NEW Hibernian defender David Gray looks back fondly on his unforgettable six years at Manchester United and insists that experience helped shape him as a footballer and person today.
The 26-year-old became Hibs head coach Alan Stubbs’ first signing on Tuesday as he sealed his return to Edinburgh, a decade after leaving Hearts for Old Trafford.
The right-back lived a dream working under legendary Scots manager Sir Alex Ferguson and his galaxy of stars such as Paul Scholes, Wayne Rooney and Ryan Giggs.
Gray’s only appearance at the Red Devils came in a 2006 Carling Cup win over Crewe Alexandra before he eventually headed to Preston four years later.
Despite having to move on from United to gain valuable first-team experience, Gray, who is set to make his Hibs debut today at Berwick Rangers, insists his time in Manchester was anything but a waste of time.
Gray, who also turned out for Stevenage and Burton Albion before returning north of the border, said: “I was 16 when I went down to Man U, that was ten years ago and I was just a boy then.
“Even before the day I signed, Sir Alex Ferguson knew everything about me. Fergie does not have to say much, he has that aura about him. He was really good with me, it probably helped being Scottish.
“He instils that discipline in every single player. They know where they stand. I was a bit star-struck with him but he’s really good with the young lads.”
Gray, who went on loan to Royal Antwerp, Crewe and Plymouth while at United, added: “I was very fortunate to get that education at Man United. You’re almost spoiled as a player. It’s top class facilities, coaches and physios – it’s just great. You’re lucky enough to train and play with some of the best players in the world and you can see what they do on a daily basis, how professional they are and what they’ve had to do to get to where they’re at. It stands you in good stead on and off the pitch in how you should conduct yourself. From a learning point of view, it was different class. Paul Scholes was the best for me from training with him. If you’re on his team, you win. He’s a different class.”
Gray insists his solitary appearance at United is something that will live with him forever.
He added: “Making my debut was probably the highlight because then you can say you’ve played for Man United. I knew the day before when we were shaping up. Sir Alex said, ‘you’re going to be playing tomorrow’. It was brilliant to hear that. The back four that night was myself, Wes Brown, Mikael Silvestre and Gabriel Heinze, it was quite a strong back four.
“It wasn’t a great night; it was a horrible, windy night at Crewe but I managed to avoid the hairdryer treatment; out of the back four that night I did okay.”
Hibs manager Stubbs, meanwhile, has admitted that former Everton coach Andy Holden, who has been pictured at the club’s East Mains training base this week, is set to join his backroom team.
John Doolan’s arrival as first-team coach from Wigan was confirmed last Saturday.
Stubbs, who said he has dropped his interest in trialists Adam Buxton and Nathan Burke following their outing in last weekend’s win at Vale of Leithen, added: “There is no point in trying to hide the fact that Andy Holden will be joining the Hibs backroom staff.”
Stubbs also confirmed that striker Jason Cummings remains central to his plans after Hibs knocked back two bids from Swansea. The 18-year-old only made his debut for Hibs last November as a substitute in the 2-0 loss to Inverness.
He scored both goals in the 2-0 play-off first leg win against Hamilton in May – Cummings’ only strikes in 18 appearances last term – but missed a penalty in the second-leg shoot-out loss that confirmed Hibs’ relegation.
Stubbs added: “As far as we are concerned, Hibs want to keep Jason. He is going to be an important member of the squad and he is a young boy who has ability.
“He is still very raw but we feel that we can develop him as a player. We feel that he will add great value to the team.”