Spirit of Speed hangs over Wales’ Euro 2016 bid

Cardiff (United Kingdom) (AFP) – There is one figure Wales manager Chris Coleman wishes could accompany his squad to France — former boss Gary Speed whose absence is still sorely felt.

November 27, 2011 will go down in Welsh football history for all the wrong reasons. That was the day it was announced that Speed, Wales’ manager at the time, had taken his life, aged just 42.

“‘Speeds’ is always in my thoughts, not just when I’ll be in France,”  Coleman told AFP in an interview ahead of leaving for the European Championship finals.

Speed’s first game in charge of Wales had only been nine months before his death. Under his 11-month steerage, Wales shot up the FIFA rankings — from 116 to 48th — and had humbled Norway 4-1 in Cardiff, 15 days before Speed’s suicide. 

Coleman, who had known Speed since playing schoolboy football against him, succeeded his friend as manager in January 2012.

Wales missed out on a place at the 2014 World Cup in Coleman’s first campaign, but the 45-year-old has guided them to a place at Euro 2016. It will be their first appearance at a major tournament since the 1958 World Cup in Sweden.

– Need for Speed –

Despite his obvious pride in his achievement, Coleman wishes it was Speed who would be taking Wales to France.

“Everytime we (the Welsh team) meet up for games or for camps, it kick-starts my memory from being a player and sharing dressing rooms or rooming with him,” Coleman said.

“We were friends since we were 10-year-olds and playing against each other in schoolboy football, so he’s always in my thoughts.

“He’d be as proud as any of us (to be going to France) and he’d enjoy it as much as any of us.

“It’s a shame, because someone like him deserves to experience this and I am sure he would have if he had been here, probably sitting where I am.

“I am sure we would have followed down the same path, he was a great man, he’s someone I often think about and he’s someone I am always going to miss.”

Real Madrid winger Gareth Bale, Wales’ star forward, has credited Speed for sparking the revival in Wales’ fortunes.

In an interview with The Times, Speeds’ father believes his son will be looking down and following Wales’ fortunes.

“He’d have been over the moon,” said the 73-year-old Roger Speed.

“It was always what he wanted to do. He’ll be there in the lads’ minds I’m sure.

“He’ll be in my mind in France as well, especially if we score. I’ll be proud, our Gary started it all and Chris (Coleman) has done a fantastic job following him.

“He’s up there watching and hoping — I’m really, really proud of what they’ve done.

“I know somebody up there will be watching and he’ll be behind them all the time.”

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