Wales coach Gary Speed dies at 42

The Football Association of Wales announced Speed’s death Sunday without giving the cause. Police said there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding Speed’s death.

Speed is survived by his wife and two children.

“We extend our sympathies and condolences to the family,” the FAW said in a statement. “We ask that everyone respects the family’s privacy at this very sad time.”

Speed, whose 85 caps is a Welsh record for an outfield player, had only become Wales coach in December in a move that had long been predicted by former teammates and commentators. Only goalkeeper Neville Southall, with 92 appearances, played more games for Wales.

Last year, Queen Elizabeth II gave Speed the Member of the British Empire award in her annual Birthday Honors list for his services to soccer.

“Just cannot believe the news regarding Gary Speed. We waved at each other a couple of days ago dropping our kids off at school. I’m numb,” Manchester United striker Michael Owen wrote on Twitter. “He has died aged 42. So sad. He lived local to me and we knew his family. He leaves behind 2 sons. Tragic.”

Admired for his dedication, fitness and consistency in a 20-year playing career — as well as a knack for goals — Speed started out with Leeds and won the English league championship with the club in 1992.

Moving on to Everton and then Newcastle, Speed became the first player to play in 500 Premier League games and held the record with 535 until it was surpassed by goalkeeper David James in 2009. Ryan Giggs has also since passed the mark.

Speed scored in every topflight season in which he played until dropping out of the Premier League in 2008 when he joined Sheffield United.

With injuries finally beginning to affect him, Speed became a coach at Sheffield United and formally retired from playing at the end of the 2009-10 season. He became Blades manager early in the following season but was soon approached by Wales after John Toshack resigned as coach.

Speed led the team to five wins in 10 matches, including a 4-1 victory over Norway two weeks ago, earning praise for Wales’ style of play and emphasis on youth.

“We’ve got talent in abundance and I’m fortunate to be in that position,” Speed said after the Nov. 12 win in Cardiff. “We are building for the future. There is still a lot of improving to be done but we are going in the right direction.”

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