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Soccer startled by death of Wales manager

By Stuart Condie
AP Sports Writer / November 28, 2011
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LONDON—Gary Speed was smiling and relaxed, talking on national television about the day's upcoming soccer matches. A few hours later, the Wales manager and former English Premier League star was found dead at his home at 42, an apparent suicide.

Speed was the first man to play 500 games in the Premier League and the youngest member of the midfield that carried Leeds to its most recent league title in 1992. He overhauled Wales' ailing national team and coached a young squad to four wins in its last five matches.

"Twenty minutes before we went on air on Saturday, he was the normal Gary Speed to me," said Gary McAllister, a former teammate who also appeared on the BBC program "Football Focus." "He was very excited about the prospects of the Welsh national team and was upbeat, looking class, immaculately presented. He was a movie star in my eyes.

"There were no signs, nothing to suggest he was troubled. He looked well and things are going well for him at the moment. I could never have thought that 10-12 hours after I saw him I'd be getting that news. It's a nightmare."

Citing unidentified police sources, British media widely reported that Speed was found hanged Sunday morning in the garage of his home in Huntington, England, where he lived with wife Louise and two sons.

While officials scheduled an inquest into Speed's death Tuesday, police said there were no suspicious circumstances -- a statement commonly made in instances of suicide.

There was online speculation that Speed was the subject of an upcoming newspaper story. The British tabloids The Sun and The Daily Star denied on their official Twitter accounts that they had been preparing to publish revelations about Speed's private life.

Speed's agent, Hayden Evans, issued a statement outside the family house Monday. He asked that the family be "given the respect of some privacy to just grieve on their own."

Fans left shirts and homemade banners adorned with Speed's name outside the stadiums of each of his five former clubs. British Prime Minister David Cameron said he watched highlights of those same matches Speed had talked about on TV.

"I think it has been incredibly moving," Cameron said. "I was watching Match Of The Day last night and watching people, crowds, absolutely silent and footballers revering his memory. I know he meant an enormous amount to people and people feel very, very sad on his behalf and on his family's behalf."

Former teammates, coaches and colleagues spoke at length about a man they knew as a dedicated player, considerate friend and an immensely promising coach.

"He was an amazing, talented player, a player that had such a glittering career and just began a great career in management as well," former England captain David Beckham said. "It is a sad time to lose a man like this."

FIFA President Sepp Blatter wrote the Wales soccer federation, calling Speed a "hugely talented player and a great servant for both club and country."

"He will always be remembered as a model professional and a fantastic ambassador for the game," Blatter said. "It was clear to all there that he was a man who exuded enthusiasm and passion for the game."

Added fellow Leeds midfielder Gordon Strachan: "People have problems in football and you have an indication that you need to keep an eye on someone, but this was right out of the blue. It's hard for us as friends to understand."

Football Association of Wales chief executive Jonathan Ford said he had no idea why this happened.

"I don't know if we ever will know," he said. "I am no further forward in my thoughts, when you hear the news you ask yourself why?"

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