Mar 25, 2011

Gareth Bale's injury is a hammer blow to Gary Speed

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As well as his very obvious talent as a cultured yet combative midfielder, Gary Speed was blessed with the durability that enabled him to set a Barclays Premier League appearance record. David James eventually beat it, but Speed notched up 535 games before dropping down a division then going into management. Here in Cardiff on Thursday, the  41-year-old manager of Wales had to deal with the loss of a player who is proving rather more fragile and someone whose absence has changed the whole complexion of Saturday's European Championship qualifier with England. Centre of attention: Gareth Bale's withdrawal from the Wales clash with England is a major boost to Fabio Capello Speed was fairly philosophical about Gareth Bale's latest injury, making the very sensible point that the player's welfare comes first and that 'it is more about the next three-and-a-half years than the next three-and-a-half days'. Understandably, with players like Bale and Aaron Ramsey emerging, he hashis sights on the 2014 World Cup. But you could sense Speed's frustration, even if he did dismiss suggestions that Welsh were being over-protective and that Bale might be one of those players who is so finely tuned the slightest niggle convinces him he cannot play. Hot Spur: Tottenham are concerned by Bale's injury record Harry Redknapp has certainly sensed that in the 21-year-old, which is why the Tottenham manager has been known to stop the physio running on when the winger appears to be injured. Speed did joke that he could probablyhave played with Bale's injury, although only because he was nothing like as 'explosive'. But he also said he expected Bale to be fit to playas early as next week in time for the first leg of Spurs' Champions League quarter-final against Real Madrid. 'I understand what you're saying,' said Speed in response to a question about Bale's fragility. 'But the scan did show there is an injury.' Clearly, though, even the Welsh medical staff were not convinced there was a serious problem. The scan, said Speed, was ordered for Bale's 'peace of mind' and you sense there was an element of  surprise when it did come back showing minor damage to that incredibly well-defined hamstring. The row that developed between Tottenham and the Welsh FA was rather baffling. Speed was the model of diplomacy, and he had to be after some dangerously ambiguous tweets fromhis assistant Raymond Verheijen. While Redknapp is perfectly entitled to believe Bale was not injured after playing 90 minutes at the weekend,the Welsh can hardly be accused of causing the problem when the youngster doesn't appear to have kicked a ball since joining his international colleagues. He sat out their sessions on Sunday and Monday, suffered discomfort in the warm-up on Tuesday and sat out Wednesday's session as well. Verheijen did not exactly help matters by complaining of 'incompetent amateurs'. Speed insisted it was directed at the newspaper that had reported Bale's injury as something he had suffered in training on Wednesday. But Spurs would be perfectly entitled to think the insult was directed at them. Speed confirmed his assistant had been reminded of his responsibility to the Welsh FA and told to pack it in. And rightly so. 'Funny to read about Gareth Bale injuring his hamstring in training,' Verheijen tweeted. In England maybe, but not in Wales. Plan of action: Fabio Capello has been boosted by the news of Bale's injury With news filtering through to the England camp of Bale's injury, things certainly seemed to be more relaxed. Fabio Capello was concerned about thethreat posed by Bale. He considers him 'the best player in the world', and while Peter Crouch was right to argue that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo remain superior, how to best deal with a player who destroyed Inter Milan earlier this season was going to dominate England's preparation. Long-term plan: Gary Speed will miss Bale but is confident his impact on Welsh football will stretch further than this weekend Now the pressure is off a fair bit, and having been banned from playing golf by Capello on Wednesday the England players were back on the course on Thursday. Everyone bar Ben Foster, who has a fever, was also said to be fit, allowing Capello to continue experimenting with a number of attacking options. It is fair to say thatBale's presence would have almost certainly seen James Milner deployed as protection for Glen Johnson on the right. Now England can afford to be a bit more cavalier, Aaron Lennon might play there. Capello is still considering his options up front as well. Andy  Carroll's lack of first-team games has persuaded him to examine Darren Bent as well as partner to Wayne Rooney.A decision will be made today but the Aston Villa striker is a serious contender.   On Thursday Gareth Barry said life under Capello had become less intense since the World Cup and the players were not quite so intimidated by the Italian. 'On the training pitch nothing has changed,' he said. 'He's still pretty hands-on. If there's anything not right he's stamping down on it. But maybe around the hotel he's maybe a bit more relaxed, and the players seem a bit more relaxed around the manager. 'Players used to arrive 20 minutes before a meeting. There was more pressure on the players to be everywhere at spot on the right time. Now I think the  feeling around the place is a lot more relaxed and more enjoyable.' With Bale out that was certainly the case.  It's your fault! Gareth Bale was fine when he went to join Wales, claims Harry RedknappYou're kidding: Wilshere and Carroll caught up in club-versus-country rowFabio Capello's five key questions ahead of England's Euro 2012 clash with WalesCaptain Rambo! Ramsey to skipper Wales on his return against England VIDEO SPECIAL: Wales 4 England 1 - day Greenwood's men were run ragged ] Explore more:People: Fabio Capello, Glen Johnson, Harry Redknapp, Gareth Barry, Aaron Lennon, Lionel Messi, Gary Speed, Darren Bent, Cristiano Ronaldo, Peter Crouch, David James, Wayne Rooney, James Milner, Gareth Bale, Ben Foster Places: Cardiff, Wales, United Kingdom



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