Gary Speed: Highlights from His Illustrious Career as Player and Manager

Lindsay EanetCorrespondent INovember 29, 2011

Gary Speed: Highlights from His Illustrious Career as Player and Manager

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    The world of football is still in shock this week over the sudden passing of former Premiership footballer and Wales national team coach Gary Speed, found dead yesterday at the age of 42.

    Fans, players and managers from Wales, England and all over have left heart-wrenching tributes to the icon, who spent time at Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers as a player and primarily served the Welsh national team as a head coach as well as a player. As the shock of his death is still fresh, it's important to celebrate how he lived, as a man with a loving family, a great friend and coach, and as a man who had a huge impact on Welsh football. 

    Here are some highlights from Speed's career as a player and manager in chronological order, many with video so you can relive the magical moments. If you wish to share your own Gary Speed memories, as always, please do so in the comments. 

Helping Leeds United Win a First Division Title, 1992

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    The midfielder and occasional left-back got his start at Leeds United, helping Howard Wilkinson's side win the last top-flight title before the Premier League was instated. Alongside the likes of Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister and David Batty, Speed was an influential player in one of the best midfield lineups in English football's recent history.

    A hard worker and a leader on the pitch, Speed had a keen sense of awareness on the pitch and scored and assisted on a number of great goals during his career at Leeds, from the long-range golazo to the skilled header. This video has some of his best. 

Scoring on His Debut for Everton & the Derby Equalizer, 1996

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    Gary Speed made an impact at four different top-flight English clubs, and it's hard to choose one stint that stood out because he did great things at all of them. Although his departure from Goodison Park was under tense circumstances, his service to the Toffees was undeniable.

    His first season at Everton, for which he earned the title of Player of the Season, was marked in particular by two goals: a quick strike on a Duncan Ferguson setup on his debut in blue, a defeat over his eventual club Newcastle United, and perhaps even more memorably, his equalizer in the Merseyside Derby that season at Anfield. The first attempt at playing the match was called off due to a flooded pitch, and on the second, in which Everton were the clear underdogs, Speed sent a clear message with his head, connecting with a free kick.

Speed's Everton Hat Trick, 1996

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    Speed scored more than 130 career goals during his time in the Premiership, but in that time, he only netted one hat trick. But, in typical Speed fashion, it sure was a memorable one. 

    At a 1996 match in which Everton slaughtered Southampton by a score of 7-1, three of the goals came from Gary Speed, beginning with a gorgeous ball sailing right past the Saints' keeper, followed by a pair of cracking reinforcement headers.

Wales 2-1 Italy, 2002

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    Speed, along with his former international teammate Robbie Savage, was part of the team that landed the Dragons' most memorable victory of the past decade, a 2-1 winner over international juggernauts Italy. It was Speed's most triumphant match as the Welsh national team captain, serving as a great leader and being rewarded with a phenomenal win. 

    As Robbie Savage recalls in a tribute to his late friend:

    "Since I heard, I’ve been thinking about all the times we shared. As team-mates, the best was beating Italy 2-1 at the Millennium in 2002.

    He played left back that night, doing what he had to do for the team as always. It was a wonderful win, one of the biggest in Welsh history, and I’ll never forget him, so happy and proud afterwards as we jumped on each other in celebration."

Helping Newcastle Reach the Champions League, 2002

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    After Everton, Speed continued making history with the Magpies under Sir Bobby Robson, eventually helping them reach the Champions League and making it through to the knockout stage. He proved to be an incredible asset to the Magpies, making 285 appearances and 40 goals, and was held in high regard by English managerial legend Robson, who called Speed one of his "blue chip" players. 

    As manager Bobby Robson put it:

    "He is one of the best of the best. He and Alan Shearer are the finest role models you will find in football."


500th Cap at Bolton Wanderers, 2006

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    At Bolton Wanderers, Speed continued to find ways to wow, becoming the first player to reach 500 appearances in the Premier League and briefly holding the record for being the only player to score in every Premiership season (fellow Welsh international Ryan Giggs broke this several months later).

    After a tenacious performance in Bolton's 4-0 win over West Ham United, in which he earned his 500th appearance, his former Newcastle teammate Alan Shearer had this to say in response:

    "Gary could go on forever. He's a top pro who looks after himself so well, it's right that he's got the Premiership appearance record.

    Gary should be an inspiration to any youngster coming through the ranks."

    A tireless worker, Speed played in every Premiership match for his club for four seasons of his career. 

Five Wins in Seven Matches

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    During his first year as the manager of the Welsh national team Speed racked up five wins in seven matches in charge, a rather impressive winning streak.

    His first appearance as manager was also his first victory, a 3-0 win over a very strong, Euro 2012-qualifying Republic of Ireland squad in the Carling Nations Cup, and netted another win in September against an impressive Montenegrin side, speaking volumes about his talent and that of his players. 

Molding Great Young Talents Like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey

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    It will be a bit longer, especially with the World Cup qualifiers coming up, until we see just how far and how deep Speed's brief but impacting legacy as a Wales manager goes, but if there's one thing he most definitely did right, it was continuing to develop some of the Dragons' great young talents.

    One of Speed's boldest moves was to instate 20-year-old Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey as captain, a huge vote of confidence for Ramsey and perhaps an intelligent move in helping shape a new generation of leaders for the national team. Speed also returned Tottenham Hotspur speed demon Gareth Bale to the national side following Bale's long injury-induced hiatus, and other up-and-comers, like Cardiff City defender Darcy Blake, have shown promise under his leadership. Speed helped build a foundation for a future powerhouse Wales team, and although he can't be replaced, hopefully their success will be his legacy. 

Last Victory: Wales 4-1 Norway, 2011

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    Speed's managerial career ended with a win in an international friendly over Norway, opened by a cracking goal from Gareth Bale, followed by one from Speed's former teammate, Craig Bellamy. The Dragons were on form in this victory, leading to speculation, based on the level of talent on the squad and Speed's managerial improvements, of the team being serious contenders to qualify for the 2014 World Cup.

    As a sixth-seed team, they face a tough draw, including Serbia, Croatia and Scotland, but with the talent Speed helped develop and the wisdom he imparted, they could very well pull it off. 

The Footballing World Mourns Gary Speed

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    In addition to Shay Given's heart-wrenching display, fighting back tears after Swansea's Speed tribute, and Craig Bellamy pulling out of the Sunday Premiership match against Manchester City to grieve for his manager, here are just some of the remarks other folks around the world of football have made in tribute to the Welsh footballing icon:

    "It's incredible. I think I'm still numb and still in shock like everyone else is. You read about this in the newspapers. It doesn't happen to one of your best mates. I'm just so, so sad and shocked and feel for Louise and his two boys and his mum and dad, and I can't imagine the pain that they're going through.

    I got a few missed calls off one of his best mates and so I rang him back and he gave me the news. And at first, I thought, 'He's not the type to joke about things like that,' and even 10 minutes later I was waiting for him to call me back and tell me it was all a joke." —Alan Shearer, to the BBC


    "There are people in football who will drop you like a stone when you retire but that’s not Gary. He had time for everyone, always. He was a lovely guy. It was an honour to know him and an honour to play with him.

    The first time I met him was when I was called up to the Wales squad for the first time.

    Some of the other veteran players looked down on me because I was a scrawny kid who played for Crewe, but not him. He treated me the same as if I was Ian Rush or Mark Hughes and that made me feel 10 feet tall." —Robbie Savage, in his Mirror column


    "Today the world has lost a great football manager but even more sadly a great man. He will be missed by all." —Wales captain Aaron Ramsey, via Twitter


    "Gary Speed was one of the nicest men in football and someone I am honoured to call a team-mate and friend.

    Words cannot begin to describe how sad I feel at hearing this awful news. It goes without saying my thoughts are with his family at this tremendously sad time." —Ryan Giggs, via MUFC


    “He was a smashing lad and was really well respected.

    We don’t know the circumstances obviously, and there’ll be a lot of people who are saddened at what’s happened, but I think the most important people at this particular moment in time is his wife and kids – they must be absolutely devastated.

    It’s at times like this that the football becomes a wee bit irrelevant.

    He was a very respected man in and around football, not only for his ability but for the guy as a person." —Kenny Dalglish, The Journal


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