Gary Speed ‘always in our thoughts’ as Aaron Ramsey realises World Cup dream

Aaron Ramsey says Gary Speed convinced him that Wales would qualify for the World Cup one day.

Speed set the target of World Cup qualification for Wales’ group of talented young players before his tragic death at the age of 42 in 2011.

Wales were ranked 112th in the world when Qatar was awarded the World Cup in 2010 and playing at the tournament then seemed like wishful thinking for long-suffering Dragons supporters.

Wales Training Session and Press Conference – Al Sadd Sports Club – Thursday November 17th
Wales midfielder Aaron Ramsey has a new blond hairstyle at the 2022 World Cup (Adam Davy/PA)

But Ramsey, who Speed appointed captain at the age of 20, said: “Gary had this way about him that you would believe anything he would say.

“He was a leader. He was absolutely brilliant and convinced us all that we would play at the World Cup.

“From where we were to where we got to in that short space of time was remarkable really. Anything was possible.”

Speed began Wales’ dramatic rise up the FIFA world rankings following his appointment in December 2010.

Soccer – Nations Cup – Wales v Scotland – Aviva Stadium
Gary Speed led Wales’ charge the FIFA world rankings before his death in 2011 (Julien Behal/PA)

The former Everton, Leeds and Newcastle star transformed things off the pitch and created a professional club environment that Wales’ ‘Golden Generation’ quickly bought into.

Ramsey, Gareth Bale, Chris Gunter, Joe Allen and Wayne Hennessey have gone on to play at two European Championships before helping end Wales’ 64-year wait to play at the World Cup.

“Gary is always in our thoughts with everything that we have done,” Ramsey said.

“He was the one who got things moving for us. He definitely got us ready for these experiences that we have had.

“He will forever be in our thoughts and definitely before our first game, because that was one of the targets he set when he first came in was to qualify for the World Cup.

“This makes it even more special that we have actually gone on to do that now.”

Wales start their World Cup campaign against the United States on Monday before games against Iran and England.

Apart from Qatar, who qualified automatically as hosts, Wales are the smallest nation at the tournament.

Ramsey said: “I don’t think we play on it. But the reality is we are a small nation and we are up against giants of world football.

“Of course, we are always going to be trying to compete with the best teams. We have certainly shown we are capable of doing that over the last few years.

“None of us have experienced a World Cup before so this is going to be different altogether.

“We have got a few tournaments that we have been a part of and we can take certain experiences from to help us and take it all in.”