Gary Speed: Footballer and Wales manager whose playing career spanned 22 years

 

From the time he riveted attention as the brilliant baby of the beautifully balanced Leeds United midfield which was so integral to the Yorkshiremen's league title triumph of 1991-92, right through until he presided inspirationally over the unexpected recent renaissance of Wales as a force in international football, Gary Speed, who has apparently committed suicide, barely put a foot wrong.

As a player for Leeds, Everton, Newcastle United, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United, and for his country – between 1990 and 2004 he earned 85 caps, a record for an outfielder and second only to goalkeeper Neville Southall – invariably he was a colossally influential and versatile all-round performer. As one of the most promising young managers in the world game, his potential for long-term success appeared to be limitless; and as a character he was widely cherished as a down-to-earth, loyal, industrious, good-humoured individual, one of the most popular figures in Welsh sport.

After rising through the youth ranks at Elland Road, Speed made his senior debut as a 19-year-old left-sided midfielder during 1988-89, then earned a regular place towards the end of the following season, which Leeds finished on top of the old Second Division, the equivalent of today's Championship. Undaunted by elevation to the élite grade, the Welsh rookie rapidly became a key part of a superb centre-field quartet which also included the experienced and gifted Scottish duo Gordon Strachan and Gary McAllister, and the vigorous young local boy David Batty.

They gelled together fluently, with Speed based on the left flank, majoring on pace and athleticism, a prodigious work ethic and a stupendous aerial ability which was seen to maximum effect through his priceless knack of arriving late in opposing penalty boxes to direct powerful headers towards goal. In 1991-92, when Leeds deservedly outstripped Manchester United to become the last English champions of the pre-Premier League era, Speed contributed seven League goals, missed only one match and was named by manager Howard Wilkinson as his player of the season.

Clearly one of the outstanding prospects on the British scene, and a key member of the Wales team after making his full international entrance against Costa Rica in August 1990, Speed could contemplate the future with unbounded optimism, not least because if necessary he could fill virtually any position bar goalkeeper. But with Leeds failing to keep pace with the gathering force of Alex Ferguson's Old Trafford empire, a sense grew that the exhilaratingly talented Welshman's career could do with some fresh impetus, and it seemed that might be achieved when he was sold to Everton, the club he had adored all his life, for £3.5m in July 1996.

It seemed to be a dream move as he was greeted rapturously by the Goodison fans, and he was made captain at the outset of 1997-98, but while Speed did well enough personally, the Toffees toiled collectively and soon he outraged his erstwhile admirers by demanding a transfer. Duly in February 1998 he was sold to Newcastle for £5.5m, and at St James' Park he continued to mature into one of the finest midfielders in the land, especially after moving from the left to a central position.

Now he shone whether deployed as an anchorman or with a more attacking brief. His control, distribution, shooting, stamina and courage, his spring-heeled excellence in the air, his reading of the game, his composure under pressure and his leadership qualities, everything was impeccable and the Magpies always looked a far better side with Speed than without him.

He spent six years on Tyneside, experiencing FA Cup final defeats to Arsenal in 1998 and Manchester United in 1999, and sampling a taste of the Champions League, before switching to Bolton for £750,000 in July 2004. Yet again he contributed consistently, in 2006 becoming the first man to reach 500 Premier League appearances.

Early in 2008, by now in his 40th year, Speed joined second-flight Sheffield United, initially on loan, and featured regularly for the Blades – scoring a league goal for the 20th successive season – till laid low by back trouble in November 2008. He announced his retirement as a player in 2010, having made nearly 700 league appearances in his 22 years as a professional, and had served only four months as Bramall Lane boss when he was made manager of Wales that December.

At that point expectations were low, but Speed proceeded to confound them comprehensively. Although he would always be honoured for his international service on the pitch, which included captaining the side 44 times and scoring seven goals, few if any observers believed that he would bring about a swift and dramatic upturn in his nation's fortunes.

But he did. In the 10 games before his shocking death, he oversaw five victories, culminating in three in quick succession, the most recent being a 4-1 drubbing of Norway in a friendly at Cardiff earlier this month. In the process Wales climbed into the world ranking list's top 50, and suddenly the Principality's footballing future looked dazzlingly bright. It was a stunning development, and it was all down to Gary Speed.

Gary Andrew Speed, footballer and manager: born Mancot, Flintshire 8 September 1969; played for Leeds United 1988-96, Everton 1996-98, Newcastle United 1998-2004, Bolton Wanderers 2004-08, Sheffield United 2008; capped 85 times by Wales 1990-2004; managed Sheffield United 2010, Wales 2010-11; MBE 2010; married Louise (two sons); died Huntington, Cheshire 26 or 27 November 2011.

Voices
Mosul dam was retaken with the help of the US
voicesRobert Fisk: Barack Obama is following the jihadists’ script
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Arts and Entertainment
Loaded weapon: drugs have surprise side effects for Scarlett Johansson in Luc Besson’s ‘Lucy’
filmReview: Lucy, Luc Besson's complex thriller
News
peoplePamela Anderson rejects ice bucket challenge because of ALS experiments on animals
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
tvExecutive says content is not 'without any purpose'
News
A cleaner prepares the red carpet for the opening night during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival May 17, 2006 in Cannes, France.
newsPowerful vacuum cleaners to be banned under EU regulations
Sport
sportLeague Managers' Association had described Malky Mackay texts as 'friendly banter'
News
A polar bear’s diet is rich in seal blubber and half of its own body weight is composed of fat
i100
News
peopleCareer spanned 70 years, including work with Holocaust survivors
News
people
Travel
Flocking round: Beyoncé, Madame Tussauds' latest waxwork, looking fierce in the park
travelIn a digital age when we have more access than ever to the stars, why are waxworks still pulling in crowds?
News
London is the most expensive city in Europe for cultural activities such as ballet
arts
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson has rejected criticisms of his language, according to BBC director of television Danny Cohen
tv
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Head of IT (Not-for-Profit sector) - East Sussex

£45000 - £50000 per annum + 5 weeks holiday & benefits: Ashdown Group: Head of...

Nursery Nurse

£25 per day: Randstad Education Manchester: Level 3 Nursery nurse needed in th...

Supply Teaching jobs in Thetford

£21588 - £31566 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

KS1 teachers needed in Peterborough

£110 - £125 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education are ur...

Day In a Page

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

Air strikes? Talk of God? Obama is following the jihadists’ script

The President came the nearest he has come yet to rivalling George W Bush’s gormless reaction to 9/11 , says Robert Fisk
Ebola outbreak: Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on the virus

Billy Graham’s son declares righteous war on Ebola

A Christian charity’s efforts to save missionaries trapped in Africa by the crisis have been justifiably praised. But doubts remain about its evangelical motives
Jeremy Clarkson 'does not see a problem' with his racist language on Top Gear, says BBC

Not even Jeremy Clarkson is bigger than the BBC, says TV boss

Corporation’s head of television confirms ‘Top Gear’ host was warned about racist language
Nick Clegg the movie: Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise

Nick Clegg the movie

Channel 4 to air Coalition drama showing Lib Dem leader's rise
Philip Larkin: Misogynist, racist, miserable? Or caring, playful man who lived for others?

Philip Larkin: What will survive of him?

Larkin's reputation has taken a knocking. But a new book by James Booth argues that the poet was affectionate, witty, entertaining and kind, as hitherto unseen letters, sketches and 'selfies' reveal
Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?

Waxing lyrical

Madame Tussauds has shown off its Beyoncé waxwork in Regent's Park - but why is the tourist attraction still pulling in the crowds?
Texas forensic astronomer finally pinpoints the exact birth of impressionism

Revealed (to the minute)

The precise time when impressionism was born
From slow-roasted to sugar-cured: how to make the most of the British tomato season

Make the most of British tomatoes

The British crop is at its tastiest and most abundant. Sudi Pigott shares her favourite recipes
10 best men's skincare products

Face it: 10 best men's skincare products

Oscar Quine cleanses, tones and moisturises to find skin-savers blokes will be proud to display on the bathroom shelf
Malky Mackay allegations: Malky Mackay, Iain Moody and another grim day for English football

Mackay, Moody and another grim day for English football

The latest shocking claims do nothing to dispel the image that some in the game on these shores exist in a time warp, laments Sam Wallace
La Liga analysis: Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Will Barcelona's hopes go out of the window?

Pete Jenson starts his preview of the Spanish season, which begins on Saturday, by explaining how Fifa’s transfer ban will affect the Catalans
Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape