Player Profiles: Leon Bailey
West Indians and pace are constantly associated, whether that be the cricket bowlers of the 1970s or Leon Bailey in 2018.
The Jamaican speedster has been prolific for Leverkusen this season, with his fine form inevitably catching the eyes of Europe’s elite. The likes of Arsenal, Barcelona, Roma and Chelsea have been linked with Leverkusen’s prized asset who could cost upwards of £40 million. The Blues in particular have expressed their interest in Bailey with various media outlets reporting they will commence talks with the forward later this week in a bid to gain his signature.
Leon Bailey Butler began his career in his native Jamaica with Phoenix All Stars Academy for 2 years. With Jamaica not the most sought after location for scouts, the young winger’s father arrived in Europe to find his son a club. Genk wanted him in 2012 after seeing the quality he possessed in a trial for the club. However legal issues regarding FIFA regulations prevented the Jamaican from joining the Belgium top flight side. After 3 years of waiting, he was finally able to join Genk in 2015 and began his senior career.
Bailey made his first team debut at just 18 years of age in August 2015 to begin his 2015/16 campaign. He started off slowly, scoring his first goal in November, yet the penny dropped and promptly set the league alight. He ended 2015/16 with 37 appearance scoring 6 goals and laying on a very impressive 11 assists, making him one of the best providers in the league. Two of these goals were from long distance, one of Bailey’s finest attributes. This stunning breakout season received plaudits from all over Europe and awarded him with Belgian Young Footballer of the Year. Yet he remained at Genk for 6 months more amid interest from Ajax.
Bailey started 2016/17 far better than 2015/16 with a goal in his third game against Lokeren, as well as assists in the other two. But not only was the Jamaican dominating his domestic league, he was also performing brilliantly in the UEFA Europa League. He announced himself to Europe in emphatic fashion with a brace in Genk 3-2 defeat to Rapid Vienna with his first goal, a curling left foot strike from outside the box into the top corner, being chosen as goal of the competition. His fine form continued with goals in consecutive games against Sassuolo and Mechelen before his final goal for the club against Athletic Bilbao in a 5-3 loss.
At this point Bailey’s numbers were exceptional with 9 goals and 7 assists in 31 appearances, just halfway through the season. As a result, he was receiving attention from Europe’s top clubs, with Chelsea and Manchester United showing particular interest. He was certain to leave Belgium in January, widely expected to sign for a Premier League team. However, his next destination was the Bundesliga with Bayer Leverkusen acquiring his services for €20 million.
10 appearances for his new club since signing did not provide a goal or an assist. This did raise some eyebrows especially with the expectation from the transfer fee, yet Bailey was adapting to the league and, without a doubt, silenced any critics the following season.
The winger immediately made up for lost time, opening his account in the first game of the 2017/18 season in the German Cup against Karlsruher SC. This was certainly a sign of things to come, with two assists in a 3-0 victory against Hamburger and goal against Schalke in the game after. He was thriving with 8 goals and 5 assists in all competitions by the end of the December, impressive statistics for any forward let alone a 20 year old.
But Bailey’s stellar season did not end there. Goals against Hoffenhiem, Hamburg and a thunderous long range strike against Mainz followed for the winger, who really was tearing up the league. But perhaps his finest goal was a superb free kick against Bayern Munich in a 6-2 loss in the German Cup. The former Genk winger ended the season with an excellent 12 goals and 6 assists in all competitions, which has led to Chelsea re-igniting their long standing interest in his signature.
Bailey is a winger able to play on either flank with an incredible turn of pace. He is very capable finisher within the opposition box, but has certainly shown his expertise in shooting from distance, particularly against Mainz this season. Furthermore, the Jamaican is sublime dribbler completing 1.9 dribbles a game last season, seamlessly cutting inside to give defenders a torrid time. Alongside the traits that are expected of a winger, the Jamaican is a set piece specialist as shown against Bayern and has great vision too completing on average 2 key passes per game.
At 20 years of age, Bailey for £40 million could potentially be the signing of the season. A move to Stamford Bridge, the Camp Nou or any top team would without a doubt increase his chance of winning silverware. Yet that may come at the expense of first team football potentially stagnating his development which makes staying in Leverkusen an option too for the young winger. However if Eden Hazard or Willian leave this summer, Maurizio Sarri will almost certainly have the Jamaican on his list as a replacement, which may persuade Bailey to join the London club. Regardless of who he joins, it would be a pleasure for the fans of that team to watch Leon Bailey play, as he is one of the most exciting talents in Europe that has the potential to develop into a world class winger.