x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Gary Speed was 'a star in the true sense'

As a manager Gary Speed, who was found dead at his Cheshire home on Sunday, had only just started the job of rebuilding the Wales national side, but he had already ensured a lasting legacy as one of the finest players of his generation.

Gary Speed's tenure at Wales started bumpy but turned the corner. The Wales team, and the football world, go on.
Gary Speed's tenure at Wales started bumpy but turned the corner. The Wales team, and the football world, go on.

As a manager Gary Speed, who was found dead at his Cheshire home on Sunday, had only just started the job of rebuilding the Wales national side, but he had already ensured a lasting legacy as one of the finest players of his generation.

Although he started his career before the advent of the Premier League era he established himself as one of its icons, becoming one of English football's most consistent performers during spells with Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers.

He later dropped down a division to play for Sheffield United, where he accepted his first management job before moving on to become manager of his country.

Wales were, like each of the clubs he represented, enhanced by his presence and were considered one of the most improved sides in the world during Speed's year at the helm. Speed, who was 42, leaves a wife, Louise, and two sons.

Born in Mancot, North Wales, in 1969, he became a vital part of a Leeds midfield marshalled by Gordon Strachan and Gary McAllister.

The First Division title came to Elland Road in 1992, with Speed aged only 22.

"The players I worked with represented all colours of the rainbow in terms of character, but in Gary's case, he was a star in the true sense," said Howard Wilkinson, Speed's manager during that title triumph.

"For him - at 42 - to leave us is such a tragic loss. He had a life of success to look forward to, I'm sure."

Joe Royle, the Everton manager, paid £3.5 million (Dh19.85m) to take him to Goodison Park in 1996.

"He lived his life the way he played football, without blemish," said Royle. Newcastle bought Speed for £5.5m in 1998, an outlay he repaid many times over as he went on to make over 200 appearances and helped the club reach successive FA Cup finals, losing to Arsenal in 1998 and Manchester United in 1999.

When he left Newcastle, Bolton offered him the chance to extend his top-flight career, which he duly did over a period of four years.

In 2006, he became the first man to make 500 Premier League appearances.

Speed's appearance record has since been overtaken by goalkeeper David James and Manchester United's Ryan Giggs, who played alongside Speed for Wales.

"I am totally devastated," Giggs said.

"Gary Speed was one of the nicest men in football, and someone I am honoured to call a teammate, and friend. Words cannot begin to describe how sad I feel."

Speed's 85 Wales caps are a testament to his commitmentand he approached the manager's job with passion.

He made the brave call to install the 20-year-old Aaron Ramsey as his captain and set about empowering a group of players who had only a small amount of star power.

Three consecutive defeats to start his reign meant he had to deal with pressure from the off, but the turnaround in fortunes was well under way, and he had overseen five wins in their last seven matches.

The work of the Wales team must now continue without him, but like so many in the football world they will mourn his passing.