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Birmingham City have had to ward off many suitors since Christmas last year as Premier League clubs Liverpool, Crystal Palace and Tottenham have all flogged to try and acquire the services of the 18-year old. Gary Rowett, the manager of Birmingham City, has rejected bids from different clubs including one from Crystal Palace in the range of £500,000. But with the teenager’s current market valuation touching £3 million, it will be hard for the blues not to feel the financial pressure of the deal. Some reports also suggest that Championship side Bournemouth were ready to pay as much as £5 million for Gray but Gary Rowett did not feel it was a reflection of the boy’s abilities.
Demarai Gray has donned the Birmingham City jersey since 2006, when he joined the Blues’ Academy and featured in their U-11 team. Seven years later and following exponential growth as a player, Gray signed his first professional contract with Birmingham in the December of 2013. The end of the 2013-14 season saw him accept the “Academy Player of the Year” award and set himself up well for the next season.
Gray’s career trajectory took a slight dip at the start of the 2014-15 season when he failed to secure enough game time under then manager Lee Clark. He had to patiently warm the bench until Gary Rowett succeeded Clark. Under Rowett, Gray found himself at the fore, scoring more regularly and winning the “Football League Young Player of the Month” award in December. His standout performance came in Birmingham’s 6-1 demolition of Reading where he scored a first half hat trick. Following this dream Christmas period, Gray quickly found himself on the Premier League radar.
There is no sweeter dream for a teenage footballer than to play in the Premier League and have the chance to improve under the apprenticeship of world class talent. But Gary Rowett insists Gray’s move away from his boyhood club will be detrimental to his development as a player.
The end of 2013, around the same time Gray signed his first professional contract with Birmingham, he was called up to the England U-18 squad. In exactly a year, Gray made the promotion to the U-19 team and even scoring a goal for the three lions. If the midfielder dreams of playing in the senior team, he will have to accept the bitter truth – a move to the Premier League is a necessity.
Since the fortuitous November of last year when Rowett brought Gray into the first team on a more regular basis, he always featured him on the left wing in a 4-2-3-1 formation. But Gray has been known to have two good feet and has played on the right wing as well. He brings a lot of pace and composure to the attack which makes him an integral part of Birmingham’s plans for the future. Gray has featured in 39 games for the club this season, which is staggering for a player of his age and inexperience. Gary Rowett says his greatest gift is going past players in the box and making quick sound decisions in the final third of the pitch.
If a move to the Premier League does materialize, Gray will find himself in situations where he might fall short physically. The tempo of the game in the Premier League might also catch the winger off-guard. Despite his Jamaican origins, he will be left wanting for more pace. A move to a club which promises to focus on his development while gradually easing into the top flight is what is best for Gray. He does not want to become another Wilfred Zaha at a Manchester United.