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Saturday 21 January 2017

A star player who dreamed of World Cup glory

Published 28/11/2011 | 05:00

GARY Speed, who has died aged 42, enjoyed a remarkably long career as a professional footballer and was Wales's second most capped player; since December last year he had been coach of the Welsh national side.

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As a player, Speed took a midfield role and was noted for his efficiency, intelligence and his commitment to the team.

The high point of his career was his eight years with Leeds United, for whom he made his debut in 1988 at the age of 19. Playing alongside Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister and David Batty, he played an important part when Leeds won the First Division title 1992. In all, he made more than 300 appearances for the club, scoring 57 goals.

Gary Andrew Speed was born at Mancot, in Wales, on September 8, 1969, and educated at Hawarden High School. As a boy he supported Everton. In fact, he left Leeds United for Everton in 1996, remaining with the club until February 1998, when Newcastle United bought him for £5.5m (€6.4m). He played on Tyneside for six years, scoring 40 times for the club.

In July 2004 Speed moved to Bolton Wanderers. Three years later, after Sam Allardyce stepped down as manager of the club, Speed briefly replaced him, but soon returned to his playing role. Then, in the New Year of 2008, he was signed by Sheffield United. By now he was in the autumn of his career, and although he remained with the club until September 2010, he was troubled by a back injury, latterly assuming a coaching role at the club.

Speed held the record for the most appearances in the Premier League at 535, until it was surpassed by David James.

After winning his first cap in 1994, he played 85 times for Wales, and was captain of the side on 44 occasions. He retired from international football in 2004, having scored seven goals for his country. Only the goalkeeper Neville Southall has won more caps for Wales.

Early in the 2010-'11 season, Sheffield United's manager Kevin Blackwell was sacked, and Speed replaced him on a three-year contract. Within three months, however, he had been appointed manager of Wales, in succession to John Toshack. After being paid compensation by the Football Association of Wales, Sheffield United released Speed from his contract.

By September this year Wales had slumped to 117 in the FIFA rankings, their worst-ever position. But Speed kept faith with his young players, having controversially appointed Arsenal's 20-year-old midfielder Aaron Ramsey captain of the national side. They are now ranked 45th in the world by FIFA.

His ambition was to take Wales to the next World Cup finals in Brazil.

Gary Speed, who was appointed MBE for his services to football in 2010, was much sought after as a pundit and once considered taking up sports journalism after the end of his playing career.

He was found dead at his home at Cheshire, and is thought to have taken his own life. He is survived by his wife, Louise, and their two sons.

Gary Speed, born September 8, 1969, died November 27 2011.

Irish Independent

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