BY DARREN JOHNSTONE in La Manga – Capital City Press
David Gray’s footballing education at Manchester United was not enough to propel him to stardom at Old Trafford.
But the defender reckons the life lessons he picked up laid the foundations for him to become Hibs skipper.
Gray insists his appointment as the new club captain is a reflection of the grounding he had at United under Sir Alex Ferguson and mentor Gary Neville.
The 27-year-old has been handed the armband by head coach Alan Stubbs after Liam Craig departed the Championship outfit earlier this summer.
Gray’s rampaging runs down from right-back became a distinctive feature of Hibs’ style last season as they fell agonisingly short in their bid to climb back to the top-flight.
Combining his ability on the ball with the principles instilled in him from a young age in Manchester made Gray a worthy successor to Craig in the eyes of Stubbs.
And the Edinburgh-born full-back insists his schooling on and off the pitch at the English giants is something that will never leave him.
Gray said: “I had a good upbringing at Manchester United and they don’t just teach you to be good at football, it’s about your conduct on and off the pitch and being professional throughout your whole career.
“I’ve been lucky enough to get that education and hopefully that can stand me in good stead for being a captain.”
Gray admits advice imparted by former England internationalist Neville – now a respected television pundit – was invaluable during his six years at Old Trafford.
He added: “Gary was good with me if I had any problems or wanted to ask him anything, he was always good with the young lads.
“He has been there and done it, he came through the youth system and been there his whole career.
“He knew what it was like to be a young player at United, it’s more about expectation levels and keeping your feet on the floor.
“You need to have great ability to be playing at the highest level but you’re also in the public eye all the time and you need to have that level of professionalism.
“That’s something that gets drummed into you from a really young age at the club and it’s the main reason they’ve been very successful for so long.
“I would like to think if any of the young lads at Hibs had any issues that they could speak to anyone and not be intimidated.”
Like United legend Neville, Gray hopes to inspire Hibs’ youngsters and lead by example on and off the pitch.
He added: “Hopefully with my performances and the way I go about my business, other players can look up to that.
“I just have to make sure I continue to do that.
“The manager has shown faith in me and picked me as his club captain. The only reason he’s done that is because of the way I’ve been before, the way I’ve conducted myself.
“I’ll be myself and I won’t say that I’ll do this and do that because of other people, I’ll be who I am.
“But I am very proud and humbled to be given the captaincy. I experienced it a couple of times last season standing in for Liam and it’s something I really enjoyed.
“At the same time, it doesn’t change the way I go about my business. It’s an exciting time for the club and I’m obviously proud to be captain at this time.
“Nothing really changes for me, it’s quite easy that it’s a good dressing room too. Some of the lads like Liam Fontaine are quite experienced – everyone mucks in together.”
Gray is hoping that he lifts aloft the Championship trophy next May as Hibs prepare for another season in the second tier.
Hearts cantered to the title last season after winning 29 games out of 36 and Gray would love to replicate that feat.
The push for the chequered flag is already being billed as a two-horse race between Hibs and Rangers but Gray hopes the Leith club can be quick out of the blocks as new Ibrox boss Mark Warburton attempts to build a squad.
He said: “Hearts started really well and the gap was always far too big, there was never any pressure on them.
“We started slowly but now we don’t have the excuse of new players coming in.
“The manager has done his business early and got us together early, he has kept the core of the squad that was here last year and I’m sure he’ll try to strengthen it.
“If Rangers go and bring in ten players, that’s up to them – they might click, they might not.
“It’s important we start well and take confidence from the way we played last year.
“We all know what the manager is looking for now on and off the pitch.
“Our fitness coach Craig Flannigan has been in for the year now too and I think we’re fitter now than we were at this stage last season.”
Gray admits the July 25 Petrofac Training Cup visit of Rangers is an ideal game to make a statement of intent.
He added: “It can be a good thing that we play them in the cup straight away, it gives you a chance to put a marker down but whoever wins that game, it does not mean they’re going to have a better start to the season.”