue on the journey with them to develop football in New Zealand.
“This is a hugely exciting time to be a football fan in New Zealand, with the Women’s World Cup this year, consistent high-quality international fixtures, and the Olympics and World Cup, should we qualify, in the next few years.”
*The photo at the top of the page shows how New Zealand Football went about the big announcement.