ALWAYS THE PLAN: Demarai Gray on Rafa Benitez radar for some time
PA Martin Rickett
Rafael Benitez has revealed he always planned to sign Demarai Gray for his next club when he returned to management.
The winger had been on the radar of the Everton boss since impressing him while at Leicester, when the Spaniard was in charge of Newcastle.
Benitez even exchanged messages with 25-year-old Gray while he was without a club, after leaving Chinese side Dalian Professional in January, laying the groundwork for when a new job should materialise.
His foresight has been Everton’s gain as Gray has made a flying start on his return to the Premier League, scoring three goals in four matches since moving to Goodison Park to play for Benitez from Bayer Leverkusen in a reported £1.7million deal.
“When I was at Newcastle we played against Leicester and he did really well,” said Benitez.
“Since then we were following him and I was in contact with his agent asking about how he was doing. I also sent the boy a message when he was in Germany asking how he was getting on and how was he adapting to the style of life in Germany?
“So I had communication and was following him and I told my staff to keep an eye on him because we knew he has the potential.
“It’s just a question of giving him confidence, having the right team-mates around him and the right environment with the fans, who appreciate what he is doing. All of these things together help him to do well.
“It’s easier for us to support him because he is continuing to work hard and score goals, but overall he is doing what everyone was expecting – making the difference with his quality.”
Everton will still be without Dominic Calvert-Lewin when they look to maintain their unbeaten start to the season at Aston Villa on Saturday. However, James Rodriguez might be involved for the first time this campaign.
Calvert-Lewin now has a quadriceps injury to add to the broken toe he was nursing and it looks like he could be out for up to three weeks.
Rodriguez, who was heavily linked with a move away from Goodison Park during the transfer window and has yet to be involved under Benitez, has been training with his team-mates and the 2014 World Cup Golden Boot winner could be on the bench at Villa Park.
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