Like everyone else connected to football, I was shocked and saddened to hear of the death of Gary Speed.
I first encountered Gary on the pitch when we played Leeds. With him as a left-footed midfielder and me as a right-back, we went up against each other on several occasions.
Even at a young age he clearly had something about him that meant he was destined for the top, and he was part of a very good Leeds side that beat us to the title in 1991/92.
He was an elegant and clever player with a great left foot, and you couldn't take your eyes off him for a moment. He had the work rate and pace to get past you if you were not careful and the ability to punish you.
We had a pretty good record against Leeds over that period, but I always knew I was in for a game whenever I faced Speed. He was a good, honest player who was never dirty but always gave you a tough time.
He was clearly very fit, but no one could have expected him to have played at the highest level for as long as he did. For a midfielder to play for 22 years is exceptional. There must be something in the water in Wales, because the only player who can hold a candle to him in terms of that sort of longevity is Ryan Giggs.
Like Giggs, Speed had to adapt his game as he got older, but he seemed to do so with ease. It is one thing for a player to excel in one role during their career, but Speed perhaps never got the credit he deserved for being so adaptable. Once he lost that extra yard of pace, he changed his game to make the most of the attributes that were still sharp, and there were plenty of those.
Perhaps it helped that he was played in so many different positions by Howard Wilkinson during his time at Leeds.
Over the course of his entire career, Speed embodied what it meant to be a professional, both in his performances on the pitch and the way he conducted himself off it.
Given he was such a committed and intelligent player, it was no surprise to me that he made the move into management. No one can blame him for struggling in his short time at Sheffield United or when he first took the Wales job, but he was clearly turning things around there as results really took a sharp upward turn.
To have a man like that in charge will have been a real inspiration to the players in his squad, especially the younger ones. I don't recall hearing about too many players crying off international duty with dubious injuries during Speed's tenure.
While clearly I do not know anything concerning the circumstances surrounding his tragic death, it does leave me questioning why a man who seemed to have everything would do such a thing.
And by everything I don't mean medals and money. I mean a loving family and the utmost respect held for him by his peers and the football world at large.
- - -