Iwan Roberts pays tribute to former team-mate Gary Speed

Former Norwich City striker Iwan Roberts has spoken of his sadness and disbelief after learning of the death of former international colleague and current Wales manager Gary Speed.

The football world was left stunned yesterday when Cheshire Police confirmed Speed, 42, had been found dead at his home on the outskirts of Chester and said there were “no suspicious circumstances”. Sources confirmed he had been found hanged.

“When I heard the news I just couldn’t believe it,” said Roberts, who played alongside Speed in the majority of his 15 international appearances. “It was only a few months ago that I played alongside Gary at Derby County in a match for John Hartson’s cancer charity. He was in top form alongside all his old team-mates and we all had a great laugh. He was the life and soul, he really was, you would never have thought there was anything wrong.

“Gary was a really good guy, a top person. He was a model professional on and off the pitch and was obviously a very good player. I always remember him being really good company when we played together for Wales. He was always someone you could turn to if you wanted a chat, nothing was too much trouble for him. He will be sadly missed.”

Roberts was also full of praise for the manner in which his former team-mate had turned Wales’ fortunes around after a difficult start to his international managerial career. The ex-Canary, now a media pundit with a weekly column in the Evening News, admits he wasn’t initially impressed by the appointment – but had changed his opinion after a run of five wins in seven games, culminating in a 4-1 friendly victory over Norway earlier this month.

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“I wasn’t 100 per cent convinced when Gary was appointed manager and because of the line of work I am in now I made my opinion known. It tells you all you need to know about Gary that he never made an issue of that with me, even though he knew what I had been saying. As I said, he was a real gentleman. No one was more pleased when Gary proved me wrong and started to turn things around. We were moving in the right direction and this is a huge blow for Welsh football. But that’s not the important thing – Gary was a family man and obviously my thoughts go out to his wife and children at this sad time.”

As a manager Speed had only just started the job of rebuilding the Wales national side, but he had already ensured a lasting legacy as one of the finest players of his generation. Although he started his career before the advent of the Premier League era he quickly established himself as one of its icons, becoming one of English football’s most consistent performers during spells with Leeds, Everton, Newcastle and Bolton. In 2006, he became the first man to make 500 Premier League appearances. He was also the proud holder of 85 Wales caps – a record for an outfield player and a testament to his commitment during a period when many of the country’s higher-profile players routinely dropped out of international fixtures.

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