All young players take time to settle in when they arrive at a new club in a new country. Fortunately for Bayer Leverkusen, Leon Bailey has needed just a few months to acclimatise to life in the Bundesliga.
In Matchday 15’s opener at Stuttgart on Friday night, the 20-year-old Jamaican supplied two assists as Leverkusen stretched their unbeaten league run to ten matches with a 2-0 victory and moved into the top four for the first time this season.
After a shaky start to the campaign, Heiko Herrlich’s side have been a joy to watch. Bristling with pace, power and clever movement up front, Bayer have scored more goals than any other side bar Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund, with the likes of Julian Brandt, Kai Havertz and Kevin Volland forging an excellent understanding in attack.
Yet none have contributed as much as Bailey to their rise up the league table. Herrlich gave him his first start of the season on Matchday 6 at Hamburg, and two assists in that game have made him a fixture in the side ever since. Alongside the brace he created at Stuttgart, Bailey also scored four times between Matchdays 7 and 12.
Such consistency is what the club were hoping for when they signed him from Belgian club KRC Genk in January. After a handful of largely uneventful substitute appearances in the second half of last season, Bailey has seized his opportunity this term and is keeping Germany international Karim Bellarabi out of the team.
Watch: Bailey has wasted no time setting Leverkusen alight
He is reaping rich rewards for his hard work, which is entirely in keeping with the young man’s character. Born and raised in Jamaica’s capital of Kingston, where he picked up the nickname 'Chippy' die to an apparent likeness for Alvin in the cartoon Alvin and the Chipmunks, Bailey’s determination to succeed as a professional footballer led to him moving to Europe in search of a club aged just 12.
“I came with only one jacket to Europe, and we came to Austria in February, when it’s really cold,” he told Deutsche Welle in October. “We didn’t have much money, we had to live off a budget and sometimes we’d have tuna and bread for breakfast, lunch and dinner to get through the day!”
Watch: Bailey's 2016/17 Europa League Goal of the Tournament
Bailey was initially unsuccessful in finding a club, but he persevered. He left home again at the age of 16 and was given a contract by AS Trencin in Slovakia, before a move to Genk two years later. He thrived in Belgium, receiving the Jupiler League’s Young Footballer of the Year award in 2015/16 and winning the 2016/17 UEFA Europa League goal of the competition with a stupendous strike against Rapid Wien.
Dedication to his profession is key for Bailey. “I am confident of my skills and can only achieve excellence by working very hard,” he said in 2016. "I train from 4-7pm Mondays-Thursdays and from 7am-6pm every Saturday and when I’m not training I’m studying which leaves very little time for socialising. Hard work and dedication will help you to achieve your goals."
In that regard, he takes inspiration from Manchester City and England winger Raheem Sterling, who was also born in Kingston and with whom Bailey is a close friend. “[He is] one of the few people who push and motivate me to become a pro... I look up to him not as a football player but as a big brother that has always been there,” says Bailey of the 22-year-old.
Bailey’s talent and desire to improve mean he can become of one Europe’s best players in the very near future, which bodes incredibly well for Leverkusen. With no European football this season and few injuries to contend with, the field could potentially be open for Herrlich’s young charges to mount not just a push for a top-four spot but even to have a crack at finishing second.
That would mean a guaranteed place in next season’s UEFA Champions League and potentially a meeting with Sterling’s Citizens, who are on course to lift the Premier League title ahead of the derby against Manchester United on Sunday.
No doubt the ambitious Bailey has already dreamed of turning out in the competition for Leverkusen, not should there be any concern that ‘Chippy’ will not give the Rhineland club everything to get there.