DARCY Blake paid tribute to former Wales manager Gary Speed and had his say on critical comments from Malky Mackay and Chris Coleman after signing for Newport County AFC today.

The 25-year-old defender has won 14 Wales caps and says Speed, who died in November 2011, was the man who has made the biggest impact on his career.

“Gary Speed was a great guy and I was so sorry to see him pass,” said Blake after joining County on non-contract terms following his release by Crystal Palace in January.

“He believed in me and it’s nice to have someone like that believe in you.

“I remember when we played Montenegro and there were a couple of lads suspended for that game who were available for the England game but he stuck with me and that gave me great confidence.”

The kid from New-Tredegar went on to man-mark Manchester United superstar Wayne Rooney into submission in that match at Wembley in September 2011.

“I played for ten games after that and I owe a lot to him. He taught me a lot and it was heartbreaking what happened.

“I’ll always remember him and be thankful for what he did for me.”

Blake played 115 times for Cardiff City after joining as a nine-year-old before but he’s been the subject of criticism over his lifestyle and fitness levels over the past few years.

After selling Blake to Palace for £350,000 in August 2012, then Bluebirds boss Mackay said: “I want Darcy to become the best professional he can be with Palace.

“I really hope he does fantastically well. I have had numerous conversations with Darcy through the last year about where I think he needs to improve in his profession and in life to give himself the best chance as a footballer.

“Those conversations stay between Darcy and I, but it certainly wasn’t through lack of explanation. We had conversations about what would give him the best chance to be in my team.

“I am looking forward to seeing him again. He is a good boy underneath it all.”

In response Blake said yesterday: “I was playing for Wales when Malky Mackay had a pop at me and when I played he said good things about me. It’s all about playing game for me now.”

Current Wales manager Coleman said Blake wasn’t even fit enough for the Palace reserves in February this year.

“Darcy has got to be fitter,” said Coleman after omitting the player from his squad to face Austria.

“He has lost his fitness and there is no easy way around it.

“He has a lot to offer, but football doesn’t come easy. Football will bite you on the bottom if you don’t keep up with it.

“You can’t rest on what you have achieved. You always have to keep pushing yourself and working hard.

“Football will pass you by because players are getting fitter.

“He played for Palace reserves against Fulham and he wasn’t fit enough.

“He’s a lovely lad. But he knows he has to be fitter to play in the Championship and, certainly, international football.

“Ability and talent is not enough. You can kid people on and do it for five minutes, but you have to do it year-in, year-out to stay at that level – and he has to see it for himself.”

But Blake, who hasn’t played a competitive first team game since December 2012, dismissed Coleman’s comments and insisted he’s fit to face Torquay tomorrow.

“I spoke to Chris after that comment and he wasn’t aware that I was injured at that time but I never made a fuss of that,” he said.

“I played two games on trial for Birmingham last week and I’m feeling alright. We’ll see after my first game!”