Premier League champion Christian Fuchs insists Everton have struck gold with the capture of former Leicester City teammate Demarai Gray.
Express attacker Gray signed from Bayer Leverkusen this month and scored on his first Everton appearance when he netted an equalising penalty in the Florida Cup victory over Millonarios.
Gray’s speed and skilful and direct running grabbed Fuchs’ attention after the English forward joined Leicester midway through the 2015/16 title-winning campaign – the Austrian routinely “astonished” by flashes of his younger colleague’s ability.
A studious nature and hunger to improve stood out, too.
And, according to Fuchs, the 25-year-old Gray – who is targeting an established position in Rafael Benitez’s Everton team – is ready to make good on his vast potential.
“If he keeps consistency in his game, I have no doubt about Demarai Gray being a regular starter in any team in the Premier League,” Fuchs told evertonfc.com.
“He has those qualities and the talent is there.
“He grew into his role with Leicester and became a much better player during those years.
“He did well making the move to Germany, getting out of his comfort zone and experiencing a different league and environment.
“I think that matured him.
“Now, being back in England, at a great club, there is a lot for Everton to look forward to with Demarai.
“If I tell you he can play in any team in England, then he can play for England. Absolutely.
“It is down to him.
“The potential is there, now it is about putting his potential on the pitch, in games and in training, week in, week out.”
Gray was 19 when he left boyhood club Birmingham City for a Leicester side increasingly viewed as serious Premier League contenders.
Manager Claudio Ranieri quickly got the new boy in his squad and Gray was a regular off the bench as Leicester closed on the club’s first title.
“Demarai blended in very well,” said Fuchs.
“He is a pretty quiet character and gets along with everybody.
“He immediately did really well on and off the pitch.
“Straight away, we saw pace, lots of pace.
“He was, at times, at a level where everybody was astonished by his quality, his ability to take on four, five and six defenders.
“To somehow get through them and put his teammates in positions to score.
“At times, it was unbelievable.
“Coming on in games after he first joined, he was a really good asset.
“If the game was even, he could bring this extra spark, with his versatility and creativity on the ball.”
Fuchs was a terrific left-back in Ranieri’s champion team. He made 32 appearances, forming one-quarter of a mean back four and providing valuable service from the left flank.
He owns 78 Austria caps and captained his country at the 2016 European Championship.
But mention of facing Gray on the training pitch elicits a laugh – and insight into the position where Fuchs reckons the Midlander is at his devastating best.
“Yes, that happened,” Fuchs says drily, of duelling with Gray in training.
“But towards the end, he was playing more on the left wing, to cut inside and get shots off.
“He has an incredible shot and, as a defender, you don’t know what he is doing
“His acceleration with and without the ball is incredible and it is tough to defend against.
“If he gets the freedom to roam and pick up positions between the lines and in pockets, he knows where he can hurt the opponent.
“When he receives the ball, even if he is under pressure, he can turn and put pressure on the opposing defence.
“For me, his ideal position would be left midfield, due to his versatility.
“He can shoot with the same quality on either foot.
“In the build-up play, he is a great asset and you lose that when he is up front.
“He has the ability to cut inside and look for the shot but can also go down the line and cross the ball.
“That causes any full-back a lot of issues.”
Speaking after completing his move to Everton, Gray underlined the significance of having the “trust and belief” of manager Benitez.
And, insists Fuchs, the former England Under-21 player responds to a show of faith from the man in charge.
“What you need, especially as a young footballer, is the trust of the manger,” added Fuchs.
“For the manager, when you put in a young player, you have to assume they will make more mistakes than an experienced player.
“But learning from those mistakes – which Demarai is absolutely willing to do – and knowing the manager won’t bench you for a mistake or two, is when you produce your best.
“Demarai is confident in himself, he knows what he is capable of – if you give him the confidence of being a valued player in the team, you get the best out of him.”
The pace and dribbling that wowed Gray’s colleagues when he arrived at Leicester was steadily joined, relates Fuchs, by a cute appreciation of the game.
“He grew into his decision-making on the pitch,” continued Fuchs, who left Leicester at the end of last term and will play for Charlotte FC in the expansion team’s debut Major League Soccer season in 2022.
“When you join a new club, there are different demands and philosophies.
“You have to trust your game but be willing and open to learning and adapting.
“He is a player all about creativity, so in one sense, the decision-making is already there.
“What he needed to learn – and did learn – was to sometimes pass the ball a little bit earlier. To receive the ball on the other end, rather than taking on too many players.
“A game is very different from training, there is more intensity and opponents don’t care if they step on your feet.
“But you want to give creative players the freedom to express themselves – because that is an asset for any team.
"As an attacking player, you need one moment to decide a game, if it is with an assist, great build-up play or a goal, and Demarai has the talent to provide that."
Fuchs added: “Demarai is a great character and I really enjoyed the time with him.
“He is still a young player and will keep working hard and I don’t see anything other than a bright future for him.”