Demarai Gray: Birmingham City teenager unaffected by speculation

By Ged ScottBBC Sport
Demarai Gray
Demarai Gray has won the Football League's Young Player of the Month award for December

Birmingham City's exciting teenage winger Demarai Gray has made headlines with his form this season but he is unconcerned by transfer speculation linking him with bigger clubs.

Championship leaders Bournemouth have reportedly had two bids turned downexternal-link for the 18-year-old, who has scored four times in 22 appearances this season, while a number of Premier League clubs have also been linked.

"I have to say he's been very level-headed about it all," Blues manager Gary Rowett told BBC Sport.

"He's really humble in the way he works and in how he approaches the game.

"I can't see any sign of it affecting him, which is testimony to his family and the way he's been brought up."

Since getting an extended run in the first team following Rowett's arrival in late October, England Under-19 forward Gray has flourished, peaking with a hat-trick in the 6-1 home win over Reading.

That performance helped to earn him the honour of being named the Football League's Young Player of the Month for December.

Previous Young Player of the Month winners
August: Dele Alli (Milton Keynes Dons)
September: Matt Ingram (Wycombe Wanderers)
October: Marcus Maddison (Peterborough United)
November: Alex Mowatt (Leeds United)

"The last trophy I won was the man of the match award at home to Leeds earlier this season," he said. "I won quite a lot of things as a kid, mostly top scorer awards, but this is the best yet.

"I'm still young and I'm still learning but overall I'm happy with the way I'm playing. I just want to keep playing games. It would be easy to be stuck back in the under-21s. The biggest difference is the physicality and the tempo. You've always got to be concentrating, but I'm getting more comfortable and feeling more used to it.

"I played nine games last season. I was in and out and it was tough. I knew I had to keep my head down and work hard to keep pushing and now I'm starting regularly. I feel like I've improved every week and I've just got to aim to be as consistent as possible."

Gray has played wide on the left, often switching to the right, in a 4-2-3-1 formation behind main front man Clayton Donaldson.

They have been part of a resurgent Blues side who have lost just two of their 13 league and cup games since the new manager took over, and Gray is quick to credit the return of former defender Rowett to the club as the catalyst to his progress.

"Gary coming in has given me a massive confidence boost," Gray told BBC Sport. "He and his backroom staff have worked on me one-on-one. Lots of little things, but still things that are important."

Demarai Gray
Demarai Gray completed his first professional hat-trick against Reading in first-half injury time

Rowett added: "I'd seen him come on against Leeds in the last 15 minutes of a live game earlier this season and his pace was blistering. He tore Leeds apart. It's hard to miss. You see his ability to go past players in training, and he does it against a lot of good Championship footballers.

"You'd want that in your team. The big test was whether he could have the same impact starting games as he'd done coming on as a sub and he's done that. He's started a lot more games, which has helped him. When a young player starts games, they either sink or swim and he's swum very fast in terms of his development."

The former Burton boss continued: "The way he has trained and his match performances have not highlighted that he might be getting carried away by any speculation.

"He's a huge talent. He's shown great composure and ability to score the goals he has, have the impact that he has had at such a good age, and at such a high level in the Championship. We've got to make sure that he continues to work very hard.

Demarai Gray's career details
Demarai Gray was 18 years, five months and 15 days old when he scored his three goals inside 35 first-half minutes against Reading in December. That makes him the third-youngest Blues player, after Trevor Francis (1971) and Robin Stubbs (1959), to hit a hat-trick.
Birmingham-born Gray was raised in the Rubery area of the city and was spotted by Blues playing for Cadbury Athletic at the age of eight. He is one of 12 academy players to break into the first team over a three-year period.
He made his professional debut as a late substitute in Blues' 4-0 home win over Millwall in September 2013, signing his first professional contract three months later before making his England Under-19 debut in September 2014.

"We see it as a huge compliment to our academy and all the work we've done at the club in bringing on the likes of Demarai Gray.

"You want progression, but first and foremost you want the points. You want to build a team that can bring success. And, if you can bring through your own players with the potential of Demarai Gray and Koby Arthur in the matchday squad at the age of 18, then that's a real testament.

"Look at Mitch Hancox and Callum Reilly who have come through the ranks too. That will help us build something sustainable, and we hope Demarai remains a huge part of that."

For now, Gray's feet are firmly on the floor. "Obviously, I want to play at the top level," admitted the boyhood Blues and Manchester United fan, who idolises Cristiano Ronaldo. "And, if I keep working hard, one day hopefully I will."