DÜSSELDORF, Germany (AP) — Already a Premier League champion with Leicester at the age of 19, Demarai Gray felt his career had stalled this season.
The 24-year-old winger had been known as an impact substitute at Leicester, able to change games with a burst of fresh energy and pace. But even those appearances dried up, with only one league game off the bench in 2020-21. Now he’s reviving his career in Germany with Bayer Leverkusen.
“Since coming here I feel valued and important to the team. Obviously at Leicester I didn’t feel that, so you kind of lose your spark a bit. You go a bit dim, your motivation dips a bit,” Gray said Tuesday. “I’ve come here excited for this new challenge.”
Years of German clubs signing young English talents like Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham at Dortmund means there’s an increasingly well-trodden path from the Premier League to the Bundesliga, and growing awareness that Germany can be part of an ambitious player’s career path.
Gray joined Leverkusen on Jan. 31 and has made an immediate impact. His first two appearances, both as a substitute, brought a debut goal against Stuttgart and an assist against Mainz.
Gray joined up at Leverkusen with another Premier League import, the 23-year-old former Manchester United defender Timothy Fosu-Mensah. He’s from the Netherlands but had been with United since he was 16 and built his career in England, though a knee injury on loan at Fulham derailed his ambition to become a regular at Old Trafford. After Fosu-Mensah signed for Leverkusen on Jan. 13, he made contact with Gray, who says he had not been offered a new contract at Leicester.
“Without Tim’s influence on my decision to come here, you never know. I could have looked somewhere else,” Gray said, adding that their shared experiences made it easier to settle in with the new team. Knowing how other players had coped in Germany meant the Bundesliga was already on Gray’s radar.
“I spoke to Jadon a few times over the years. Obviously Jude’s come out from Birmingham like me, so I just keep track of Dortmund because obviously they have players there that I know,” he said. “And there’s been a lot of players that have come out on loan over the years. So I had a rough idea of what it would be like.”
The next step for Gray is to regularly play 90 minutes, something he last did for Leicester’s first team in a League Cup game in September.
“Maybe it’s not good if I keep scoring off the bench because then the manager might think I’m just an impact player,” he said. “And I think that’s what I was at Leicester for a while as well. I was just coming off the bench and doing well. It’s nice to come on and help the team but realistically, I want to be contributing from the start consistently.”
More AP soccer: https://apnews.com/hub/soccer and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports