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Monday, December 6, 2021

Speed always in Wales’ thoughts – Allen

ART GALLERY

Gary Speed won 85 caps for Wales before going on to manage his country
Venue: Cardiff City Stadium Date: Saturday, 13 November Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Live commentary on BBC Radio Wales and Radio Cymru, plus live text and score updates on the BBC Sport website and app.

Joe Allen says Wales will carry the memory of their former manager, the late Gary Speed, as they aim to qualify for a first World Cup since 1958.

Friday marks 10 years since Speed’s final game in charge of Wales, a win over Norway 15 days before his death.

Allen, 31, is one of several current squad members who played under Speed.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been 10 years really. A lot of the lads still talk about Gary, the influence he had on us as young players,” said Allen.

“He revamped a lot of things, not just on the pitch but off it as well and we’ve reaped the rewards of that.

“That’s one of the big reasons why Welsh football has been in such a healthy position over the past decade.”

Although Speed’s tenure as national team coach lasted less than a year, his impact on Wales was enormous.

A former captain of his country with vast playing experience in the Premier League, Speed instilled greater professionalism and evolved Wales’ playing style.

Under his guidance, the team rose from their lowest ever Fifa world ranking of 117th in August 2011 up to 45th within two months. By December, weeks after Speed’s death, Wales were named ‘Best Movers’ of the year having gained more ranking points than any other nation that year.

Speed did not live to see the full results of his work, but prominent Welsh players such as Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey attributed much of their subsequent success – qualifying for a first major tournament for 58 years, Euro 2016, and reaching the semi-finals – to their late manager.

Wales continued to build on those foundations by qualifying for Euro 2020, only a third major finals appearance in their history.

Their biggest remaining target is to play at a World Cup. Wales have two games left in their regular qualifying campaign for the 2022 tournament in Qatar, starting with Saturday’s match at home to Belarus.

March’s play-offs look like Wales’ likeliest route to a first World Cup since 1958, and Speed’s legacy remains a source of inspiration a decade on from his death.

“Of course. He’ll always be in our thoughts,” Allen said.

“He was part of the beginning of our road, first of all for Euro 2016 and everything that’s come since.”

Gary Speed smiling at press conference
Gary Speed played for Leeds United, Everton, Newcastle, Bolton Wanderers and Sheffield United

‘I just try to remember when he was smiling’

Allen’s views are echoed by team-mate Wayne Hennessey, another who played under Speed, went on to help Wales reach the Euro 2016 semi-finals and remains in the squad now.

“He was a big part of the journey,” said Hennessey.

“Everyone knew what a good football player he was. He always played well for Wales but once he became the manager he started a different route for us.

“He changed to different formations and we started different stuff off the field.

“He brought in a lot of different staff and we were going in the right direction. Obviously it was so sad to hear the news. I’m still choked up about it a little bit.

“I just try to remember when he was smiling and seeing him on the sideline. He was a great leader for us and he used to speak so well.

“I honestly think that was the start of the path that made us successful and where we are today.

“For the older lads we will definitely appreciate that and the work he has done. He is so sadly missed.”

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