You could be forgiven if you haven’t heard of Leon Bailey – a Jamaican-born winger who has only plied his trade in Belgium and Germany at senior level. But very soon, he may become a household name in England.
Despite being born in Jamaica’s capital Kingston, Bailey is eligible to represent England due to his two English grandparents, a fact that has likely not been lost on England manager Gareth Southgate. Currently enjoying his first full season at German side Bayer Leverkusen – if he chooses to represent England – it will not be long before he gets a senior call-up.
His reluctance to pledge his international future to Jamaica, and the eight years required to live in Germany to attain residency puts England in pole position to acquire his substantial services for the future.
But what is all the fuss about? After winning Belgian Young Footballer of the Year 2015/16 while playing for Genk, he secured a €20 million move to the Bundesliga in January 2017. Eyebrows were starting to raise.
While his talent is still raw, Bailey is Leverkusen’s second-top scorer (9) and second-top assister (5) in the league. This is particularly impressive considering he is in a squad which contains Kevin Volland, Julian Brandt and Karim Bellarabi – all of whom are German international attacking midfielders.
Leverkusen finished 12th in the Bundesliga last season – just four points above the relegation play-off – but this season sit 5th, just one point behind Eintracht Frankfurt in 4th. The trust that new manager Heiko Herrlich has put into Bailey during his breakthrough season has not only helped return Leverkusen to where they belong at the top of the Bundesliga, it’s also left international managers circling like sharks.
Compared to Borussia Dortmund’s 19-year-old Christian Pulisic – widely touted as one of the Bundesliga’s best young talents – Bailey is proving to be of a similar calibre. In two fewer league appearances than the American attacking midfielder, Bailey has six more goals and one more assist. Of course, stats rarely tell the full story, but it is nevertheless impressive.
At a time when England’s only viable out-and-out wide men are Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, Bailey would make a very welcome inclusion to an admittedly poor England squad. With the World Cup fast approaching, it’s becoming increasingly likely Bailey will be England’s tournament wild card.
If Bailey does choose to represent England, he will join John Barnes, Luther Blissett and Raheem Sterling in a select group of Jamaican-born footballers to play for England.
The idea of Sterling and Bailey playing either side of Harry Kane for England is a rather mouth-watering prospect – especially considering they have 66 goals between them this season. You wouldn’t find many more destructive front lines in Europe.
Owen Hargreaves is probably the best-known, and most successful example of an England player who was born abroad. Despite 42 caps for the Three Lions and a World Cup under his belt, he was born and raised in Canada, before moving to Germany to join Bayern Munich.
With England’s golden generation well and truly a thing of the past, the prospect of another talented young attacking player representing the country – potentially at a World Cup – should excite everyone.
Whether or not Leverkusen will hold onto Bailey for much longer remains to be seen – but whoever he ends of playing for, both club and country, they’ll have a real star on their hands.
Follow Ryan on Twitter: @RyanEJourno