Manuel Veth –
Bayer Leverkusen’s Leon Bailey has been one of the biggest revelations of the Bundesliga season. Following a stellar Hinrunde German magazine kicker voted Leon Bailey as the best-attacking winger in the Bundesliga. Categorized as international class, the second highest category in the ranking, Bailey beat out Kingsley Coman, Arjen Robben and Gladbach’s Thorgan Hazard to take the top spot.
An argument could have been made that Bailey should have been categorised world class, but his poor start to the season and lack of international games meant that the jury is still somewhat out on the Jamaican winger. At the same time, it is hard to argue against the fact that Bailey is one of the best players in the league.
A complete package the Jamaican is quick shows sound decision-making skills and tracks back to cover his defensive duties. Scouted by several English Premier League clubs and Bayern München, who believe that the Jamaican forward is a perfect candidate to replace Arjen Robben and Frank Ribéry, Bailey has a bright future ahead of him—Bayern have recently signed Bayer Leverkusen’s head scout Laurent Busser, who is credited with having discovered Bailey for Bayer.
Scouts of other clubs are in particular impressed with the amount of professionalism Bailey has conducted his first full Bundesliga season. It was the sort of professionalism that was not necessarily expected from the winger, who had a problematic departure from his previous club KRC Genk.
Leon Bailey’s Move to Bayer was Controversial
Leon Bailey’s agent, his stepfather Craig Butler, facilitated a move after the winger had fallen out with KRC Genk over the future of his son Kyle Butler—Kyle was supposed to receive playing time with the first team, but was kept in the reserve squad.
The problems involving Leon Bailey’s half-brother Kyle Butler was just the latest in a long list of episodes between Craig Butler and KRC Genk. Last summer, Craig Butler threatened Genk with the “Wet van 1978” transfer clause—a clause that allows players playing in Belgium to leave their club if they pay their remaining salary as compensation to the club—after he received an offer from Ajax Amsterdam.
Then in November 2016, after a 6-0 loss to KV Oostende in which Bailey was sent off, Craig Butler accused Genk fans of racism. Genk’s most prominent fan clubs countered the statements, however, saying that it was Bailey who had verbally abused fans and had called them, among other things, “losers”.
Then, to push through the transfer to Germany, Leon Bailey skipped practice on two occasions in what was not unlike the behaviour of highly criticised Ousmane Dembélé, who pushed through a transfer from Dortmund to Barcelona last summer staying away from practice sessions. In the end, Genk were willing to end the drama and let the player go to Leverkusen right away.
The controversies, however, do not end there. Craig Butler is also understood to be involved with the Doyen Sports Group. Doyen Sports, of course, made major headlines after Football Leaks leaked several players and transfer contracts which, in some cases, highlighted third-party ownership, as well as, according to the German magazine Der Spiegel, tax avoidance schemes.
Finally, there is the fact that Craig Butler was also banned for six-years from football activities in his native Jamaica. This would probably explain why the young Leon Bailey spent between 2011 and 2013 at USK Anif’s youth academy in Austria before re-joining his father’s Phoenix football academy in Jamaica.
Leon Bailey Learned From His Mistakes
All of this would have been controversial enough. But Bailey added to the fire when he was involved in a row with a boxer in Belgium in the spring—back in April, while Bayer faced Wolfsburg in what a crucial match in the relegation dogfight at the time. Bailey was injured, but instead of watching the game in the stands as it is club policy, travelled to Genk to hang out with friends at a café where he was then confronted by a professional boxer, who has been made fun off by Bailey on Snapchat.
The video was both embarrassing for Bailey and might have been just the right lesson at the right time. The Futbolgrad Network was able to witness Bailey in action in Bayer’s 6-2 victory at Berlin’s Olympiastadion against Hertha. The Jamaican winger came on for the last ten minutes and right away his technical and tactical ability was apparent.
Then over the summer under new head coach Heiko Herrlich Bailey quickly established himself as a critical player in this Bayer Leverkusen side. A quick sprinter the compact forward has the rare ability for an attacking player to be effective on both ends of the pitch. His endless work rate even allows Herrlich at times to use Bailey as a wing-back instead of an attacking winger.
Such was the case against Bayern München on matchday 18 where Bailey was one of the few bright spots in Bayer’s game. Playing behind winger Julian Brandt Bailey was tasked to play against Arjen Robben, and the Jamaican was able to take the Dutch star out of the game.
As a result, the prise for the Jamaican has been endless. What has been refreshing though has been the humility with which Bailey has reacted to both the praises he has been showered with as well as the transfer speculations that have surrounded him. Bailey often points out mistakes in his play when speaking with the press after games rather than focusing on his strengths. He also is quite honest about his dream of wanting to play in the English Premier League.
Unlike it was the case last season, however, Bailey has not pushed for a move this season despite the fact that some clubs have already shown interest. Bayer Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler in the meantime knows that Bailey is a brilliant player and that one day like it is often the case for Bayer’s biggest stars, he will move on to bigger better things. Until than Bayer can enjoy having one of the best and most fascinating to watch attacking players in the Bundesliga in their midst.
Manuel Veth is the owner and Editor in Chief of the Futbolgrad Network. He also works as a freelance journalist and social media editor at Bundesliga.com. He holds a Doctorate of Philosophy in History from King’s College London, and his thesis is titled: “Selling the People’s Game: Football’s transition from Communism to Capitalism in the Soviet Union and its Successor States,” which will be available in print soon. Originally from Munich, Manuel has lived in Amsterdam, Kyiv, Moscow, Tbilisi, London, and currently is located in Victoria BC, Canada. Follow Manuel on Twitter @ManuelVeth.