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Since becoming the first player in history to make his debut in a Wembley cup final back in 2013, George Ray has been a regular in the Crewe Alexandra first-team picture and his classy, confident displays on the ball, coupled with his passionate, all action style of play has made him a fans’ favourite in recent years.
But with his contract up for renewal at the end of the season and talks seemingly at an impasse, it appears unlikely that Ray’s stay with The Railwaymen will be extended beyond the summer. Unless of course, the club goes on a fantastic run to secure promotion back to League One, where perhaps a better deal and the prospect of a higher standard of football, plus a love for the club could persuade George to extend his stay.
With the January transfer window still open for another 10 days, there may be clubs eyeing up a bid for Ray and if it came down to getting something rather than nothing for the club skipper, Dave Artell and the club’s board may well choose to sell before the window closes! Although there’d need to be a number of defensive reinforcements in place first for that to even be considered a possibility.
Would George Be Missed?
It’s always a blow for any side to lose their skipper but for a team who have finally sorted out their woeful defensive record after seasons of shipping far too many goals, it’s a particularly tough pill to swallow.
With Ray no doubt amongst the higher echelons of Crewe’s wage structure and as club captain, The Alex will have little room for negotiation in terms of offering him an improved deal and at 25 he probably feels that he’s served his apprenticeship at the club. An attractive signing-on fee will most certainly await him should he decide to move elsewhere and there isn’t much stopping him as Crewe will not be entitled to a fee, as he’s now over the age of 24.
Crewe have coped during the games that Ray hasn’t featured in this season but are certainly a stronger team with him in the starting eleven. He wins more than his fair share of headers, throws himself in front of shots and organises the defence well, which is important with Ben Garratt not being the most vocal of goalkeepers.
Ray also epitomises Crewe’s style of playing out from the back. His confidence and swagger on the ball are sometimes to the point of nonchalance and it does often appear all too easy for him, particularly at home, and I don’t think many would begrudge him a move or disagree that he is more than capable of playing at a higher level than where this club currently finds itself.
League One Experience
Ray has already amassed 70 League One appearances in his career, so certainly doesn’t lack experience in English football’s third tier. These games were during The Railwaymen’s four-year return stint under Steve Davis, he only made four appearances during Crewe’s first season back in the division, following his Johnstones Paint Trophy final debut and after that the other three campaigns he was involved in were all relegation battles during which torrid defensive records were a regular theme.
That said, with over half a century of games under his belt in the league Ray would be an attractive proposition to many League One sides, you only have to look at the success of former Alex centre-half, Jon Guthrie at Walsall and the likes of Ollie Turton at Blackpool to know that just because you’ve been part of sloppy defensive units in the past, there’s no reason to say you can’t be an asset to other clubs alongside different personnel and experiencing new tactical systems.
Ray has five Wales U21 caps to his name at present and if he ever wants to add any senior caps to his collection, he’ll probably need to be playing regularly in League One or indeed the Championship to catch the eye of Ryan Giggs and his staff.
There might well be some who will scoff at the very thought of George Ray playing alongside the likes of Gareth Bale and Aaron Ramsey but the Welsh talent pool is far from extensive despite their improvement as an international outfit in recent years. Take Bristol Rovers centre-back, Tom Lockyer for example, he’s now earned himself five Wales caps since 2017 and was once again called up to the squad back in November. At 24, he’s a similar age to Ray and has hardly missed a game for The Pirates in League One over the last two and a half seasons.
If I was George, it’d definitely be something I’d be aiming for, especially with the European Championships coming up next year and Wales likely to qualify once again for the tournament. If he can add more goals to his game from set-pieces too, that’d definitely stand him in great stead. For somebody who is so good in the air, his goal scoring record leaves a lot to be desired!
Overall, I’ll be very sad to see George Ray leave The Alexandra Stadium in the summer, which I believe is pretty much a foregone conclusion. He’s been a fantastic captain since taking over from Danny Hollands and I genuinely believe he loves the football club. He’s a character, which you don’t see so much of in football these days and a huge presence amongst the squad. Not to mention his incredible one match stint in charge of The Alex’s official Twitter account, which has further cemented his cult status amongst the fanbase!
He’ll be hard to replace but the consistent improvement of Perry Ng makes him less of a miss than he perhaps would’ve been. I’d be quite happy if Eddie Nolan started the season alongside Perry at the heart of The Alex defence and hopefully another Welsh youngster in Billy Sass-Davies will be a step closer to the first-team picture by then, as well as undoubtedly a few more defenders signed from elsewhere.