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Kaustubh Pandey writes a detailed scout report on Leon Bailey, Racing Genk’s sensation.
While sport in the Carribbean carries limited prominence, sports teams from the West Indies never fail to amuse. Their achievements in cricket and dominance in the 1970s are something that few have come close to replicating, but they lie miles behind most of the nation in the world in football.
Trinidad and Tobago qualified for the World Cup in 2006, which was their first ever qualification into the footballing extravaganza, while Jamaica featured in the World Cup of 1998, before their inevitable elimination in the group stages of the competition. Apart from that, the representation from nations from the West Indies has been very negligible in world football. Although, players like former Manchester striker Dwight Yorke, former Stoke and Cardiff City man Kenwyne Jones and current Manchester City man Raheem Sterling have backgrounds in the Caribbean, representation has been rather low.
But, as times change, the state of football in the Caribbean is slowly changing. Wes Morgan, who won the Premier League with Leicester City last season and was a major reason for their success, is a part of the current Jamaican side, along with Eintracht Frankfurt defender Michael Hector.
And the latest Jamaican star, who has captured the eyes of many is Racing Genk’s sensation Leon Bailey.
Born in the Jamaican capital of Kingston, Bailey took up football at a very young age. After his abilities were recognized, he was snapped up by one of Jamaica’s best football academies- Phoenix All Stars Football Academy, which was owned by his dad at that time.
Around the age of 13, Bailey commuted to Europe with his dad and local guardian Craig Butler, who was a professional footballer himself once upon a time. He was registered to a small Austrian club called USK Leube Anif, as per the Austrian FA. The weird thing about this was that FIFA doesn’t allow transfers of players below the age of 16.
Bailey’s father soon took up the role of being the head scout at Anif, which came to be known as FC Liefering after being bought by Red Bull Salzburg. The complications in his situation gave Bailey further problems in securing a move in the future.
In July 2012, Bailey underwent a trial with Genk and attracted interest from Ajax, but a concrete offer never came. Genk refused to move for him after facing paperwork problems, while Club Brugge were aware of the FIFA regulations and feared the aftermath.
While two trials at Anderlecht did attract interest from the former Belgian champions, a deal never completed due to the amount of agents involved in it. Bailey was also offered to Standard Liege, but the same problems resurfaced.
After undergoing a trial at Ajax, the then Amsterdam Arena club’s boss Frank de Boer sounded impressed: “We tested him in different areas. In speed and agility he was already better than some guys of the first team. He’s so fast it’s not normal. His speed in combination with his technique is very rare. Exceptional. He has no weak points.”
Again though, a move failed to materialize and Bailey sealed a move, rather unexpectedly to Slovakian side AS Trencin. Only four months later, Genk came in for him and shelled out €1.4 million to snap him up. During his first season at the club, Bailey scored four times in as many as 25 appearances in the league, assisting seven times too. At the end of the 2015-16 season, Bailey was rewarded for his impressive showings as he claimed the Belgian Young Footballer of the Year award.
The start to the campaign has been an attention-grabbing one. Reports are suggestive of the fact that Bailey is being scouted by big clubs every week as he has already scored eight times, assisting just as many times in 25 appearances. Manchester United, Leicester and Chelsea are all apparently after him.
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Bailey’s international career has been a rather short one so far as he has made a single appearance for the Under-23s Jamaica side, but the best of his international career is yet to come.
Quite recently, Bailey talked about his links with Premier League giants Manchester United. He was angered that the media were responsible for wrongly misquoting him and the Jamaican has fallen out with the Belgian media, due to that. He was quoted as saying, as per Het Belang van Limburg journalist Sven Claes: “We will see what Man United has to offer. My own career comes first. I need to get certain guarantees. If I am fit, I can play,” he said. “ I’m not going to another club to languish on the bench. ” he commented further.
While Bailey denies making these comments, journalists are of the opinion that his quotes are on tape.
A winger by trade, Bailey is capable of being deployed either on the left or on the right, with a majority of appearances coming with him being on the right. The 19-year-old maybe a small character to deal with around the box, but his pace and agility always seems to take the breath away. 71 kilograms heavy, Bailey is only 180 centimeters tall but isn’t the one to be underestimated due to a diminutive size.
His diverse skill-set allows him to play as a centre-forward as well and Bailey has been utilized as a false nine already in the past.
The Jupiler League is no stranger to witnessing Bailey run rings around defenses, apart from his exploits in the Europa League as he currently stands second in the list of leading scorers, behind Athletic Bilbao’s Aritz Aduriz and Zenit’s Giuliano.
An attribute that makes Bailey the player that he currently is, is his hunger and willingness to beat a man. He is always on the prowl and looking to take defenders on and beat them with a burst of pace that he has up his sleeve. He has averaged 7 dribbles a game this season, indicative of the aforementioned abilities. This happens despite the fact that the Jamaican occupying a diverse range of positions across the pitch. That’s enough to prove the directness that the youngster has.
While willingness to run throughout the game is certainly remarkable, it also allows him to press the opposition into losing the ball, if not into just denying them and space or time to play out from the back. He has won 40 percent of his challenges so far this season, despite his diminutive stature.
Apart from that, the tireless engine of Bailey has helped him win 2.3 tackles every game, which is quite good for someone as young and small in size as him.
While Bailey’s tackling and ruthless tendency to run around the pitch allows him to recover balls around the opposition midfield, his piledriver of a left foot allows him to score from distance. It essentially acts as a finishing product at the end of a dribble around the final third. His quick feet allow him to add flair to his play.
Another vital aspect of Bailey’s playing style is the incisive, key passing that he can come up with in games, to help his side score. He has made an average of 2.3 key passes per game.
While Bailey looks like a player full of panache and flair from the outside, there’s a lot to him rather than just his strengths. And one thing that lets him down is his physicality, which roots from a small size.
Although, he thrives on being the smallest player on the pitch, but he will need to increase his physical presence if he desires to play for a major club in the future. The Premier League always requires a player to be strong enough to hold the ball. Someone as diminutive as Eden Hazard too has the physical attributes to become one of the best players in the Premier League. Bailey has won only 33 percent of his aerial duels this season (3).
Secondly, Bailey’s passing needs to take a bump. It stands at a paltry 72 percent overall and 78 percent in the Europa League.
Thanks to Giulio D’Alessandro and Sven Claes for their contribution to the piece