bundesliga

Leon Bailey on being in the form of his career for Bayer Leverkusen, idolising Ronaldinho and becoming a father

Leon Bailey has already equalled his single-season best for assists from 2017/18 after just 20 games played in 2020/21, and the Bayer Leverkusen winger is one goal away from his best goalscoring return in all competitions of 12, again secured in 17/18.

Sitting down with bundesliga.com for an exclusive chat, Bailey discusses the season so far for Leverkusen, learning from Bayern Munich's Kingsley Coman, wanting to entertain like Ronaldinho and how changing his diet, recovery and mentality has impacted his form in 2020/21...

bundesliga.com: It's currently very cold in Germany. Do you like the cold?

Leon Bailey: "It's very cold, I hate it. It's not nice because your fingers and your toes are frozen and all you want to do is be inside."

bundesliga.com: Why was the win against VfB Stuttgart so important for you?

Bailey: "It was a game that we needed to win and it was very important for the whole team and for the fans. It was important for us to feel alive again because 2021 wasn't the best so far for us. This game really gave us back that confidence and shows that we are again that team from last year. It was a very nice game and it was a very good feeling to be able to score so many goals after not scoring so many recently. We just hope that we can continue this."

bundesliga.com: Why have you had so many ups and downs this season?

Bailey: "It's a lot of different things. I've never been the one who is always wondering why we're not winning because I believe if you put the same energy and work hard in every time and give 100 percent on the pitch, the results will come. I think we have a great team and a great coach as well, but simple things were missing in our previous games. I think the boys took it up a notch and realised that the simple things that we weren't doing were costing us games. I think we really did those things well in the last game and we most definitely took our chances whenever they came."

bundesliga.com: What do you make of your current form?

Bailey: "I've been on top form this season physically, emotionally, and mentally. I feel so good that I can play every game for 90 minutes and keep going. My body is in good shape right now and I've been working hard on it to stay in good shape. It's been doing great so far and I've been feeling great."

Watch: Bailey won December's Goal of the Month award!

bundesliga.com: What have you changed in your approach?

Bailey: "I've changed the way I recover, the way I eat, the way I sleep, and I changed a lot of stuff. I've really taken the time out to focus on my body this year because I really had problems with injuries last year. Being a professional footballer, injuries can tarnish your career and that's something I don't want, so I have to learn from all these mistakes and try to make them better."

bundesliga.com: Is this all part of the required development of a young player?

Bailey: "Of course. I think when these things happen, it's a challenge in life that you have to accept and understand and overcome as fast as possible. We live and we learn and those are just learning processes. You have to take them in and learn from them."

bundesliga.com: What has changed since you became a father?

Bailey: "I've always had that mentality, but my son being in the world has given me a different drive and motivation. But that never changed the way I think about football because I've always had my head in the game."

bundesliga.com: Has becoming a father changed your life significantly?

Bailey: "It gives me a totally different motivation. It's my first time being a dad, so there are a lot of things I'm learning as well. It shapes me in ways that I've never seen before, but that's mostly being a dad at home. Once I'm on the pitch, it's just business, so it doesn't change anything about me in the footballing aspect. But being a dad at home shapes me in different ways."

bundesliga.com: What is the meaning behind your son's name, Leo?

Bailey: "I'm a Leo and I was born in the month of August. I named him Leo because he is a Leo like me. He's a young Leo and it's also a shortening of my name. If you put my name and his name together, it looks the same and it's only one letter missing."

bundesliga.com: Did you have a footballing role model as a child?

Bailey: "I really admired Ronaldinho a lot when I was younger. He was brilliant and unbelievable in the way he played. It was amazing to watch how he entertained the audience and I really hoped one day that I could entertain an audience like he did. These are things that I still hope to do."

Leon Bailey (r.) has had some entertaining battles with the likes of Alphonso Davies (l.) at Bayern Munich this season. - DFL

bundesliga.com: Did you enjoy new signing Demarai Gray's debut goal?

Bailey: "I'm most definitely happy for him. Since the minute he walked in, he felt like a brother to me, as did all of the new signings. I knew of him for a long time, but we never really met before. Since he came in, he directly brought a good vibe and good energy, so I'm really happy he could come in and make an immediate impact. I hope the other players can also do that in the coming games and they have been performing well so far. Timothy Fosu-Mensah and all of the others are giving it their best shot already, which is very important and also rare because coming into a new team during the January transfer window can sometimes be difficult. They've been doing their thing and I'm really happy about that."

What is it like to represent Jamaica in the Bundesliga?

Bailey: "It means everything to me. It's my life and it's what I have to do every day. I'm basically carrying the country on my back and I'm representing it every time I step on that pitch. I have to represent it well and that's what I try to do as much as possible because there's a lot of people watching, especially the younger fans."

bundesliga.com: Will more players from Jamaica follow in your footsteps?

Bailey: "Most definitely. I've seen it happen and it's been happening already. There are quite a few players who are already playing in the Belgian league and there are a few playing outside of Europe as well. It's getting there and there are more Jamaicans born and raised in Jamaica coming out and getting their opportunities. This is an amazing feeling because I was basically one of the first ones to make it this big and I'm just grateful that I can see my fellow Jamaicans actually coming out as well. It's not just Leon Bailey because there are more Jamaicans out there and it's really nice to see. I'm sure it's nice for players from different countries to watch their fellow countrymen playing in the same league and to be able to play against each other. It was always one of my dreams and it's slowly becoming reality."

Leon Bailey uses his speed at great effect against Bundesliga defences. - DFL

bundesliga.com: Have there been improvements to the youth setup in Jamaica?

Bailey: "I wouldn't really say that, but they've been trying, so I do have to give them credit for that. They're trying their very best to put proper systems in place, but I wouldn't say that they've done it quite well enough yet. I think they're on their way to doing so and that's most definitely something that we really need. Due to the coronavirus situation right now, it's just been chaos but hopefully, this can all go away soon. I hope that, someday, things can get better and that the world can get back to normal."

bundesliga.com: In what areas can you still improve yourself as a player?

Bailey: "There's always room for improvement. I need to take my chances and be more vicious in front of goal. I think that's something I really need to work on because it has cost us a lot of times. We've created so many opportunities but we're not taking them and I think if we're really vicious in front of goal, we can cause so much more damage in the early parts of the game. This would make the game a little bit easier for us."

bundesliga.com: How do you practise taking your chances in training?

Bailey: "You can train for everything. You can make sure that you keep it in the back of your mind and remind yourself that you need to do more of this. Once you're then in that situation in training, you'll remind yourself to take the shot, even if you've just a second to think. Even if you can just get a toe on the ball, you need to put your toe in, and once you have these thought processes, they'll stay in your mind. When the time comes in the training session, you will know what you need to do. If you don't, then you know you still have to work on it. I think this is something that I need to work on."

Leon Bailey and Moussa Diaby have formed a wonderful wing partnership at Bayer Leverkusen. - THILO SCHMUELGEN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

bundesliga.com: How does the coach's philosophy suit you?

Bailey: "It's important because I'm the type of player who likes to be creative and to take on defenders and to shoot. We play a lot down the wings and we play a lot of one-on-ones. These kinds of things are the strengths of Moussa Diaby and me, and it's always good for us if we can play to our strengths. As you can see, we do that a lot and sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn't. It has been paying off most of the time so far and we just need to continue focusing on that."

bundesliga.com: Why is Leverkusen such a good place for young talents?

Bailey: "Leverkusen has always been a team like that. They've always had young players coming up through the youth academies and it's a team that builds players and brings them up to the next level. They're very smart people and they have very good coaching and a very good understanding of football. This is definitely one of the reasons why it's good for young players. The young players know that they all have talent and they just need the platform to utilise this talent. Leverkusen is the team that gives these young players the opportunity and they then take their opportunities. This means that they suddenly have their foot in the door, while a lot of other teams don't give young players these opportunities."

bundesliga.com: Which Bundesliga player's most defining feature would you like to steal?

Bailey: "I would say Kingsley Coman because he's very aggressive in his actions and he uses the ball so quickly. That's something that I'd want to steal, but I'm sure that I can work on that myself to be able to be more aggressive in taking on several defenders at once. I need to just use my speed because I already have the speed and I just need to use a burst of speed to finish off the job."