Football world unites to salute Wales hero Speed

TRIBUTES have poured in for Gary Speed as the football world mourned the death of the popular Wales manager.

Former team-mates, managers and clubs have described Speed as the model professional as they come to terms with his death yesterday.

Cheshire Police confirmed he was found dead at his home on the outskirts of Chester, and said there were “no suspicious circumstances”.

Speed was described as a “star in the true sense” by Howard Wilkinson, under whose management he helped Leeds win the 1992 First Division title.

“The players I worked with represented all colours of the rainbow in terms of character, but in Gary’s case he was a star in the true sense,” Wilkinson said.

“I’ve known Gary since 1988 when I joined Leeds and I’ve rarely come across a better balanced, lovely, genuine person.

“He was a terrific player — not as gifted as some but he made the most of everything he had.”

Robbie Savage, who played alongside Speed for Wales for nine years, broke down in tears as he reflected on the loss of his friend.

“I spoke to him yesterday morning. We were laughing and joking. He was in high spirits. I can’t believe it,” he said.

“He is my mate and he’s gone. I’d grown very close to him in the last few years.

“He’s left two gorgeous kids behind and a beautiful wife. He had everything.”

Manchester United midfielder Ryan Giggs, who played alongside Speed for 13 years with Wales, admitted his disbelief at the news.

“I am totally devastated. Gary Speed was one of the nicest men in football and someone I am honoured to call a team-mate and friend,” he said.

“Words cannot begin to describe how sad I feel at hearing this awful news.”

Alan Shearer, who spent six years with Speed at Newcastle, is grieving over the loss of a bright personality whose company everyone enjoyed.

“Gary was a magnificent person, bright, fun and a wonderful family man — he lit up every room he walked into,” he said.

“I am proud to have been his friend and will miss him dreadfully.”

Rob Lee, who played alongside Speed at Newcastle, remembered a man who was as influential off the pitch as he was on it.

“He was always great to be around, the life and soul of the party, and a good friend,” he said.

England and Manchester United striker Michael Owen saw Speed only last week as the two lived close to each other.

“Just cannot believe the news,” he wrote on Twitter.

“We waved at each other a couple of days ago dropping our kids off at school. I’m numb.”

Arsenal midfielder Aaron Ramsey, who was appointed Wales captain by Speed earlier this year, also used Twitter to voice his shock.

“I was given the tragic news this morning... Today the world has lost a great football manager but even more sadly a great man. He will be missed by all.”

Speed’s former clubs — Leeds, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton and Sheffield United — spoke warmly of Speed as they gave their reaction to the news.

Leeds manager Simon Grayson, who was an apprentice with Speed at Elland Road, shared a long history with a man he held in high regard.

“Speedo was a true friend and a very, very popular man,” he said.

“We signed on the same day and played in the youth and reserve teams together.

“We also did all our coaching badges together. He was a good friend and this is a very sad day.”

The FAI released a statement, stating: “The FAI, the football management and the players today expressed their sincere condolences to the family and colleagues of the Welsh manager Gary Speed. He will be sadly missed by everyone and our thoughts and prayers at this difficult time are with his family.’’

A police spokeswoman revealed the tragic news yesterday morning: “At 7.08am, Cheshire Police was informed of a sudden death at an address in Huntington, Chester.

“Officers went to the scene where a 42-year-old man was found dead. The next of kin have been informed and have confirmed the identity of the man as Gary Speed. There are no suspicious circumstances.... the family have requested that they are left in peace to grieve at this difficult time.”

Speed was appointed manager of Wales in December 2010 after retiring as a player in May last year. He took charge of Wales for the first time in February, with his last game as manager on November 12 when the team won 4-1 in a friendly against Norway.

Speed, who appeared on BBC1’s Football Focus on Saturday, was awarded the MBE in 2010 for his services to football and leaves behind a wife and two children.

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