DEMARAI: NOW WE NEED OUR CLUBS TO PLAY US
DeMARAI GRAY should have been elated but the overwhelming feeling for one of england’s young stars was relief.
his goalscoring display in Thursday’s 3-0 drubbing of Poland helped propel the Under 21s into their first european Championship semi-final since 2009 and it was partly fuelled by the frustration of spending much of the past 12 months on the periphery at Leicester City.
Gray’s pace, power, skill and eye for goal mean he is being monitored by several clubs, headed by Liverpool, but he is irked by his lack of opportunities.
It is a mood to which many in the england squad can relate. The 20-year-old saw just 1,038 minutes of Premier League action last season. Ben Chilwell, his Leicester team-mate, was given only 696 minutes and Nathaniel Chalobah appeared in just 159 minutes of Chelsea’s title-winning campaign.
Yet those three have been key figures in Poland, as have James Ward-Prowse (Southampton, 1,884 minutes) and Mason holgate (everton, 1,371 minutes).
All they want when they return, Gray says, is the chance to show they can do it for their clubs as well.
‘I was on the bench a lot last season and it was frustrating,’ said Gray. ‘I kept myself motivated with this tournament.
‘I’m hungry and want to make my mark. I want to express myself as much as I can. I don’t feel like I have been able to do that as much as I want. These are great occasions to express yourself. I thought I was ready last season but sometimes you have to be patient.
‘Playing at first-team level is how you progress best. You learn about the real game. If opportunities are given you’ll see more of the youngsters coming through.
‘Managers have to trust you and give you a chance. If they do we’ll have more english talent coming on show. I’ve got a great relationship with (Leicester manager) Craig Shakespeare and I’m looking forward to next season. Any opportunity you get you have to express yourself.
‘The young england generation has some very good players. I hope opportunities will be given to all those lads coming up.’
Those views were shared by Norwich forward Jacob Murphy, who said: ‘ Norwich give young players a chance and that’s what we need more of. That’s the only chance we’ll get to develop young english talent — play them regularly.’
england left their base in Kielce yesterday to set up camp in Krakow. They will learn tonight who they meet in Tuesday’s semifinal, but there is a possibility of a clash with Germany.
Aidy Boothroyd, england’s head coach, gave his squad an easy day but he is still concerned about the injuries that forced off Chalobah and Nathan Redmond against Poland. Of the two, Chalobah is the biggest doubt.
Hungry for more: Gray (left)