De­marai Gray

Australian Four Four Two - - CONTENTS - De­marai Gray wears the new Adi­das Purechaos X 16+ boots, avail­able at adi­­ball

“I had to be pro­fes­sional and play my part when I came on,” rookie Le­ices­ter City winger De­marai Gray tells FFT. “I was see­ing out games mainly, in­stead of try­ing to get the ball and beat three or four play­ers.” When a 19-year-old Gray signed from sec­ond-tier Birm­ing­ham City in Jan­uary, he had to be pa­tient. He’d joined a team rid­ing the crest of a wave with a set­tled


start­ing XI, and found start­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties lim­ited; in­deed, the only one of his 12 Premier League ap­pear­ances not to come from the bench was on the sea­son’s fi­nal day, with the ti­tle in the bag. But Clau­dio Ranieri had seen enough of Gray to be im­pressed by him. The young­ster was one of the Ital­ian’s go-to play­ers to see out cru­cial vic­to­ries in a crunch pe­riod for the Foxes, and the teenager stuck man­fully to his tasks, even if they some­times went against his at­tack­ing in­stincts. “Last year my role was to carry the ball and work for the team, but I was happy to do that be­cause we were get­ting three points,” he says. “Now we’ve all got Premier League win­ner’s medals for it. This year is a fresh start, and this pre-sea­son is my chance to prove I should be start­ing games. “The Cham­pi­onship and Premier League are very dif­fer­ent, ob­vi­ously, but I think it suits me here. Work­ing with Ranieri, I’ve im­proved al­ready – I feel he has me play­ing to a style that suits my strengths. When he’s with the play­ers, he’s ex­actly what you see in the me­dia: a happy, bub­bly guy.” Gray’s dili­gence is likely to pay div­i­dends in 2016-17, with Cham­pi­ons League foot­ball on the hori­zon. With his young wide­man hav­ing al­ready proved his will­ing­ness to learn and be pro­fes­sional, Ranieri will feel even more com­fort­able trust­ing him – ex­cel­lent news when you’re try­ing to fol­low in Riyad Mahrez’s de­fence-crack­ing foot­steps. “Ob­vi­ously, what he did last year is what ev­ery winger wants to achieve: goals and as­sists all the time,” says Gray, who turned 20 in June. “If I can add that to my hunger then that would be great. I love scor­ing goals, I love as­sist­ing and I love help­ing the team. “Riyad’s a crazy player. He does mad stuff ev­ery day in train­ing. His style is dif­fer­ent to mine, as I’m more about short, sharp bursts. He’s a weird player, in a way – ev­ery­thing is un­ex­pected. He’s the sort of player who can have a bad game, then the next thing you know, he’s scored to make it 1-0. “But I can learn from him. Some­times in train­ing, when I get into cer­tain po­si­tions the man­ager will en­cour­age me to shoot as soon as I cut in­side. He might use Riyad as an ex­am­ple, and say: ‘Look how many goals he has scored do­ing that.’ When you shoot ear­lier, the goal­keeper isn’t set.” Mahrez needed a full sea­son to get his eye in, al­though Gray has cer­tainly got time on his side. In the mean­time, the Eng­land Un­der-21 in­ter­na­tional has plenty to look for­ward to as the new cam­paign nears. “A year ago I was watch­ing Cham­pi­ons League foot­ball on tele­vi­sion and think­ing, ‘One day I’d love to play in this’ – and now we’ve qual­i­fied for it!” he laughs. “It’s ab­so­lutely crazy. I just hope I’m in­volved. “I’d love to play against Real Madrid at the Bern­abeu. That wouldn’t be too bad.”

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