Birmingham City's Demarai Gray has been named The Football League’s Young Player of the Month for December.The award covers players that play in all three divisions of the Sky Bet Football League.
With a 34-minute hat-trick and a string of electrifying performances providing Blues fans some Christmas cheer, Gray played a starring role as Birmingham’s rise up the Sky Bet Championship table continued in December.
Becoming the third youngest player at the club to score a hat-trick, Gray’s goals helped the Blues inflict a 6-1 drubbing on Reading and his performances contributed to the team claiming impressive away wins at Huddersfield and Nottingham Forest.
Plucked from local football aged 10, Birmingham-born Gray has risen through the Academy ranks to take a spot in the first team where he has been an ever-present under new boss Gary Rowett. One of 12 Academy players to have played for the senior team in the last three seasons, Gray can operate on both wings and made his England under-19 debut in September 2014.
On receiving his award, Gray said: “I'm still young and I'm still learning but overall I'm happy with the way I'm playing. I feel like I've improved every week and I've got to aim to be as consistent as possible.
"I played nine games last season. I was in and out and it was tough. I had to keep my head down and work hard. I just had to keep pushing and now I'm starting regularly.
"Gary Rowett coming in has given me a massive confidence boost. They've worked one on one with me. Lots of little things, but still things that are important.”
Birmingham manager Rowett added: "When a young player starts games, they sometimes either sink or swim and he's swum very fast in terms of his development.
“He's a huge talent. We see it as a huge complement to our Academy and all the work we've done at the club in bringing the likes of Demarai through.”
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Each season, Football League clubs invest more than £60m on identifying, training and educating the next generation of football talent.
There are 8,500 young players between the ages of eight and 18 registered with League clubs, making Football League Youth Development the largest centrally co-ordinated young player programme in world football. Over 200 players aged 21 or under make their professional debuts for Football League clubs each season.
Commenting on this month’s recipient, David Wetherall, Head of Youth Development at The Football League, said: “It’s fantastic to see Demarai making waves in the Championship and long may it continue. With four goals to his name including the stunning hat trick against Reading, Demarai can go on to have a big impact on Birmingham’s fortunes this season. Having progressed to the England under-19 squad, I’m looking forward to see his career develop.”
Each month the accolade is awarded by The Football League to the young player who has made the most significant contribution and impact in first team football. To be eligible the player must be either under 21 years of age or be playing in the season during which he turns 21. Currently around a quarter of all players registered with Football League clubs are eligible to be considered for this award.