Midfielder Kristian Speake has been a fan favorite at every step of his career, whether it be in the U.S. with Nashville FC or at home in Wales with Haverfordwest County AFC. It is easy to see that he has great passion and enthusiasm for the beautiful game. NPSL.com was able to talk with Speake about a number of topics, including playing in the Welsh Premier League, his time in the NPSL, and the Euros.
1. What has it been like playing in the Welsh Premier League? What is the quality of play like there?
Since being home, I have been playing with Haverfordwest County AFC, who have established themselves as one of the best-equipped teams throughout the Welsh leagues. However, as a squad we found it hard to battle against the elite amongst Wales. We are a small squad and the long season took its toll especially when other squads had strength in depth. The Welsh Premier League has an abundance of talent, many of whom could play to even higher level. Success on the pitch by our national side will raise awareness of the league and put more and more players in the shop window. The Welsh Premier League holds more experience, which can be instrumental when building for the long term. The league possesses some very technically gifted players also.
2. How would you compare it to your experience with Nashville FC?
Nashville FC is a newly founded club and they have an exciting vision moving forward. My time at Nashville was a huge learning curve and I could not have wished for a greater experience. Their ethos is to pick collegiate talent and to nourish them the best way they can whilst they are away from the collegiate sides. This makes it hard to build for a long-term future on the pitch. To play with Nashville FC and within NPSL, you have to ensure that you are physically able as the game is very fast and physical. Additionally, there is a plethora of young talent developing within their domestic teams. I cannot thank the club and coaches at Nashville FC enough. Their work ethic on and off the pitch and the desire to make all players, especially internationals, feel at home is something I will cherish forever.
3. How big was it for Wales to qualify for the Euros?
Wales is a small country with a population of around 3.2 million. States in America such as Tennessee hold more people than Wales does as a country. But we are a country full of passion and I believe that has been portrayed throughout the European Championships. You only have to watch a Wales game to see the burning desire and patriotism of our people. So, for us to be on the big stage is special and actually historical, seeing as we last qualified for a major tournament in 1958.
4. How big was it for Wales to get England in the first draw?
Getting England in the first draw made it even more appealing of course, as it is a home nation derby. Both nations have history in all sports and when we play each other, it is always a momentous occasion. Personally, I have no feud with England, as I am a major fan of the EPL and the English players that play within. But of course I am very happy that we finished above them in the group stages.
5. Who are some players to watch for from Wales?
Of course, Gareth Bale (Real Madrid) is our superstar. He is a go-to man who can deliver a moment of brilliance from nowhere. He possesses everything that a young aspiring footballer should be striving for. A very cultured left foot but he can play off his right, can score with his head, and could probably qualify as a sprinter due to his athleticism. This is no coincidence though; he has a strong mindset and has mastered his craft through dedication. Aaron Ramsey (Arsenal) is also an energetic midfielder who oozes creativity and can change a game in an instant. These two players are imperative in the final third as they both hold the key to goals. Someone who goes under the radar is Joe Allen, “the Welsh Pirlo,” who currently plays for Liverpool. He has an extensive passing range and picks up second balls – he holds it all together. Something Wales should be very proud of is their defensive record throughout the group stages and even during the tournament. We do not leak many goals and I believe that is down to the leadership of Ashley Williams (Swansea City AFC) and the tireless efforts of manager Chris Coleman on the training ground.
6. How important is it for Wales to get a massive performance from Bale?
Like I said before, Gareth Bale is pivotal to our success. For us to have a prolonged stint in this tournament, we need him to come up with magic moments. So far he has delivered! In the first three games he scored three goals, two being from dead ball situations. However, as we saw against Russia, we are not just a one-dimensional team. We can cut teams open and play with the best of Europe. A lot of teams are trying to press Bale very quickly. When he gets the chance to turn and run at defenders, there is nothing else in this world I would prefer to watch. He runs players into retirement.
7. What could success in the Euros do for Wales as a football nation?
As a country, we are so grateful to be participating in a major tournament that any additional success can only be a bonus. So far, we have been in dreamland by topping the group. We have a solid platform now to build on and the future of Welsh football looks very promising. Young, aspiring players looking up to superstars like Gareth Bale will have a positive effect on them, keeping them motivated. Not only will it encourage players to get involved but I believe it will encourage coaches to educate themselves further, so that we have even greater coaching throughout Wales. The Football Association of Wales (FAW) has implemented a professional coaching pathway for coaches and ex-professionals. This system can only benefit from the exposure Wales is attaining now and hopefully it will inspire a generation. As a nation, we are now all gripped and cannot wait to see how far we can go in the tournament. Regardless of the result, we are very proud of what the Welsh team has achieved and I personally am just so grateful to be able to watch my home nation compete at the highest level.