As consistent off-field as on, Speed’s death stunned us all

 
Trevor Steven
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ONE topic monopolised the conversation when I met my former Rangers team-mate Richard Gough for lunch today, and that was the utter disbelief throughout the football world at the tragic death of Gary Speed.

So much has been said already but it bears repeating what a fine example he was as a player, manager and a person. The fact that fans from all teams have been united in their praise for him is a fitting testament.

I knew him. I wouldn’t say he was a friend but I played against him fairly frequently in the early days of his career and subsequently caught up with him at a few dinners.

As a player, Gary was a manager’s dream: athletic, a goal threat, brave, consistent and non-disruptive. Dressing rooms need different types of player but he was one any boss would put their mortgage on to turn in a totally professional performance. For his all-round application and demeanour, I would put him in the top five players of the Premier League era. He began it as a champion, having just helped Leeds win the first division, so his standards were always high. And he just got better and better with age.

As a budding manager, he also showed signs of rapid improvement. His start at Sheffield United was tricky, although he didn’t have that long there to address the team’s failings. When he took the job of managing a struggling Wales side, I wondered what he was getting into.

But what a response. Two or three games later, the team looked transformed into a group with energy and belief. It was a miraculous turnaround, and they’ll never be able to take that away from him. I hope that whoever takes over from him will be able to continue in the same vein.

Perhaps one of Gary’s most distinguishing traits of all was his modesty. He was so level-headed over a long period of time. He never looked for glory or self-promotion and nor was he tainted by the money, success and acclaim that deservedly came his way.

He had no enemies in the game, and that speaks of great personal traits to go along with his footballing pedigree. From what I knew of him, he was every bit as consistently decent off the field as he was on it.

Trevor Steven is a former England footballer who played in two World Cups, and was the first Englishman to win league titles in three different countries. He now works as a media commentator.