Sad that Speed won't get to finish what he started
By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The soccer world took a stunning blow to the gut on Sunday morning when Wales manager Gary Speed was found hanged inside his home.
The 42-year-old was by all accounts a consummate professional who enjoyed a distinguished career as a player before entering management last year with Sheffield United and then with Wales.
"Gary was a fantastic man and a fantastic professional on and off the field," Jonathan Ford, the chief executive of the Football Association of Wales, told Sky Sports News. "He was a charismatic man and he had a massive twinkle in his eye. Of course, that twinkle is unfortunately no longer there."
And while the reason for that twinkle disappearing remains a mystery, the sad fact is that Speed leaves behind a wife and two children as well as a promising coaching career that was just getting started.
As a player, Speed appeared in over 500 Premier League games - a record that was broken in 2009 by goalkeeper David James - and became known for his versatility in the midfield and general popularity among players and fans alike.
Speed made 85 appearances for Wales, becoming the most capped outfield player in the history of the team, and was always tipped for a career as a manager.
His coaching duties began at Sheffield United during the 2010-11 season, but he was named the new boss of Wales on December 14, 2010 after previous manager John Toshack stepped down.
Gary Speed leaves behind a wife and two children as well as a promising coaching career that was just getting started.
Speed's appointment may have come as a bit of a surprise considering his brief coaching resume, but according to Ford, it was his qualities as a person that made him stand out.
"Gary wasn't the most experienced manager we interviewed, but it was Gary that we employed," said Ford. "He was the man, ultimately the person, that we bought into and the players bought into that."
Things didn't start too well in Speed's first few games as a manager as the team slipped to 117th in the FIFA world rankings following losses to Ireland and England. But the boss slowly made his imprint on the team by bringing in an infusion of youth that saw results turn around quickly.
Speed was in charge of Wales for just 10 games total, but the team won five of its last seven under him and appeared to be gaining momentum ahead of qualification for the 2014 World Cup, which starts next year.
Wales has only ever qualified for one World Cup, in 1958, and while the team would once again be viewed as outsiders in a group with Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Scotland and Macedonia, Speed's team was expected to be more competitive than it had been in a long time.
A 4-1 win over Norway in a friendly two weeks ago was the final match for Wales under Speed, and it helped to lift the team to 45th in the FIFA rankings, a big jump from when Speed first took over.
The result also showed how Speed has transformed the team's style of play from a bland, plodding attack to one that is much easier on the eye.
Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey was named the youngest captain in Welsh history at the age of 20, and along with Tottenham's Gareth Bale and Joe Ledley of Celtic, it seemed a good young nucleus was starting to take shape under Speed's direction.
"We were on the up, he changed the way we play and the whole mentality of our game," Bale said of Speed's influence on the team. "It is a massive loss, but we will try and carry on the best we can in his honor."
It will take some time before Speed's family and friends are able to pick up the pieces and begin to move forward.
The national team, meanwhile, has less than a year before World Cup qualifying begins.
And it must deal with the reality that the man who has moved the team in such a positive direction will not be there to see out what he started.