International Soccer
 
           === Sad that Speed won't get to finish what he started ===
 
 By Tim Keeble, Soccer Editor
 
 (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.
 
 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.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 11/28 14:04:20 ET

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