Leon Bailey is one of the most-followed young talents in European football. Since moving to Belgian League team Genk in 2015, scouts from a host of top clubs have kept an eye on the striker.
And since his move to Bayer Leverkusen in the Bundesliga in 2017, clubs in La Liga and the Premier League have shown interest in the budding star. This summer though, transfer speculation is on hold as Bailey returned to Jamaica to play for the national team as the Reggae Boyz battle it out in the CONCACAF Gold Cup.
At the moment, the Jamaican national team is poised to take on the US in knockout stages on 26 July. Throughout the tournament, to the shock of many fans, Bailey has made limited contributions; he’s yet to net a goal or provide an assist. Even so, the limelight remains on the striker.
Since becoming one of the hottest commodities in the Bundesliga, many have turned an eye toward Bailey’s life in Kingston. One profile on the athlete from FourFourTwo magazine highlighted two aspects of his younger years: raids and mayonnaise.
Though it may be an odd origin story, the most eccentric personalities in sports often have similar, interesting histories. From Mark Fidrych to Dennis Rodman, a memorable backstory often helps embellish an athlete’s mythic reputation. Still, the most important facet of an athlete’s fame is their talent.
Will Bailey be able to keep his shine if the Reggae Boyz leave the Gold Cup early? Or will he be able to make meaningful contributions when it matters most next year, during the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar?
The Reggae Boyz Are Going for Gold
Jamaica just recently made it out of Group C along with Costa Rica. The team kicked off the tournament with a 2-0 win against Suriname. Bobby Reid and Shamar Nicholson stepped up to put two goals in the net.
In the next faceoff against Guadeloupe, Cory Burke and Junior Flemmings each scored to help bring home a 2-1 win. The game was unexpectedly tight, especially following a goal from Guadeloupean Dimitri Ramothe.
Unfortunately for the Reggae Boyz, they weren’t able to sweep Group C. They lost 1-0 to Costa Rica on July 21 after a long and exciting battle from both teams. Throughout the group stage, Jamaican waited for Leon Bailey to lead counterattacks and capitalize on opportunities in the final third—so why didn’t he make an appearance against the Ticos?
One possibility is his slow performance so far (aside from a near goal against Guadeloupe). Bailey has yet to score a goal or offer an assist, as mentioned above. But he’s lagging in other stats, as well. In terms of passing accuracy, Devon Williams, Adrian Mariappa, and Liam Moore are leading the way. In terms of shots, Shamar Nicholson and Junior Flemmings are leading the team.
Bailey Could Be Leaving Bundesliga
Though all eyes have been on Bailey entering the Gold Cup, many are now following Andre Gray (Watford), Shamar Nicholson (Charleroi), and Bobby Reid (Fulham). So what’s with the lackluster performance?
Rumor has it Bailey’s mind is occupied. Though he has two remaining years on his contract with Bayer Leverkusen, Premier League side Aston Villa has been making moves this offseason to buy out Bailey. Last year, clubs Manchester City, Manchester United, and Tottenham all showed interest in the star, but his €45 million price tag proved too much.
With a major trade looming in the background, it could be that Bailey’s mind is occupied; there have likely been long talks with his agent, Aston Villa, and current club. Given Bailey’s close friendship with Raheem Sterling of Manchester City, it’s possible Bailey is highly invested in the rumored move.
Another possible reason for Bailey’s slow start is his placement as a striker. Since moving to the Bundesliga, Bailey has primarily played as a winger. With the Reggae Boyz, head coach Theodore Whitmore has opted to use him as a striker.
Is the changeup too much for Bailey? Regardless of the answer, there’s still time for the striker to lead Jamaica to their first Gold Cup win.