At the time of writing this, Gary Speed, passed away 10 days ago. It’s still a shock. Gary Speed was one of football’s good guys. He was the ultimate professional and had a positive impact on many people’s lives, which is evident by the sheer volume of moving tributes.
Gary began his professional career in 1988 after being a trainee at Leeds United. He was a key member of the 1991-92 title winning side playing alongside the likes of Gary McAllister, Gordon Strachan and Eric Cantona.
After making 312 appearances for the Elland Road outfit, Speed moved to Everton in 1996 for 3.5m, where he went on to become the Toffees’ skipper.
In 1998, Bobby Robson signed Speed for £5.5m, taking him to St James Park where he tasted Champions League football but also suffered two FA Cup Final defeats over a six year period. Alan Shearer was a close friend – ‘Everyone loved him – that’s the type of guy that he was. He got on with the younger guys, the older guys, the laundry lady, the chefs, the kit man – we used to get in early after taking our kids to school and we were in the training ground at 8.45 having breakfast together. It’s such a sad situation, a sad loss.’
Sam Alladyce’s Bolton was his next destination for four seasons, with the Lancashire club being his last club in the Premier League. Speed was briefly the First team coach whilst at the Wanderers.
Speed represented his country 85 times over a 14 year period – a record for an outfield player. 44 of those 85 caps were as captain. He was also the first player ever to amass 500 appearances in the Premier League.
He moved to Sheffield United in 2008 where he started his coaching career.
In December 2010, Sheffield United gave the FAW permission to speak with Speed and subsequently unveiled Speed as the national coach where he improved Wales’ FIFA ranking from 90 to 45 in 11 months. Wales won 5 out of 10 games under Speed – winning the last 3. His final game in charge was a 4-1 friendly win over Norway. Gareth Bale summarized Speed’s impact on the national team – ‘We were on the up, he changed the way we play and the whole mentality of our game.’ Wales’ assistant manager, Raymond Verheijen says Speed was ‘adored’ by the players. “Every time he stepped into a room he energized the place. You could see the players adored him. They really looked up to him.’
Football fans will share in the loss of a man who, having achieved so much as a player, was on the verge of more promise for his nation. A fitting tribute to Speed’s legacy would be Wales’ first World Cup Finals appearance since 1958 in Brazil 2014.