Leon Bailey: 10 things on Bayer Leverkusen's Jamaica-born flying winger
Leon Bailey's stunning performances with Bayer Leverkusen have put him and Jamaica on the global football map in the same way his friend, Usain Bolt, took the island to the top of athletics. He is also good mates with Manchester City's Raheem Sterling, but don't mention Bailey to Bundesliga defenders...
1) The new Arjen Robben?
bundesliga.com looks at the scenic and colourful life journey that took the Kingston-born boy from the shores of the Caribbean to the banks of the Rhine through ten facts about one of the Bundesliga's hottest properties.
Left-footed, frighteningly quick, bedazzling with the ball at his feet, and a liking for cutting in from the wing to devastating effect. Sound familiar? Bayern Munich fans will see Arjen Robben in that description.
Watch: Is Leon Bailey the new Arjen Robben?
Leverkusen supporters — and soon maybe many more German football watchers — will have images of Bailey hurtling at breakneck speed through their minds. The Jamaican has marked himself out as 'one to watch' in his first full Bundesliga season, outdoing his Bayern counterpart in output and upstaging him in terms of the spectacular.
Robben has already written his name into Bundesliga legend, and Bailey has all the tools to join him in the pantheon of greats.
2) International man of mystery
3) Tidy player, Messi man
Exceptional and devastating with the ball at his feet like his boyhood idol Lionel Messi, Bailey's scorching pace is eerily similar to that of his namesake, Donovan, Canada's Jamaican-born former 100m world record holder and Olympic champion sprinter.
4) The reggae boyz
Bailey, though, has an even faster friend: Usain Bolt. "I've never run with him," Bailey said of his fellow Jamaican who currently owns the 100m world record. "I never want to run with him!" Many Bundesliga defenders feel the same about you, Leon.
Jamaica is better known for its athletes like Bolt, its musicians like Bob Marley and its cricketers such as Michael 'Whispering Death' Holding, but it has also produced its fair share of quality footballers.
England internationals John Barnes and Sterling were both born there, while though born in England, Leicester City's English Premier League-winning captain, Wes Morgan, has Jamaican blood in his veins as have a number of illustrious players who have mostly featured for England at international level.
Born in Germany, Karlsruhe's Daniel Gordon played eight Bundesliga games for Borussia Dortmund between 2006 and 2009, while his fellow Jamaica international, English-born Michael Hector, scored once in 22 top-flight appearances in Germany with Eintracht Frankfurt during the 2016/17 season.
5) The Butler did it!
Born 9 August, 1997, in Kingston, Jamaica, Bailey shares a birthday with coaching greats Otto Rehhagel, Mario Zagallo and Roy Hodgson. Perhaps Bailey will shine in the dug-out in the future, but it is with another Leo born on the same date, Chelsea star Willian, he shares the most attributes for now.
Watch: Bailey teaches Hoffenheim a lesson they will not forget in a hurry!
6) First stop: Slovakia!
One of 20 youngsters adopted by Craig Butler, Bailey's talent quickly became apparent at his dad's Phoenix All-Star Academy. Butler, Bailey, and another of Butler's sons, Kyle, all went to Europe with the boys barely in their teens to pursue the dream of kicking a ball for a living.
"We came to Europe with one jacket, no experience of winter," described Bailey, who was just 12 when the trio arrived in Austria. "We didn't have so much money, so sometimes we just had tuna on bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner just to get through the day."
Bailey entered the youth ranks of Austrian team Liefering, a club with close ties to Red Bull Salzburg, in 2011, and after attempts to broker deals with Genk in Belgium and Ajax in the Netherlands fell through due to Bailey's age — FIFA rules forbid clubs to sign non-EU players under 18 — he eventually joined Slovak outfit Trencin in autumn 2014.
"I like Trencin because they push you, because they know what you're capable of. I know in a few years, I'm going to be a really good player," a 17-year-old Bailey said shortly after joining Trencin, who also signed Kyle Butler at the same time.
9) School of hard knocks
As keen a student of the game as Bailey has proven, the basic, natural talent he possesses can be traced back to his origins, the Leverkusen man himself believes. "We eat a lot of food from the ground, that makes us strong and fast," Bailey explained.
Allied to the gifts Mother Nature gave him, testing his skills in the rough and tumble of street football in Kingston's Cassava Piece neighbourhood made his switch to Europe so much easier.
"He's got extraordinary pace, he's very skilful with the ball, and he will give further impetus to our attacking department," said Leverkusen sporting director Rudi Völler, a former World Cup winner who should know a good player when he sees one. "We are convinced that he will be a big gain for us." No-one will be arguing with you, Rudi, after seeing his performance against Hoffenheim.