A dedicated professional and a promising manager
A leader and model for other players, Gary Speed had a distinguished career
THE WALES football manager Gary Speed, who has died at the age of 42 after apparently taking his own life, was an outstanding footballer and promised to be equally successful in this new phase of his career. But while he had been in charge of the national side for only 10 games, his playing career was long and distinguished.
A skilful, athletic and versatile left-sided attacking midfield player, Speed was also an exceptional header of the ball and had a healthy knack of scoring goals. He represented Wales and four different Premier League clubs – Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers – during a 22-year club career.
His longevity at the top level of the game was underpinned by a remarkable dedication to his profession. One of the first British players fully to embrace new ideas about fitness and nutrition, his success can be judged by the fact that only two players, Ryan Giggs and David James, have surpassed his total of 535 Premier League appearances, while he holds the record for the most appearances for Wales by an outfield player – 85 – made over 14 years.
He won the only major honour of his career, the Football League championship, early in his career, with Leeds in 1991-92, the last season before the formation of the Premier League, but appeared in two FA Cup finals with Newcastle, and acquired a reputation as a leader and model for other players. He captained most of the teams he played for at some time, including Everton, the club he supported as a boy. He was appointed MBE in 2010 for his services to football.
Born in Mancot, Flintshire, Speed was the only Welshman in his family, his parents, sister and children all being born in Chester. He went to Hawarden high school and played regularly for Flintshire Schoolboys and Aston Park Rangers before joining Leeds straight from school in June 1988.
He made his first-team debut at 19 for the club then in the second division, helping win promotion for Howard Wilkinson’s team in 1989-90, his second full season, and winning his first Welsh cap against Costa Rica in May 1990.
Although he also played as a defender and forward – “I think I played him in every position,” Wilkinson said – he became a regular on the left of a midfield that also included Gary McAllister, David Batty and Gordon Strachan, a formidable quartet that would help the team to win the championship in 1992, ahead of Manchester United.
However, Leeds failed to build on that success, and after 312 games and 57 goals for his first club Speed jumped at the chance to join Everton in 1996, for £3.5 million. He signed a five-year contract and finished his first season as the club’s player of the year, being made captain of his club, as he was for his country, at the beginning of the 1997-98 season.
However, what should have been a dream for the boyhood Evertonian began to turn sour. There were rumours, never fully substantiated, of fallings-out behind the scenes, and Speed moved to Newcastle for £5.5 million in 1998 after only 65 games and 17 goals.
He was to play 284 times for Newcastle, including defeats in the FA Cup finals of 1998, by Arsenal, and 1999, by Manchester United. However, although titles eluded him, he also played in the Champions League while on Tyneside and kept up his scoring record, netting 40 times.
In July 2004 he moved on to Bolton for £750,000, and it was while at the Reebok Stadium that he became the first player to make 500 Premier League appearances, in a 4–0 victory over West Ham.
He also, in May 2007, took his first steps into coaching. The following October he decided to concentrate solely on playing again, but in the new year he left the top flight, signing for Sheffield United. A back injury suffered in November 2008 prompted Kevin Blackwell, the manager, to suggest a permanent move to a coaching role, an opportunity that Speed grasped with relish.
Three games into the 2010-11 season, Blackwell was sacked and Speed promoted into his first managerial post, but he was not to stay long in the Bramall Lane chair. In December 2010, he was named as the successor to John Toshack as Wales manager, the Welsh FA paying compensation to United.
Although Speed had presided over five victories and five defeats in his 10 matches in charge of the principality, there were plenty of encouraging signs in Speeds stewardship, not least that four of the wins came in the past five games, with an unlucky 1-0 defeat by England at Wembley the only blemish.
“He completely transformed the Welsh situation from one of despair to one of hope and expectation,” his former Wales team-mate Mark Bowen said.
“The players liked him and had a real bond with him that showed in games. Everyone was really excited.”
Speed is survived by his wife, Louise, and two sons.
Gary Andrew Speed, footballer and manager, born September 8th 1969; died 27 November 2011.
TRIBUTES TO SPEED: THE REACTION ON TWITTER TO TRAGIC DEATH
@RobbieSavage8 (Former Wales football international)
The world has lost a great man in Gary Speed. I’m devastated spoke to him yesterday morning why! Why. Why!! I’ll miss him so much x
@RobertEarnshaw (Wales international striker)
I feel so sad. We have lost our manager, leader and an extremely great person who’s inspired us all in the last year. Rest in Peace Gary Speed.
@XabiAlonso (Former Liverpool and present Real Madrid and Spain midfielder)
RIP Gary Speed. My first PL game was against him, he showed me in that game what British football is about.
@themichaelowen (Manchester United and England striker): Just cannot believe the news regarding Gary Speed. We waved at each other a couple of days ago dropping our kids off at school. I’m numb.
@AP_McCoy (English champion jockey)
Very sad to hear about Gary Speed. My thoughts and condolences go out to his family.
@LeighHalfpenny1 (Wales rugby international)
Shocking news! Sad day for Sport and Wales! RIP Gary Speed #welshlegend
@AlanQuinlan1 (Former Ireland and Munster flanker)
Very sad and shocked to hear about Gary Speed. Not sure what else to say.
@DesmondF12 (Dessie Farrell, chief executive of the Gaelic Players’ Association)
Horrendously sad news about GS. Great footballer, outstanding career and highly respected individual. Difficult to come to terms with. RIP.
Compiled by Emmet Riordan