By Joshua Richards
Demarai Gray could have been lining up for his Premier League debut yesterday but the Birmingham winger is certain snubbing a move to the top-flight to stay at his hometown club will prove the right decision.
The Blues rejected four bids from Bournemouth in January, following interest from Crystal Palace 12 months ago.
But rather than endure another transfer window tug-of-war for his services, Birmingham tied down their talisman on a new three-year deal last month.
And the 19-year-old, who shot to prominence with a 34-minute hat-trick against Reading in December, is determined to prove staying loyal and rejecting the bright lights of the Premier League is the best course of action.
“I had a few different opinions in my ear and at my age it is very important to make the right decision,” said Gray, who spent the early part of his summer with the England U20s squad at the annual Toulon Tournament.
“I spoke with my family and my representatives and I think we all agreed it was best for me to stay. I knew I would be happiest here, because I’m playing football and the fact that I can do so at home is a bonus.
“I want to develop and play as much as possible and the staff at Birmingham make me feel like I’m improving all the time. So I believe I can keep developing here and that Birmingham is the right place to play my football.
“I believe in my own ability and of course I want to play in the Premier League in my career. But right now the most important thing is to play every week for a manager that has faith in me.
“I want to play at the very top and you never know what the future holds, but I love the Blues and I want to play in the Premier League with Birmingham.
“I want to improve my numbers this season, get more goals and assists. I need to be more consistent, but hopefully I can be a threat to every defence in the Championship.”
Birmingham finished tenth in the Championship last term, despite recording just two wins before November.
Despite that form, under boss Gary Rowett this season the bookmakers expect Birmingham to be entrenched in a relegation battle rather than a push for promotion.
But Gray believes the Blues can spring a few surprises this term and that additions to the squad such as Arsenal’s Jon Toral can see them to the top six.
“We had a good season in the end last year, finishing tenth, but we were always playing catch-up after a slow start,” Gray added.
“We know if we do the same this year we will have a job on our hands, so we need to get off to the right start.
“I think we can push for the play-offs. There is no reason why we can’t get the extra points to go from tenth to sixth.
“We’ve got new additions that are a big bonus to us and we had a positive pre-season. We ran Premier League opposition in Leicester very close and we took a lot from that game.
“I think we’re in for a good season.”