Demarai Gray has made a fantastic start to life in the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen since signing on loan for the remainder of the 2020/21 season from Leicester City.
In an exclusive interview with bundesliga.com, Gray discusses the decision behind his move to the Bundesliga, his personal goals for the rest of this campaign and the differences between the English Premier League and German top-flight which he has noticed already.
bundesliga.com: Having just signed a contract in Leverkusen a few weeks ago, what are your impressions?
Demarai Gray: "Yeah, it's a very nice place, a very nice city for a start and the environment around the club is good. I think on the pitch, things aren't going as well as we'd want them to go but it's still early doors for me and I'm excited to obviously help the team turn things around, just for the future of the club."
bundesliga.com: What reasons were decisive for your move to Leverkusen?
Gray: "I think I wanted a new challenge and to try a new league. And I think the way the team plays, the style of play, it suits me very well. Obviously, I've done some research on the club and spoke to a few people at the club but I'm happy with the decision that I've made and as I said, I'm just excited to work here and continue to develop as a player."
bundesliga.com: Moving to another country can be a daunting prospect. Despite the restrictions, how have you settled in, in Germany? How does the club help you?
Gray: "Yes, as I said, it's a good environment to be in, it's the first month now and I feel very comfortable. It's a new environment, leaving where you were born is going to be difficult, friends, family and stuff at home but that's how it is sometimes with football and as I said, this decision was a football decision for me to come here and it's the best place for me to be right now. And as I said, I'm excited to develop and improve as a player."
bundesliga.com: As you said, you really did a lot of work finding out about your new club. What have you done?
Gray: "Yeah, obviously when you get interest from a club, you have a look, see how they're doing in the table and I was watching a few games from December and the start of the season, to be fair. Then obviously, Timothy [Fosu-Mensah] signed before me, a few weeks before me, so I spoke to him, spoke to a few other people around the club and yeah, just got a good feel for the club and it kind of won me over, the research I'd done and speaking to some people."
bundesliga.com: How do you see your role as a right-footed left winger within Leverkusen's attack so far?
Gray: "Yeah, that's always been my strongest position, playing off the left, because I like to go inside or outside. But I think I can help the team. I've had a good start personally, contributed with a few goals and assists so I just need to keep that up, continue the form and help the team as much as possible."
Leverkusen have a lot of options on the wings. What do you think your chances are here?
Gray: "I'm confident, no player is guaranteed to start. You have to work, you have to train properly. I haven't played consistent football for a long time, so I'm hungry to get that run of games and it all starts on the training pitch, so my main focus is to work hard in training and when I get my opportunities, just take my chances."
bundesliga.com: Now you have been in Leverkusen's Bundesliga starting XI for the first time. Were you very nervous and do you want to start more often now?
Gray: "I wouldn't say I was nervous. I used to get a bit nervous before games when I was younger but you grow out of that. I'm normally calm before games, just focus and have a plan in my head of what I want to do in the game and I felt good. I felt confident going into the game and I feel I played well, it was just unfortunate with the result, which is the most important."
bundesliga.com: Your first Bundesliga minutes and you scored straight away to make it 5-2 against VfB Stuttgart. How would you describe your first Bundesliga goal and your feelings?
Gray: "Yeah, it's a great feeling, something that I missed for a long time having not played for a while. But yeah, it's everything I was waiting for and I couldn't have gotten off to a better start. It was a good way to really introduce myself to the team because I only met the team two days before that, so I think that let me settle in easier, help my confidence and help me feel more comfortable around the players. Yeah, it was a great start and as I said, I'm in a bit of good form right now so I need to continue it."
bundesliga.com: That's right. Four matches, one goal, two assists. How would you sum up your start in Leverkusen?
Gray: "Yeah, it's been personally good for me, it makes it a bit easier for me to settle and it's good for my confidence because I was a bit low on confidence before coming here, having not played for a long time. But the players and the staff are good for me to keep working and so far, whatever I'm doing is working well."
Gray: "I've only been here a month in this league, every team and every game is a difficult game and obviously Gladbach are a big team. Even the teams underneath us, as you can see with the results we've had in the last month, six weeks, so it's difficult. When you're not at 100 percent you can get punished in this league. So I think as a team we just need to regroup, I think every team has a bad spell, a bad patch, but we have quality players and when we're at it - as I've researched and seen before I've come here - the team can beat anyone. So, I think we just need to stick together, focus and be positive and we can win."
Watch: Leverkusen's wing wizards
bundesliga.com: How important would it be to win again and push for a place in European competition for next season?
Gray: "Yeah, crucial. I think when you go through these moments, three points can lift a team and I think from there we just need to get a bit of consistency, a run of wins just to lift the spirits a bit more. But every game for us now is crucial, we have our objectives, our targets, and we have to keep fighting until the end."
bundesliga.com: How did you get into football back in England?
Gray: "Yeah, my mum says when I was about three years old I'd just be kicking anything around the house. From then on she took me to like a summer school when I was four, just to play football with the other kids and that was it really, I carried on from there. I've always loved football, always out playing football, in the house playing football, grandparents' house playing football. So that was just built in me. I played for my local team until I was 10 years old, then signed for Birmingham City. Made my debut at 17 for Birmingham, then gone to Leicester at 19, so it has been a very nice pathway for me."
bundesliga.com: Who has been there to support you in your career to date?
Gray: "I would say my family really, from the start. My mum, my uncles. Without them, I wouldn't be here now. They sacrificed a lot of time to consistently take me to football, training, games, every week, all over the country. They've always supported me, always had my best interest and backed every decision I wanted to make, so a lot of credit goes to them."
bundesliga.com: Tell us something about your idols? Who are they and why?
Gray: "Growing up, Thierry Henry, the Brazilian Ronaldo, but when Cristiano Ronaldo went to [Manchester] United, I think it was 2003, that's when I became a big Cristiano Ronaldo fan and from then I've just followed him, his journey, the way he has developed as a player and I think for me - as someone who plays in the same position - he is the perfect player to watch and try to mirror his development."
bundesliga.com: Tell us about how you came to Leicester and a few months later you were a Premier League champion?
Gray: "Yeah, it was strange. I always struggle trying to explain it because it was so quick but yeah, I've gone from playing in the Championship with Birmingham to all of a sudden going into the Premier League for a team that's top of the table. Then we were just winning every game, basically winning every game and we won. But it's hard to explain because it was so quick, it was like I was in a bubble for six months. The longer that goes on, the more I take it in, still to this day. It's a moment that will always be with me and obviously [Claudio] Ranieri is the manager who wanted me, so I owe many thanks to him and the people at the top of Leicester City. It's something that I'll cherish forever."
bundesliga.com: Why do you think more and more top British talents deciding to make the leap to the Bundesliga?
Gray: "I think the game is kind of changing a bit, over the last few years more players are venturing out here. I think there are good opportunities out here and just saying for me, personally, I just wanted a new challenge. Some other players might come for a loan move for experience. It's a big club Leverkusen, they're in European football, they are the levels I want to be playing at and the competitions I want to be playing in. This club is good for me, good for my development, a very good coach, coaching staff and a good bunch of players here. From the first day I came here, I noticed the standard in training, the tempo would be good. I would advise other players to come out here, if they asked me, it's a very good league, a difficult league and I'm looking forward to learning more about the league and developing more as a player."
Watch: From Keegan to Sancho, Englishmen in the Bundesliga
bundesliga.com: Bayer Leverkusen are known for its scouting of up-and-coming players from around the world. What is it like to be part of such a melting pot of international talent? Have you made close connections with particular members of the team?
Gray: "Having interest from a club like this, I was a bit surprised because I didn't really play much football before I came out here. So it was a good feeling to know such a big club had interest in me and that's why I grabbed it with two hands and I was pretty adamant about joining here. It's a very cultural team, talent from everywhere and it's a good bunch of people, good changing room. I think there's a good togetherness. On the pitch, we need to be more together, fight more, but yeah it's a good team, good people. Obviously, I know Timothy from England but I've made good relationships with other players already, so it's an easy group to get along with and it has made my settling in period a lot easier."
bundesliga.com: Besides Fosu-Mensah, have you made any good connections in the squad so far?
Gray: "Obviously me and Tim are tight because we knew each other before. Jeremie [Frimpong], Edmond [Tapsoba] is funny, Nadi [Amiri], so yeah, there's a lot of mates I've made. It's a very cultural squad, so the language barrier is sometimes difficult but that's what I'm here to do, learn new cultures, learn the German language, so it'll be good."
bundesliga.com: Have you identified differences between football in the Premier League and in the Bundesliga?
Gray: "Big difference, especially for me now. I'm going into games not really knowing much about every team, whereas in England I'd have good knowledge but what I'm noticing is the way we play, there's more space, the game opens up a lot quicker which is also good for me. The way we play as a team suits me well but I think in this league, there is no easy game, every team has its qualities, every team can make it difficult for you. So it's something I'm excited to be involved in and just learn a new trade, new league and it will all help me develop as a player."
bundesliga.com: Finally, what are your personal expectations for this season - especially after the defeat against Freiburg on Sunday?
Gray: "Personally, I don't really like to set to many targets or expectations. I'd just like to do what I do and if I'm feeling in good form, I can help the team win games and contribute with goals and assists and in the short-term. I just need to keep working hard, keep taking my opportunities and keep working on my fitness. I think as a team, we have high expectations, we set big goals for ourselves and as a group we just need to keep working and focusing on doing that."