Wales defender Neal Eardley has hailed the appointment of Gary Speed as national team boss and cannot wait to get down to work with a “legend” of Welsh football.
Speed was named as John Toshack’s full-time successor in December and tomorrow night’s Carling Nations Cup opener against the Republic of Ireland sees the 41-year-old take charge of his country for the first time.
Speed, who skippered Wales and accumulated 85 caps as a player, was seen as a surprise appointment in some quarters, having only taken charge of 18 games during his first management role at Sheffield United.
He faces a big task to turn around the fortunes of a side who have slumped to an all-time low of 116th in the FIFA world rankings and lost all three of their Euro 2012 qualifying fixtures to date.
But Blackpool defender Eardley believes the fact that Speed only recently called time on his playing career will mean he will be more in tune with his squad.
“I think a few people may have been surprised (at the appointment),” said the 22-year-old.
“But personally I always thought it might be Gary Speed who got the job and when I found out I was happy.
“He has not been retired long and he played at the highest level for Wales for many years and spent seasons on end in the Premier League.
“It’s nice to have a manager who is a bit of a legend in the game and I’m looking forward to working with him and his new staff.”
Tuesday’s meeting with Giovanni Trapattoni’s side at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin is a tough baptism for Speed, who has had limited time with his squad following the weekend’s league programme, which included yesterday’s south Wales derby.
He is also without star names Gareth Bale and Craig Bellamy and has seen Aaron Ramsey, David Edwards, Ched Evans, Boaz Myhill, Craig Morgan, Danny Gabbidon and Steve Morison withdraw from contention.
But Eardley remains confident that Wales can get Speed’s reign off to a good start.
He said: “Any game we play we are looking to win it, we want to get a winning mentality and we are looking forward to the games that we have got coming up with the new manager, the new staff and with some players coming back into the squad. I think it’s an exciting time for us to be honest.
“Playing the Republic is going to be difficult, they are a good side that have a lot of players playing Premier League football and we know what to expect, but we are concentrated on what we have to offer and we will prepare right for the game.”