Demarai Gray wants to devote the best years of his career to Everton – and is confident of making giant strides under “honest” manager Rafa Benitez.
Forward Gray could potentially make his competitive Everton debut when Southampton come to Goodison Park for the opening game of the Premier League season on Saturday.
The 25-year-old, who joined from Bayer Leverkusen last month, spoke exclusively to Everton’s matchday programme for the fixture.
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Gray tackled a breadth of subjects, including the self-imposed pressure to fulfil a talent that gained national prominence when the forward emerged as a teenager with Birmingham City.
He is unequivocal about his target of representing England – but spoke candidly about the jarring impact of racist abuse aimed at the three players who missed penalties in this summer’s European Championship final.
Gray’s first thought from a football perspective is to flourish with Everton after accepting an offer to move to Goodison Park in a heartbeat.
“I don’t think there’s been a training session yet where Rafa hasn’t told me something I can improve,” said Gray. “But I wouldn’t have it any other way.
“I don’t want to be told what I am good at – everyone knows what they are good at.
“I want to be told what I can work on.
“I am happy I have a manager like that, an honest manager.
“I am confident I am going to improve with him.
“For me, it is about achieving consistency and scoring goals and being productive at the top end of the pitch.
“I am an attacker and that is what I am paid to do: put the ball in the net and help create goals for the team, help the team get points.
“I genuinely have a good feeling I am going to progress with Everton and the next few years are going to be some of my best.”
Gray was called into an England squad three years ago and is optimistic over rekindling international ambitions following his transfer to Everton.
He was capped 26 times by his country’s Under-21s, scoring eight goals, and played in two European Championship competitions at the age-group level.
The next target is a major tournament with England’s senior team.
Gray, however, insists the treatment of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka in the wake of England’s European Championship final penalty shootout defeat by Italy is proof more needs to be done to protect black players representing their country.
“We are going on the knee – but the people giving abuse from behind a screen don’t care," says Gray.
“I am all for being involved and showing it is a good cause – but you see what happened to the boys who missed the penalties – and there is your answer.
“Young, black English players – and kids – will see the abuse and may not want to play for England, which is sad.
“No mother will want their child to potentially be in that situation.
“And no human would want to be in that situation. I wouldn’t. It is not fair.
“When things are all good and our black players are scoring the goals, everything is great.
“Then we get to a final, which hasn’t been done in so long, fall short at the end, but the whole country has been brought together by these players, and some people shut them down like that.
“It is not a good sign."
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