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.

Arts & Entertainment
Madonna in her music video for 'Like A Virgin'
music... and other misheard song lyrics
Sport
Steven Gerrard had to be talked into adopting a deeper role by his manager, Brendan Rodgers
sportThe city’s fight for justice after Hillsborough is embodied in Steven Gerrard, who's poised to lead his club to a remarkable triumph
News
Much of the colleges’ land is off-limits to locals in Cambridge, with tight security
educationAnd has the Cambridge I knew turned its back on me?
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
News
The energy drink MosKa was banned for containing a heavy dose of the popular erectile dysfunction Levitra
news
Environment
People are buying increasing numbers of plants such as lavender to aid the insects
environmentGardeners rally round the endangered bumblebee
Sport
Australia's Dylan Tombides competes for the ball with Adal Matar of Kuwait during the AFC U-22 Championship Group C match in January
sportDylan Tombides was diagnosed with testicular cancer in 2011
Arts & Entertainment
Customers browse through Vinyl Junkies record shop in Berwick Street, Soho, London
musicBest exclusives coming to an independent record shop near you this Record Store Day
News
Ida Beate Loken has been living at the foot of a mountain since May
newsNorwegian gives up home comforts for a cave
Extras
indybest10 best gardening gloves
Arts & Entertainment
tvIt might all be getting a bit much, but this is still the some of the finest TV ever made, says Grace Dent
Arts & Entertainment
Comedian Lenny Henry is calling for more regulation to support ethnic actors on TV
tvActor and comedian leads campaign against 'lack of diversity' in British television
News
Posted at the end of March, this tweeted photo was a week off the end of their Broadway shows
people
News
peopleStar to remain in hospital for up to 27 days to get over allergic reaction
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Who makes you happy?
happy listSend your nominations now for the Independent on Sunday Happy List
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 iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit