Rob Page Keeps The Flame Of Gary Speed's Legacy Burning For Wales

Gary Speed never got to see the fruits of his labours as Wales boss, but his players are making sure he's never forgotten
12:08, 06 Jun 2022

The Wales men’s national team celebrated on the Cardiff City Stadium turf, jubilant at the prospect of qualifying for a first World Cup since 1958. But even amongst the celebrations, caretaker manager Rob Page wanted to give credit where it was due. “I want to dedicate this to Gary [Speed]. He started the culture 12 years ago.” he told pitchside reporters. “There was a difference, there was a change. The environment completely changed. I've inherited that.”

Page is the third man to coach Wales since Gary Speed’s untimely death in 2011. The legendary former Leeds United, Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers midfielder committed suicide at the age of just 42. This heartbreaking loss is still felt throughout football, but the incredible work he did with Wales continues to this day, with Page the latest keeper of the flame.

One element of Wales’ 1-0 victory over Ukraine in Cardiff that stood out was the amount of veteran names on show. Gareth Bale, Joe Allen, Wayne Hennessey and Aaron Ramsey all started the World Cup qualification play-off final, with 108-cap veteran Chris Gunter also on the bench. These men are all holdovers from Speed’s time in charge, a spell that kicked off the modern resurgence of Welsh football.

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Speed lifted Wales from their lowest-ever world ranking, 117th, to 45th in just eleven months. Their rapid improvement under the former Sheffield United manager saw them crowned FIFA’s ‘Best Movers’ for the year, having gained more ranking points than any other nation. Speed had taken a team that had begun to flounder under predecessor John Toshack, whose last game was a 1-0 loss to Montenegro, and transformed them.

The well-loved coach never got to see the fruits of his labours, but the work Gary Speed started has been carried on in his name. Chris Coleman led Wales to their first major tournament since 1958 when he steered them to the semi finals of Euro 2016. Coleman resigned after failing to qualify for the 2018 World Cup. The fact that such a failure was now a disappointment worthy of leaving the post, rather than par for the course, shows how far Welsh football had come in such a short period of time.

gareth bale was one of the staples of gary speed's wales side
gareth bale was one of the staples of gary speed's wales side

Wales would be back playing tournament football at Euro 2020. Former Manchester United winger Ryan Giggs was the manager who got them there, but after being charged with assault he stepped aside for the actual tournament. His assistant, Rob Page, managed to reach the round of 16. But his greatest achievement was still to come.

That achievement has now been realised. As the core of Speed’s Wales start to reach the autumn of their careers, it felt particularly vital to capitalise on Welsh football’s 2010s revival and push on to a World Cup. Bale, Ramsey et al are unlikely to play at the 2026 tournament, even if Wales do qualify. This has the feel of a last dance for a generation of players who have captivated their country. A new generation is coming through, with the likes of Neco Williams and Brennan Johnson already making their mark. But for Gary Speed’s Wales, the 2022 World Cup is a chance to define a generation, and the legacy of a great and beloved man.

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