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Leicester’s incredible fairy tale last season over shadowed a brilliant January window signing made by Claudio Ranieri. Leicester’s excellent recruitment team were at hand once again as they completed the signing of Demarai Gray from Championship side Birmingham. In an era where out and out wingers are being phased out of the game slowly, players like Demarai Gray offer a fresh breath of air with their direct running and electrifying pace and remind us how effective a direct approach can be in modern football. The signing was made even more impressive with the fact that Leicester had beat a lot of other top flight clubs to land Gray for around 3.75 million Euros, which was his release clause at that time. Gray is one of the many young talents of this generation who has an incredibly bright future and potential to be tapped upon.
Who is Demarai Gray?
Born on June 28 1996 in Birmingham, Demarai Gray joined Birmingham FC’s academy as an 11 year old and came up through the youth ranks. In October 2013, the then manager of Birmingham Lee Clark decided to name Gray in the match day squad against Milwall where he made his first appearance for the club coming an as a late substitute. He soon made his first start against Charlton the next month. His performance for the club over the season earned him the Academy Player of the Year for 2013-14. It was in the 2014-15season that Gray began to play regularly for Birmingham. A managerial change helped Gray nail a permanent starting berth under new manager Gary Rowett. He continuously played for ten matches in the left wing before he shot to fame scoring an absolutely tremendous first hat trick against Reading. The first goal was a burst from midfield by Gray before he shot into the bottom left corner from just outside of the box. The second goal was even more impressive with Gray getting the ball just outside the box, with Reading not managing to clear the lines from a Birmingham attack. Gray decided not to shoot the ball even though it was in the platter for him, went past two defenders into the box and shot across the Reading goalkeeper. He sealed his hat trick after coolly slotting the ball from the left after being slipped in by David Davis.
This was followed by scouts regularly watching him during matches and Birmingham rejecting a 500,000 pounds bid from Crystal Palace. Gray featured much less throughout the season before he again showed the whole world what a special talent he was. He scored a brilliant solo goal where he ran the full length of the pitch before scoring; which happened to be the club’s goal of the season. The goal came from a Wolves corner before Gray raced away with the ball. He over hit the ball and almost lost possession but forced the wolves left back into conceding it back by hassling him, before finishing with a placed shot. The fact that he made 43 appearances for the club over the entirety of the season, majority of them being starters, was proof enough for the youngster’s talent.
A move to Leicester would soon materialize where he proved to be a vital cog in providing fresh legs over the second half of the season garnering special praise for his ability to run down the clock rather than trying to take on opponents and risk losing the ball. All his ten appearances came as a substitute last season. It also works to his favour that expectations are relatively lesser here in Leicester than in any of the so called bigger clubs.
Style of Play:
Gray is a typical winger with pace to burn and appreciable work rate. As all good wingers Gray has nimble feet and excellent balance to be able to dribble his way past multiple opponents. He is very direct with his running and tries to get into the final third as soon as possible and is blessed with the pace and ability to do so. Gray is a type of player similar to Raheem Sterling and Nathan Redmond, also a Birmingham youth product. When he plays in the left flank Gray cuts in as an inside forward . He is a very composed finisher which does not actually reflect in his meagre return of goals. A very striking feature of his play is that he is willing to commit himself in defensive duties and tracks back wonderfully well when his team does not have the ball.
during the EFL Cup Third Round match between Leicester City and Chelsea at The King Power Stadium on September 20, 2016 in Leicester, England.Courtesy:gettyimages.com
Gray’s flair and pace makes him an extremely difficult customer to handle in one v one situations for full backs. His main strength is that he is not one dimensional with his ability to go past a defender and has excellent agility and balance for a lad his age. This is evident in his assist for Chuba Akpom in a U-21 match against Morocco. Beating a defender near the by line, Gray showed pace to get to the d-box where a 180 turn pulled him free off another defender and his low cross to Akpom from inside the box was precision perfect. A big plus which he holds over players of his age is that he is mature beyond his years. As said previously, Gray proved to be an effective time killer for Leicester last season which was one of the main reasons why Ranieri gave him a lot of substitute appearances. He is a very composed finisher and has a sweet right foot which was evident in his recent goal against Manchester United. Gray received the ball in the left flank before he cut in on to his right foot and curved the ball in from 30 yards to the right top corner past David de gea. It was a sublime goal from the youngster giving de gea no chance and a timely reminder to everyone once again of what a bright young talent he is. His defensive contributions are excellent. He has made 4 tackles this season with 100%success rate despite having made just four appearances, all as substitutes according to premier league.com. He also has had 7 recoveries this season showing he is equally committed to his defensive duties as his offensive ones. He is an asset to have in the team because when facing counters he tracks back and does not dive into tackles. His pace, technique and especially composure makes him stand out as a youngster in English football.
The heat map is of his debut for leicester against Spurs in the Capital One cup . This shows how well he has worked in his very first match for the club, especially when without the ball. He assisted Marcel Wasilewski from a corner making it an impressive debut and everyone was quick to praise Gray for the way he worked his socks off when without the ball.
Another aspect of Gray’s play is that he has a clear understanding of when to take on a player and go past him.
During his final season at Birmingham, Gray consistenlty featured in the ‘number of tackles made’ category and was a huge influence for them without the ball too showing he helped denying oppositon the space and closing them down.
Gray is 179cm high and has a weight of only 66 kg. He has a tendency to go down easily which is mainly due to his lean frame. He could surely do with hours in the gym and improve his physique. He is definitely not without criticism as he needs to be a more creative presence in the final third. He had a whoscored.com rating of only 6.35 for Leicester last season in the Premier League and a slightly better 6.85 when at Birmingham, showing he needs to be a bit more consistent. Not much should be read into this rating though as it is still early in his career and Gray has not had much game time to influence proceedings as he would like. As the season progresses Gray is sure to feature more and will improve in terms of his offensive contributions.
Gray’s positives surely outweigh his weaknesses and it is only a matter of time before he becomes a central figure for Leicester with his unquestionable talent. He needs to work on his consistency as an attacking threat a bit more and he will surely be up there as a great player in the future.