'Proud' Speed looks to build for Wales' future

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The Independent Football

Gary Speed described himself as a "very proud man" yesterday when he was confirmed as the new manager of Wales, just over three months after the departure of John Toshack.

Speed, who won 85 Wales caps, has left his job as manager of Championship side Sheffield United, a role he only started in August. He leaves the club with whom he finished his playing career just one point clear of the relegation zone. He admitted he was torn over leaving the Blades, but said the lure of international management was too strong.

"These things happen in football, where the timing's not always great," Speed said. "I was disappointed to leave Sheffield United because I feel I had a job to do there and was fully committed, but obviously when your country comes calling it's a tough decision you have to make. I feel in my heart it's the right one. To be fair to them, they've been fantastic throughout and made the decision really easy for me."

His role extends beyond merely trying to rescue the current qualification campaign for the 2012 European Championship. Wales are bottom of Group G, in which England are second, having lost all three of their qualifiers so far, but Speed's remit is to look further ahead than just the next 12 months.

"We need to consistently compete on a world stage and not just come close to qualifying every now and again, every 12-15 years," Speed said. "It's my job to make sure the structure in Welsh football is such that we're consistently competing.

"As a player, I've been part of campaigns where we've just missed out. But in between those campaigns there were gaps of eight to 10 years. It's my job to make sure this country develops in a way so we can consistently compete on a world stage."

Speed's first competitive game will be against England at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on 26 March.

Jonathan Ford, the Football Association of Wales chief executive, also stressed the breadth of Speed's role. "Gary's now the manager of footballing Wales, not just of the national team. I see him as the figurehead for football in this country, and of course we want to make sure we put football very much back on the map where it deserves to be."

Brian Flynn, who had been in charge in a caretaker capacity since Toshack's departure, was sad not to have been awarded the job on a full-time basis. "Brian is of course disappointed and gutted not to be appointed as the national team manager," admitted Ford.