Demarai Gray is about to give Everton a transfer dilemma after a £47m deal.
Everton’s Demarai Gray is the subject of reported interest from Saudi Arabia – how should the Blues play it?
Reputed interest in Demarai Gray from Saudi Arabia presents both the player and Everton with a potential transfer dilemma.
The Daily Mail reported that Al-Hilal wants to sign Gray and a delegation from the club based in the Saudi capital city of Riyadh was expected in London for negotiations this week. Having recently switched his international allegiances from England – for who he was capped 26 times at Under-21 level, scoring eight goals – to Jamaica, Birmingham-born Gray is currently almost four thousand miles away across the Atlantic Ocean, competing with the Reggae Boyz in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
Making his debut in a 1-1 draw against hosts USA at Chicago’s Soldier Field on June 25, Gray played in all three of Jamaica’s group games, subsequently netting his first two international goals in a 4-1 win over Trinidad and Tobago at CITY PARK, St Louis and then also turning out in their 5-0 thrashing of Saint Kitts and Nevis at Levi’s Stadium, Santa Clara. Although the likes of Kingston-born John Barnes and Raheem Sterling both became England internationals, Jamaica has been making the most of their diaspora in the UK of late, and with Gray one of 10 English-born players in their squad, they are now preparing for Sunday’s quarter-final against Guatemala at Cincinnati’s TQL Stadium.
When Gray does return from his summer in the States though, he and Everton could have a big decision to make over whether he makes another big switch. Despite having already raked in almost £70million so far this year from the sales of Anthony Gordon and Moise Kean, the ECHO understands that funds remain tight at Goodison Park which presents manager Sean Dyche and director of football Kevin Thelwell with a significant quandary.
The Blues of course only narrowly avoided what would have been their first relegation in 72 years after posting what was the lowest equivalent points total in their 135-year history in the Football League/Premier League. Even on the previous two occasions, they went down in 1930 and 1951, they have never performed so poorly throughout an entire season.
Having finished 16th and now 17th in the table over the past couple of campaigns, there is no more margin for error, especially with the club’s new 52,888 capacity stadium – a project that majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri claimed in January was costing £760million – on the horizon. Everton’s squad is quite clearly limited at this level, by Dyche’s admission unbalanced and with Yerry Mina, Conor Coady, Tom Davies, and Asmir Begovic all having departed since the Bournemouth game, currently weaker than the one that finished with a paltry 36 points last term.
If Everton were forced to sell to raise funds for the new faces that are needed then parting with someone like Gray would be potentially more palatable than sacrificing a major star like Amadou Onana – whose £33.5million fee from Lille last summer is still being paid off in installments – or England number one Jordan Pickford who is quite frankly irreplaceable in terms of the Blues being able to attract a successor of similar standing.
While Goodison Park chiefs would surely make a profit on the former Leicester City man they picked up from Bayer Leverkusen for just £1.7million back in 2021, there could be a considerable differential in the fee they might pick up from his reputed Premier League suitors, Marco Silva’s Fulham, and the petrodollar-fuelled riches of the Saudis.
Backed by the same so-called Public Investment Fund – the Saudi kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund which has estimated global assets of over £500billion – who now also own Newcastle United, Al-Hilal are nicknamed ‘The Blue Waves’ and they’ve certainly been making a splash in the transfer market so far this summer. They shelled out an eye-watering £47million on Wolverhampton Wanderers captain Ruben Neves – Everton in contrast wouldn’t take up the £4.5million option on his predecessor the aforementioned Coady – while they also prised Kalidou Koulibaly away from Chelsea just a year after he joined the Londoners for £33million from Napoli.
Although the Senegalese man mountain got ‘sent for a copy of the ECHO’ by Ellis Simms at Stamford Bridge last season when the Everton substitute shrugged him off to net his first Premier League goal and secure a late point for Dyche’s side in a 2-2 draw, at 32 he’s not exactly Methuselah in center-back terms. Koulibaly might be going for what he sees as one last payday but at just 26, Neves should be at the peak of his powers and Gray is only nine months older than him.
The Blues’ bean counters would no doubt be rubbing their hands at the prospect of a slice of the kind of money that Al-Hilal was prepared to chuck at Wolves for their skipper – but professional footballers in their prime must decide on whether they’re prepared to turn their back on Europe’s big leagues to go and play elsewhere, just because they’ve been presented with a lucrative contract under their nose.
Given that they’re already earning far more in a week than most of us take home in a year, are such riches worth the risk in reputation that comes with climbing aboard this latest gravy train in the desert, rather than sticking in a serious, established competition? This would be far more a leap into the unknown for Gray than his brief sojourn in the Bundesliga and a couple of years down the line, the whole expensive vanity project might fizzle out like a Chinese Super League 2.0.
Brought to the club by Rafael Benitez, Gray was one of Frank Lampard’s main men in the first half of last season – featuring in all 23 matches and starting 21 – but only ever started once as a winger under Dyche with the new boss preferring to go with Dwight McNeil and Alex Iwobi out wide due to their willingness to put in a shift down the flanks. He wasn’t picked in the 11 for Dyche’s first five games in charge and then only received a reprieve as an unlikely center-forward, operating as a ‘false’ number nine.
Given that such mercurial talents don’t tend to be this gaffer’s cup of tea, Gray’s flashes of brilliance but inconsistency make him the archetypal football version of Winston Churchill’s quote about “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma” and the fact that he hasn’t scored for Everton from open play since his wonder-strike against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on New Year’s Eve, perhaps the temptation to cash in might be compelling?
However, in a squad that is already chronically short of attacking potency – the Blues scored 34 goals in 38 Premier League games last season – he represents one of the few creative outlets and at some point soon the club is going to have to boost their firepower if they’re to avoid it being ‘three strikes and you’re out’ in the battle to avoid the trapdoor into the Championship.