Speed the model professional on and off the pitch
The sense of shock that cloaked the entire football community after the death of Wales manager Gary Speed was an accurate measure of the esteem in which he was held.
At Anfield, Liverpool supporters impeccably observed a minute's silence for the boyhood Evertonian who once headed an equaliser in a Merseyside derby at the Kop end.
The silence was also to pay respects to Luca Jones, the son of Liverpool keeper Brad Jones, following the five-year-old's recent death from leukaemia - but old partisanships were willingly set aside in memory of Speed before the meeting with Manchester City.
A sense of loss was palpable as Liverpool's Wales striker Craig Bellamy withdrew from the game at Anfield following the death of the man who was assisting his renaissance for club and country.
Speed, who was found hanged aged 42, won respect throughout the game for an exemplary playing career - and appeared to be on course to carve a similar path in management with a rapidly maturing Wales team.
He enjoyed early success as a title-winner at Leeds United, earning a reputation as the consummate professional as he moved on to Everton, Newcastle United and Bolton Wanderers before retiring at Sheffield United in May 2010.
The disbelief that such a vibrant, popular figure should die at such a young age is only made more acute by the growing belief that he was in the process of preparing to make as big an impact in management as he did as a player. Speed, it seemed, had it all in front of him.
Gary Speed made his debut for Leeds United and went on to play over 500 games in the Premier League. Photo: Getty
He may have made an uncertain start in management at Sheffield United, but his recent work with Wales was drawing admiration for the manner in which he had moulded a succession of outstanding young players like Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey with the older generation such as Bellamy.
The last time I saw Speed was at Wembley following Wales' 1-0 defeat against England in September. He was in buoyant mood despite the loss.
He declared his "pride" at the way the team he was shaping had played and those who watched and followed Wales regularly at close quarters spoke of the optimism and sense of purpose Speed had brought to a struggling football nation.
Events since had done nothing to lessen their faith, with the recent 4-1 friendly win against Norway heralded as one of their finest in recent times - with even the modest Speed describing the performance as "sensational" as they recorded a third successive win for the first time since 2008.
Speed had given Wales a renewed sense of direction, with his fresh, modernising approach chiming perfectly with the personality of the team under his guidance.
So it was against this bright backdrop that Speed's death was announced, provoking an outpouring of genuine emotion and grief for someone known as one of the game's genuine nice guys.
Former colleagues and opponents were visibly raw with emotion as they spoke of Speed on Sunday, not just as a respected team-mate and adversary, but also as an individual who seemed to have so much to live for with his young family and a managerial career that was seemingly, despite being in its infancy, on an upward curve.
Those of us whose closest contact with Speed, who leaves a wife and two children, came some time ago can now only write about his deeds on the field and in the dugout - and he leaves a legacy that enables us to do so with great appreciation.
Speed was meticulous in his physical preparation, an advocate of the modern techniques of diet and fitness long before they became in vogue.
He was a modern, model professional off the pitch - and this approach was mirrored on it. He started his career as a left-sided midfield player and figured in an outstanding Leeds United midfield alongside Gordon Strachan, Gary McAllister and David Batty that won the title in 1992.
Speed was a creator and scorer of goals. I recall his joy at scoring that goal for his beloved Everton at Anfield. It was the realisation of a childhood dream and he carried that memory with him with great pleasure.
As he developed, he performed with equal distinction in central midfield and even at left-back, with his natural feel for the game and tactical awareness allowing him to adapt comfortably.
It was this instinct that marked him down as a manager of the future even before his playing days came to a conclusion. It was this instinct he was bringing to bear on Wales. Those players ready to make their mark at international level under Speed were grief-stricken.
Speed was a fine man and great ambassador for the game - and his death is a loss that will be felt far beyond football.