10th January 2018.
A recent interview given to German tabloid Bild by Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey has garnered widespread attention throughout the football world. Partly due to the dubious line of questioning, with the Jamaican youngster asked to comment on his home country's association with marijuana "Hey, Jamaica is not just smoking joints. It's a wonderful country where it's always summer and people are happy," Bailey protested.
But the Bild interview has also made headlines outside of Germany because of the Leverkusen star's admission that it is his "dream" to someday play in the Premier League. Linked with Chelsea during the January transfer window, while Manchester United and Liverpool have previously been credited with an interest in the dynamic 20-year-old, his batting of the eyelids in the direction of the English top flight has sparked frenzied speculation.
"Of course I have a dream club, but I will not tell. Basically England was and still is my dream," he said. "And if I keep working hard, I'm sure it will work someday.
"The change to Bayer was just the right step for my development. I am happy here. And we have every chance to get into the Champions League. Europe is our big goal."
Should he decide to call time on his stay in the Bundesliga, there will be no shortage of takers for Bailey, all falling over themselves to acquire one of the game's hottest talents. But the Kingston-born wideman is only celebrating the first anniversary of his move to the German top flight this month, having joined Leverkusen in 2017's mid-season window from Belgian side Genk in a near €20 million deal.
Amid speculation even then that the Premier League would be Bailey's destination, Bayer knew what a coup they pulled off in securing the then-teenager's signature, even if they had to make the Jamaica Under-23 international one of their most expensive ever purchases to do so.
"In Leon Bailey we have brought in another highly promising player on a long-term deal," said club CEO Michael Schade at the time. "This lad was high up on the wish list of many other European clubs. That makes us even happier to have won out against such strong competition."
Head scout Jonas Boldt recognised that swiftness was key to Leverkusen's ability to land the coveted forward: "We had to act quickly or else we wouldn't have been able to sign him later."
Bailey arrived into a youthful and talent-rich squad at the BayArena, albeit one which has underperformed in recent seasons. Kevin Volland, Jonathan Tah, Kai Havertz and Benjamin Henrichs are just a few of the gifted prospects at the club, while the Jamaican found direct positional competition in the form of German international wingers Karim Bellarabi and one-time Liverpool target Julian Brandt.
But the ex-Genk star has assimilated quickly, bedding in over the second half of last season, making only eight Bundesliga appearances, all from the bench, for a total of 133 minutes of action. This term, having been gradually eased into the first-team picture, Bailey has been flying, becoming an increasingly key figure within new manager Heiko Herrlich's side.
Able to play on either wing or even deeper as a wing-back, the developmental leaps Bailey has already made since his switch to Germany have been in full view in 2017/18. He has demonstrated an unerring coolness when through on goal, dispatching chances with the aplomb of a seasoned centre-forward, as well as fostering a growing cohesion with his team-mates.
With six goals and four assists from 14 appearances before the Bundesliga's winter break, Bailey has been one of Leverkusen's most productive attacking players. He has also been dependable in his ability to produce the goods when the chips are down, evidenced by his appearance from the bench against Hannover in December, scoring twice to ensure a share of the spoils in a back-and-forth encounter, or his double-assist display which proved to be the difference versus Stuttgart earlier the same month.
Standing just under 6ft, Bailey is tall for a winger, possessing the physical strength to match his speed and athleticism. Technically, he is improving all the time and consistently shows elite-level potential, capable of opening team's up with his exciting dribbling and intelligent off-the-ball movement. In addition to holding a wide position and attacking his opposing full-back around the outside, in the manner of the increasingly rare traditional winger, he is also dynamic when attacking the half-space, breaking between full-back and centre-back to produce dangerous cut-backs from the byline.
When not fielding mindless questions about his homeland, Bailey is often asked about superstar compatriot Usain Bolt. "I know Usain very well, he is a close friend of mine and a really cool guy, who travels a lot in Germany," Bailey said of the legendary sprinter in February. "Hopefully we can meet here, maybe I'll call him and invite him to a game in the BayArena." And with reports of Bolt preparing for a trial with Borussia Dortmund both the multi-time Olympic champion and BVB are sponsored by Puma, so it's little more than a publicity stunt he could soon join Bailey in German football. An avid Manchester United fan, the retired athlete shares the 20-year-old's Premier League dream, too.
For one so young, Bailey is also a man of principle. Although a proud Jamaican, he refuses to represent the national team until the country's footballing infrastructure improves. "The main issue is and always will be whether we have a proper football culture to allow players to work in a uniform and systematic way," the player's agent, Craig Butler, explained last year.
"Our coaching [certification process] is not recognised worldwide by other countries. Jamaica is not providing coaches with the opportunity to gain work experience and income in the rest of the world."
A wise, thoughtful head on young shoulders, and the temperament and talent to succeed at the very highest levels of the game, Bailey's future is extremely bright. And, sooner or later, it could lie in the Premier League.
This article was written by Ryan Baldi, exclusively for Soccer Box, where we stock the latest Bundesliga team kits.
Leon Bailey: The Bundesliga Star With Premier League Dreams
10th January 2018.