'One of the best' - Ex Leeds United boss Howard Wilkinson's predictions in private chat with Gary Speed

Howard Wilkinson spotted leadership in Gary Speed at Leeds United long before the winger went on to captain Newcastle, Bolton Wanderers and the Welsh national team.

Saturday, 2nd May 2020, 4:40 pm
LEADER: Howard Wilkinson told Gary Speed he would go on to be a captain because of his leadership qualities. Pic: Getty

Speed, who died in November 2011, was just 22 years of age when he and Wilkinson helped Leeds United to a First Division title.

Described by Wilkinson as a somewhat shy young man during his time at Leeds, Speed was not one to bark orders at others.

Yet he would become an influential character on and off the pitch as he career developed, wearing armbands at different clubs in 22 years as, by all accounts, a model professional.

Sign up to our Leeds United newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

His won 85 caps for his country and would go on to manage Wales.

A playing career that included 18 seasons of top flight football began in 1988 at Elland Road, as a trainee.

Four years later he played 41 of 42 First Division games for Leeds in their title-winning season.

Wilkinson loved the versatility Speed brought to a team full of talent and experience, but not just because it showed what a good player the Welshman was.

FAMILY: Howard Wilkinson pictured with Gary Speed's parents Roger and Carol Speed in 2017. Picture: Simon Hulme

"He played every position I think while I was at Leeds, barring goalkeeper," said the former Whites boss.

"That tells you that he's versatile but also what a great character he is, because there are people who when they're asked to do different things, get the moodies on. But not Gary. He'd go play there and give you his best.

"He was a late starter, same age as David Batty but I had to nurse him in. He played in our box, their box, he'd come in off the line and he was good for eight, nine, 12 goals a season. A very generous person in terms of his contribution to the team. One of the best."

Speed had obvious ability on the pitch but it was what he did during the week that convinced Wilkinson, at a very early stage, that the winger would not only go on to lead his fellow professionals, but play many, many games.

"I did say to Gary once, when I had a chat to him when he was a young man, I remember saying you'll be a captain," said Wilkinson.

"He blushed and said no. I said you will, not now, but you will be. You've got great values, very generous, you come to training early, work hard to improve, stay after to practice something and come in during the afternoon to do a bit. You think you're not a leader because you don't shout but you are, because you're an example. that's what leadership is sometimes, being and setting an example that people see and want to emulate. And when you get more comfortable with that some manager will say I want you to be captain.

"And I said you'll play a million games, because you do all the right things. He played a heck of a lot and finished up captain at Newcastle."

Speed continued to 'do all the right things' as his career progressed and reaped the benefits.

At 38 he was still playing Premier League football, having embraced the Sam Allardyce regime at Bolton to help look after his body.

"It's a very grown-up way to be," said Speed in a 2005 interview with The Guardian."Pilates, stretching, yoga, none of that is outlandish but it works. It's boring, but for someone like me it works. A lot of people still disregard something like yoga. I would have as young player. I would have been too busy playing golf or something."

By the time Speed had transitioned from playing to coaching and then management, he had amassed 841 senior club games and scored 134 goals.

The tributes paid to him by the footballing world and supporters across the country after his untimely and tragic death bore witness to the accuracy and fruition of Wilkinson's prophetic words to the unassuming young man under his charge at Elland Road.

He was a captain, a leader, an example and one of the best.