Be hero in 19
Demarai Gray, the hottest prospect outside the Premier League, has finally left Birmingham in a £3.75m move to surprise Premier League title contenders Leicester City.
The talented winger had been scouted by around 40 clubs including German giants Bayern Munich but chose Leicester as he believes that his dream of playing first team football in the Premier League can be fulfilled by the East Midlanders. In an interview on Leicester's internet television channel, Gray stated that he has watched a lot of Leicester this season and believes their counter attacking style of play suits his game which relies heavily on his pace and trickery.
The England U21 international can play on either flank or behind the frontman, Birmingham manager Gary Rowett has primarily used Gray on the left hand side which allows the youngster to cut inside and unleash venomous shots on goal. It will be interesting to see how the 19 year old fits into Leicester's system and whether he will even play at all given the form the Foxes are in at the moment. However, Gray will undoubtedly become a top Premier League player and his talent and attitude will serve him well in his career.
This is not the first time that Birmingham have let a talented, academy-produced youngster leave on the cheap. The club's financial difficulties, including an owner who was locked away on money laundering charges, means that they have had to sell their best assets for next to nothing. Gray is just the most recent addition to a list of fine young players who have left the club on the cheap in recent years including Nathan Redmond, Jordon Mutch and arguably the best goalkeeper in the Premier League right now, Jack Butland.
There will obviously be disappointment that Birmingham have let Gray go for such a small fee. However, Gray has underperformed for Birmingham this season scoring just one goal and making one assist whilst his understudy until this point, Jacques Maghoma, has scored five goals and made four assists. With January in mind, Rowett decided not to include Gray in the starting line up for the last two games in order to look at his other options in the squad, the Blues went on to win both games without the flashy youngster and clearly have options in their small squad to fill Gray's place. The manager has stated that allowing Gray to leave, although the club were powerless to resist as Leicester met the buyout clause in the winger's contract, means that Birmingham can spend money to move the team in a different direction which will make them better.
Gray has handled himself well despite all the rumours that had surrounded his time at Birmingham, his conduct never came under question and he never moaned or handed in a transfer request, unlike his England counterpart Saido Berahino who has now become unpopular with his own fans at West Bromwich Albion and finds himself on the bench at The Hawthorns. Gray clearly has a level head as shown by his decision to join Leicester, where he is more likely to play, rather than joining a club like Chelsea where he would either sit on the bench or be farmed out on loan. All of this means that the 19 year old will leave Birmingham a hero and the fans will never forget his contribution to the club.
Although they will be disappointed, the fans have seen this before and have known Gray would eventually be moving on for the last year or so meaning they will be able to move on quickly from his departure. After all there are numerous youngsters waiting in the wings at St Andrews ready to take their chance, look out for youngster Viv Solomon-Otabor who could be the next name from Birmingham's academy you hear great things about.
Text: Thomas Giles, Birmingham