Football: Interim head coach Darren Bazeley eager to impress in dress rehearsal for All Whites job

Interim head coach Darren Bazeley realises he'll be under close scrutiny for the All Whites' upcoming home series against China.

After NZ Football was rebuffed by their "preferred candidate" to replace Danny Hay - current Canada head coach John Herdman - it decided to hand Bazeley the reins for the two-match series, starting in Auckland on March 23.

The current NZ U20s coach remains among the other contenders for the role and will have a golden chance to strengthen his claim for the position, when he leads his squad into battle against the Chinese.

"I've never felt that I was out of the equation," Bazeley said. "I've never been told I was. I've been kept informed of the process all the way along

"Andrew and NZF told me there was a preferred candidate that they were speaking to, that's fine. He's always said 'let's go through the process and keep talking'. 

"I'm fortunate enough and proud enough to be given the opportunity to be in the shoes, so I suppose I've got a great opportunity to put my best foot forward in how this camp and these performances go."

"We're really just concentrating on that now. No doubt there will be conversations after the tour."

Head coach Darren Bazeley of New Zealand hugs Myer Bevan during the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea in 2015.
Head coach Darren Bazeley of New Zealand hugs Myer Bevan during the FIFA U-20 World Cup in Korea in 2015. Photo credit: Getty Images

NZF will be eager to appoint a new permanent head coach in time for the next international window in June, when they travel to Stockholm to take on Sweden.

While Bazeley is well aware what will be at stake on a personal level during his trial at the helm, he's adamant his focus is on ensuring continuity, when his freshly named squad of 24 players assemble for training camp on March 20.

"I think I can be myself," said Bazeley on what would help his job prospects.

"But like I said, the window when the All Whites come together isn't about me, it's about the players. It's about making sure the environment is the right environment for them. That they're organised and it's professional, and that all of the players - when they go on the pitch - know their roles and their responsibilities."

Bazeley has named two potential debutants to his first squad as All Whites head coach in Wellington Phoenix fullback Callan Elliott and US-based defender Kyle Adams, who plies his trade for San Diego Loyal.

The group is bolstered by the return of Phoenix star Alex Rufer from a long injury layoff. Rufer hasn't featured on the international stage since 2019 and has only recently made his way back to the pitch, overcoming a knee injury that has sidelined him since early last year.

"Alex is a great lad. I've obviously known him a long time," noted Bazely, who coached Rufer at the 2015 U-20 World Cup. 

"Watching the Phoenix, he's come back from that injury and performed really well.

"He's starting to look more positive in possession… he's starting to affect the game really positively."

But the most notable absentee continues to be midfielder Sarpreet Singh. The playmaker has only recently recovered from a long-term injury, easing his way back into action with Bundesliga club Jahn Regensburg.

Although he's exempted from friendlies in this window, Bazeley confirms Singh has every intention of playing for the All Whites in 2023.

 "I constantly keep in touch with Sarpreet," said Bazley. "It's great to see him back playing. 

"This window is probably too early for him in regards to the injury he's had. It's one of those injuries that could flare up. So he's very conscious of that and he really needs to get his club career moving in the right direction, which he's starting to again.

"He just wanted people to know that he wants to play for New Zealand. 

"The timing isn't quite right with the travel in the short window but he definitely made it clear that he wants to play for the All Whites this year."

After the first match at Mt Smart Stadium, the series shifts to Wellington's Sky Stadium for the second on March 26.