Outgoing under-23 football coach Des Buckingham has spoken of his pride in guiding New Zealand's best young footballers on the world stage.
Having qualified the team for the Tokyo Olympics, Buckingham won't take the reins at next year's rescheduled event because his contract expires in August. New Zealand Football last week removed him from the role, with All Whites coach Danny Hay taking over.
In a written statement, Buckingham said he and his coaching staff worked hard to integrate culture into New Zealand's youth programmes.
"It has created a sense of belonging, deeper meaning behind wearing the fern and close connections to others as well as New Zealand, which enhanced our on-field performances and results," said Buckingham.
"I am proud of what we have been able to achieve, with a wonderful group of young men who have been a pleasure to work with and have consistently represented their country to the highest of standards.
"It has been something truly unique and something I will never forget," he said.
Under Buckingham's guidance, New Zealand made the knockout rounds at last year's Fifa under-20 World Cup in Poland, beating Honduras and Norway in the group stages.
With the likes of Sarpreet Singh, Libby Cacace, Joe Bell and Michael Woud to the fore, New Zealand impressed all observers with their style of play and were cruelly eliminated on penalties by Colombia in the round-of-16. Singh was signed by German giants Bayern Munich shortly afterwards.
Taking over the OlyWhites at short notice, Buckingham masterminded a win at the Pacific Games in Samoa last July, his vastly inexperienced charges beating senior teams from the Oceania region. After two draws with Australia, New Zealand comfortably earned their place at the Olympics, sweeping all before them at the OFC under-23 Championships in Fiji in October.
"It has been an exciting journey to watch from the side-line and I have enjoyed seeing consistent demonstrations of what the New Zealand player is capable of," said Buckingham.
"A thank you to the 79 players who have been part of the National Camps, 49 who have taken the field and 19 debutants for their openness and willingness to add huge value into developing a clear identity on and off the field.
"Thank you to the support staff that have been part of this journey and contributed in so many ways. The expertise, integrity and collaboration alongside the players made for not only a successful couple of years but an enjoyable one too.
"It has been a great privilege to be part of 26 months and 23 games with New Zealand Football, where many special memories, historical moments and close relationships were made."
Having spent the best part of six years here, Buckingham has remained in New Zealand and will now consider his next move. With several A-League clubs without a permanent coach ahead of the 2020/21 A-League season, his name is sure to be linked with vacant roles at the likes of Adelaide United, Western Sydney Wanderers and Brisbane Roar.