Contract conundrum for Gray
Posted by nickogs20 on April 7, 2010
It’s not often a young player has to give too much thought to whether to accept the offer of a new contract at Manchester United, but Reds defender David Gray finds himself torn between extending his stay at Old Trafford or continuing his fledgling career elsewhere.
The Scot’s indecision reflects no lack of gratitude or appreciation towards Sir Alex or anyone at Old Trafford, but approaching his 22nd birthday, the desire to play regularly and get his professional career truly underway is Gray’s main priority, and hesitation at putting pen to paper on a one-year extension with the Reds is understandable when you consider his solitary first-team appearance for the club since joining from boyhood club Hearts at the age of 16 came way back in October 2006.
After impressing at Championship level during two spells on loan at Plymouth Argyle the versatile youngster is unlikely to be short of suitors when his current contract expires in the summer, and while he’s open to the idea of staying at United, Gray is seeking assurances that first-team opportunities will come his way before signing on the dotted line. Speaking to the Edinburgh Evening News, the Scotland U21 international recently explained his dilemma:
“I’ve been told I have a new contract for next season. I think it will be for another year but we haven’t discussed terms. The manager just took me aside to say he knew my contract was up at the end of the season. I said I needed to know what’s happening because I’ll be 22 by the end of the season and I want to be playing regularly.”
“I’m not willing to say ‘right, I’ll definitely sign.’ At the age I’m at, I want to be playing all the time, I don’t want to sit about waiting for a chance all the time or having to go on loan again. I want to be settled, playing, and knowing I have some security. I don’t want to be signing another deal just to sit in the reserves. I think he will understand that as well. I’ll wait and see what he has to say. From my point of view, if the manager was to turn round and say he will be giving me a chance next year, then I’d sign in a heartbeat. I don’t have a clue what he’s going to offer me. All I know is I have a contract for next season if I want it.”
Currently out injured with a long-term hip problem, Gray is obviously grateful for the offer of a new deal (“I’ve been out of the way for the last six months but the manager said he likes me. He told me not to worry and to get myself fit for next season. It was nice to hear that.”) but makes it clear that only promises of serious first-team involvement are likely to convince him to extend his Old Trafford stay. Indeed, he has a very specific role in mind:
“If Sir Alex says ‘you just have to keep working hard and you might get a chance,’ then it’s probably unlikely that I’ll sign. But if he turns round and says he’ll give me my chance on the pre-season tour, then I could stay for another year. It wouldn’t be a bad thing if I played maybe ten games next season and got a run in the Carling Cup. You might find yourself playing in the FA Cup if we get a good draw at the start. It would boost my profile.”
“I got a taste of regular first-team football at Plymouth. I played some reserve games for United at the start of the season but the manager said to stop wasting my time because I’m better than that level. I need to be playing at a higher level so I want to be involved in proper football on a Saturday afternoon, rather than just the reserves where it doesn’t matter.”
While Gray has versatility on his side, it’s hard to see how the manager will be able to satisfy the Scot’s requirements. With Gary Neville, Wes Brown, John O’Shea, Rafael da Silva and potentially new signing Marnick Vermijl ahead of him in the pecking order in his preferred right-back position and Antonio Valencia, Nani, Park Ji-Sung, Gabriel Obertan and Tom Cleverley standing in the way of opportunities on the right of midfield, even a place on the bench for Carling Cup games seems something of a long shot.
Everything points towards a parting of the ways at the end of the current campaign then, and Edinburgh-born Gray is keeping an open mind on where his future may lie if he does decide to move on, a return to his homeland – and potentially even his home city – being one of his options, even if the Championship is his preferred destination:
“When I was growing up, my dream was to play for Hearts. I’d never say no to that. If they offered me a good deal I’d love to play for them if that was the best option, especially with all my mates supporting Hearts. At the same time, a few of my friends (Danny Galbraith, Liam Miller and Alan Gow] have gone to Hibs recently and I’d never say I wouldn’t play for Hibs just because I’m a Hearts supporter. I’d actually go back and play for Hibs, it wouldn’t bother me.”
“Deep down I’m a Hearts supporter, though. I’d never say I wouldn’t want to come back. To be honest, I’d love to be back in Scotland with my friends and family. I’ve been down here for six years, which is a lot, but I’d rather stay in England if I could. If the right club came up in Scotland and said the right things then I might go for it, but I think I would rather stay down here and play in the Championship if I could.”
For now, Gray’s main concern is getting himself back fit and potentially featuring for the second string towards the end of the campaign, effectively putting himself in the shop window ahead of the transfer window opening in July. Many in his position would sign the contract extension without hesitation, happy just to cling on to life as a Manchester United player for a little longer, even if in reality their career may be stagnating amid the unfulfilling mix of reserve football and further loan spells. The likes of Chris Eagles and Ryan Shawcross however have shown in recent years that there is life after United for those prepared to leave the Old Trafford comfort zone and work their way up, and Gray’s apparent determination to follow in their footsteps (barring unforeseen elevation into the first-team picture) is to be commended.
Barry Anderson’s full interview with David Gray can be read here.