Demarai Gray insists Everton is the “right environment” for the gifted attacker to make good on his substantial promise.
Former England Under-21 star Gray played off the bench in Everton’s past two Premier League games following three straight starts.
The substitute’s roles against Burnley and Manchester United represented a departure from the opening months of the 25-year-old’s Goodison Park career when he was all but guaranteed a start if available.
Gray sustained a hip problem in manager Frank Lampard’s first Premier League game in charge – at Newcastle United in February – and is progressively refinding his feet after a disrupted period.
The injury, reckons Gray – who spoke exclusively to Everton’s matchday programme for Wednesday’s meeting with former club Leicester City – can be attributed to a relative paucity of competitive football over the past two seasons.
He tallied 15 starts for previous employers Leicester and Bayer Leverkusen between the beginning of 2019/20 and end of 2020/21.
Gray was straining at the leash by the time he signed for Everton and began with three goals in four league matches – and five goals and two assists in the opening half of the campaign.
“I was up-and-down before I came here and this season was about playing a decent number of games, getting my rhythm back and finding myself again,” said Gray.
“I’d not played consistently over the past few years and, I think, the physical aspect of the Premier League caught up with me a bit.
“West Ham [on 3 April, Gray’s most recent start] was the first game after I came back when I felt fully myself, able to move freely and feeling how I do when I influence games.”
Gray continued: “To fulfil your own potential, you need to be in the right environment and, since I signed, Everton has felt right.
“Everton is a top club, that hasn’t changed... and we have a good, young manager, who – along with his staff – demands a lot from us.”
Gray, a bargain £1.7m recruit from Leverkusen in Germany last summer, impressed Lampard with an evident desire to muck in after a 71st-minute introduction against United.
The player on song is an absolute nuisance for opposing defences, a potent blend of speed and skill and intelligence – and proficient with both feet, to boot.
Gray was nevertheless sent on to face United right when Everton were battening down the hatches to protect a single-goal advantage.
And the Midlander, who has appeared 31 times in all competitions this term, contributed decisively to the collective effort with a courageous block from a crunching goalbound Aaron Wan-Bissaka drive.
Needs must, insists Gray, who is placing Everton’s requirement for points far in front of his immediate ambitions.
Long-term, he is anticipating mental gains from negotiating a tricky spell and, in turn, plenty more dazzling individual performances to position Evertonians on the edge of their seats.
“It is difficult right now, but what I must take from this period is, it’s building my character,” said Gray.
“You have to find a determination within you when things are hard.
“There is a lot of pressure on us, but pressure isn’t something that’s ever got to me, too much.
“I am an honest player, I look at myself and my performances, I know what I need to do – I am here and will continue working, firstly for the team, then to achieve my potential.
“I am direct and play with speed, the fans expect me to excite and I share that expectation.
“I’d not been doing that after the injury, which is pretty normal. I needed to work to regain the strength I lost when I was out.
“I like to have freedom, licence to find the ball and threaten teams. I know what I can do and how I can affect games. It is me being smart enough to do that – and I need the physical side of things, so have to keep working on it."
Subscribe for home delivery of Everton's matchday programme and save 25p per issue with free UK P&P! Subscribe here.