Alan Stubbs: Why David Gray called time on Hibs playing days - and I know what he'll bring as coach
David Gray’s unrelenting all-or-nothing attitude may have earned him the respect of managers and team-mates over the years, but it could also have contributed to his body giving out sooner than he hoped.
Former boss Alan Stubbs, the man who signed him for the Easter Road club in July 2014 and was ensured a place in the club’s history books two years later when his captain popped up to head home Liam Henderson’s corner to win the Scottish Cup, says he was saddened to hear that the on-field leader had decided to retire from playing. However, he said the way Gray threw everything into training and playing probably cost him a few extra years in the end.
“I think one of the reasons he has probably had to call time is that he is so honest,” said Stubbs. “He will know what he is capable of and if he can’t get to the levels he demands of himself and others, then he will have made the difficult decision to stop.
“He is not someone who gives 50 per cent in training. In games he always gives 100 per cent and he is like that in training as well. I know there have been times when he hasn’t been right but he has still thrown himself forward to help the team if he was needed and he has got through it because of his attitude. Unfortunately, though, there are only so many times you can do that.
“He has been great, and when I was there I know there were certainly times, quite a few times, when he was borderline but he stepped forward and did a job for us and, although you don’t realise that until later on, that tends to come back to bite you on the bottom.
“Eventually, those injuries take their toll and the last year has been one of those times when, probably because of those times, he hasn’t played as much as he would have liked to.”
In his final season, he made just five appearances, two in the Premiership, and three in the group stages of the League Cup, where he netted the winner against Forfar to help see the side through to the knockout rounds without dropping a point.
But, with the majority of the campaign spent on the bench, aged 33, Gray announced that he is stepping down to join manager Jack Ross’ coaching team.
“First and foremost, it’s a shame that he has had to call time on his playing career but, knowing him the way I do, he was an all or nothing guy and he played like that and he trained like that,” continued Stubbs. “David is a very honest professional and I think he has got to the stage where, unfortunately, he realises that he maybe can’t perform at the level that he knows he needs to and that will have been difficult for him.
“He is lucky that he has ended one chapter and he has started another one straight away. It won’t be easy for him and it will take him some time to adjust but he has a great opportunity and I can see why he has been offered the role. He is a great ambassador, not just for the football club but for himself as well and he will get the utmost respect from the players.”
However, Stubbs has warned the former Manchester United trainee that while the residual respect he has earned in his years as a player and captain, will help, it will only buy him so much time if he does not impress with his day-to-day coaching.
“That respect will only last for so long and then he will be judged on his coaching alone. That’s how quickly it will change.
“As a player he pushed himself to the extreme, even in training, there was never any holding back and, as a coach, he will expect that of the players. If the players respond then he could be very really successful but he will have to decide what kind of coach he wants to be.
“There were times when he was grumpy but you can’t just shout at players now, the days of the hairdryer treatment are gone, so he has to figure out the best way to man-manage and work out his own strengths and weaknesses.”
Stubbs says anyone who saw the cup winner turn up at supporters’ functions in the days after the cup success will testify that he knows how to enjoy himself. But it is always a case of right time, right place.
“He is never the loudest or most outgoing, there is a good seriousness to David,” added his former gaffer. “And, he will be a useful link between the manager and the players and the fact he knows them all so well can help him but the difficult bit now is understanding that he can’t always be their mate, which he has been now for a long time. He will now be part of the decision making.
“If you’re doing your coaching badges or making that transition from playing to coaching the most daunting thing can be stepping out in front of your peers.
“It takes time to build that confidence. But if could offer him one piece of advice it would be to take as many coaching sessions as he can because you don’t get much time before people start making judgements and it won’t matter if he was a great team-mate or captain or if he scored the cup final goal, from now on it is all about what he does as a coach.”