by Paul Wilkes
Birmingham City midfielder Jon Toral believes Demarai Gray will be a future England international, such is the winger’s ability.
The 19-year-old has attracted the attention of a number of Premier League clubs, due to his combination of speed and technical ability.
“He’s a magnificent young talent with his pace, his hunger,” Toral told The FLP.
“He wants to win every game and be the best on the pitch.
“He has got that attitude. He wants to learn and he’s going to be a very good player. I’m sure he will be in the national team sooner or later.”
Toral, who is on loan at St Andrew’s for the season from Arsenal, took his goal tally to four for the season with a strike against Brighton, with only striker Clayton Donaldson netting more.
The Spanish playmaker has learned from his countryman Santi Cazorla at Arsenal about positioning and this has helped with his development.
“I have a good relationship with Santi. He is a great lad and a great footballer as well,” said Toral.
“He doesn’t really give me many tips. I just see him in training and I try to learn everything off him. He’s one of the best players I have trained with.”
Growing up at Barcelona’s famous training ground, La Masia, Toral has naturally played alongside some standout young talents, with Hector Bellerin (Arsenal), Sandro Ramirez (Barcelona) and Roger Riera (Nottingham Forest) amongst team-mates at the time.
He doesn’t think Cesc Fabregas’ indifferent form on his return to the Camp Nou should deter others from making similar steps.
“Every player is different. Some players suit Barcelona and some don’t,” he stressed.
“Every footballer is a different case. It’s not [a case] that, if you have been there you can’t go back or you have to go back.
“Football is like life. One day you are here and another day you are somewhere else. You just have to keep going.” It’s a philosophy that ensured Toral was not disheartened when he found his game time restricted in October, after an initial strong start to life in the Midlands.
City’s standards have dropped a little in recent weeks, with just one win in the last six Championship matches, but Toral has enjoyed personal success by playing the full 90 minutes in the last three matches, for the first time this season.
The 20-year-old says he has learnt a lot tactically from manager Gary Rowett, but the biggest influence on his career was the man that spotted him at just eight years old.
“He was a scout at Barcelona and he saw me playing for my local team,” he said.
“He went to my parents and said ‘Look he’s a good player and we want him to join Barcelona’.
“My family said ‘Well, it’s the kid’s decision’, as it was my career already.”
Toral admits the first time he arrived in England’s second city he was surprised by the sheer size of the famous shopping centre, The Bullring.
He is in regular contact with Arsene Wenger and hopes to be a success at the Emirates.
But, for now, Toral is more than happy with life in the Championship.
*This article was originally published in The FLP on 20 December 2015.