The footballing world came to a standstill on the morning of Sunday 27 November 2011, when it was announced that Wales manager Gary Speed had been found dead at his home. Thousands of people across the globe, including FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter, expressed their shock upon hearing the distressing news of the untimely passing of one of Britain’s true greats.
After a glittering career as a player, Speed was rapidly gaining respect worldwide for being an international manager who was showing plenty of promise. Having taken the job on after their final match of 2010, at a time when Wales had slipped to 116th on the FIFA/Coca-Cola World Ranking, results under his stewardship steered them up to 48th place.
The impressive jump after amassing 330 Ranking points in 2011 was the biggest of the year, earning Wales the title of ‘Best Mover’, an accolade given to the Netherlands in 2010, Algeria and Brazil in 2009, and Spain in 2008.
The leap was largely due to a run of four wins from their last five matches. Wales defeated Bulgaria, Switzerland and Montenegro in qualifying for UEFA EURO 2012, and enjoyed a comfortable 4-1 friendly win over Norway in Cardiff.
Tottenham Hotspur’s Gareth Bale, who scored in Speed’s last three games, said: “'We were on the up; he changed the way we play and the whole mentality of our game. It is a massive loss, but we will try and carry on the best we can in his honour.”
An international friendly in memory of Speed will be played when Wales host Costa Rica (the side Speed made his international debut against) on Wednesday 29 February in Cardiff, which will see ten per cent of all the profits from the fixture going towards charities nominated by the Speed family.
It is a massive loss, but we will try and carry on the best we can in his honour.
The Football Association of Wales (FAW) also have the challenging task of naming a successor to guide the team through that match, plus the forthcoming qualifiers for the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, which was the main focus for Speed. Wales face Croatia, Serbia, Belgium, Scotland and FYR Macedonia in Group A, after having being placed among the bottom seeds in the Preliminary Draw.
“The goal has always been getting the team ready for September 2012, when World Cup qualifying begins,” he said in his final interview with FIFA.com, just a few months before his death.
“Don’t get me wrong, we want to play well and win matches in the meantime. But we’ve a longer-term goal and that’s most definitely to make sure we develop a team that’s ready to go and compete with the big teams in our group for a place at the World Cup. We still have ambitions of playing at these big tournaments and that’s what everyone’s working towards.”
Sadly, his untimely passing means that someone else will be in charge of the Wales team, but whoever inherits Speed's team will work with a team rejuvenated thanks to the efforts of the former Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers midfielder.