In the modern era, an ever-increasing emphasis is being placed on finding footballers who fit the ‘athlete’ mould.
While there will always be a place for the Lionel Messi-esque diminutive playmaker, pace and power are now considered to be more appealing attributes to scouting networks and coaching teams around the world.
If you can find somebody who ticks those boxes while also boasting plenty of natural ability, then you are on to a winner.
One man who is considered to epitomise the 21st century performer is Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey, with the Jamaican speed king – aptly nicknamed ‘the Bundesliga Bolt’ – generating plenty of excitement at just 20 years of age.
WHO IS LEON BAILEY?
Born in Kingston, Jamaica on August 9, 1997, Bailey first arrived on European shores in 2011 when his adoptive father Craig Butler sought to find clubs for his son Kyle and for Leon.
With no opportunities to be found in the Netherlands, Austria or Germany, the travelling party ended up in Belgium at KRC Genk, where a trial was offered in 2012.
With Bailey having impressed, he was tied to a draft agreement at 15 years of age – but this deal broke Belgian laws regarding the registration of minors and following an investigation, a return to the Caribbean had to be made.
Refusing to concede defeat, though, the family headed back to Europe several times, with Dutch giants Ajax verbally agreeing a contract in October 2013. Ajax manager Frank de Boer said at the time: “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.”
Ultimately, Bailey ended up signing for Slovakian side AS Trencin, before moving back to Belgium at top-flight outfit Genk in 2015.
Two impressive seasons resulted in 16 goals in 77 appearances, a Belgian Young Player of the Year award and a first taste of continental football in the Europa League, with those efforts enough to secure him a €20 million switch to Bayer Leverkusen in the 2017 January transfer window.
WHO WANTS HIM?
Despite having made just 27 appearances for Leverkusen, Bailey’s ability in the present and undoubted potential for the future has ensured that he continues to register on the transfer radar of leading clubs across Europe.
Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea were all keen when the exit door was opened at Genk, but missed out as the decision was made to take small steps up the footballing ladder rather than one giant leap.
Bailey appears ready to make that jump, though, and it seems only a matter of time before a high-profile switch is made.
Unsurprisingly, Bayern Munich are also said to be closely monitoring a top talent turning out for a domestic rival, but they may be left disappointed as England remains the ultimate goal for an exciting prospect.
Bailey, who has posted a picture of himself in a Chelsea shirt on his social media accounts in the past, told Bild recently: “Fundamentally, my dream has always been, and still is, to play in England. If I continue to work hard, I am sure that it will work out.”
WHY DO THEY WANT HIM?
It is Bailey’s speed across the turf which continues to mark him out from your everyday winger, with there no catching him if given space to break.
He also stands close to six feet tall, meaning that he is a physical presence as well as being a sprinter – much like countryman and close friend Usain Bolt – while he has added another eight goals and four assists to his tally for Leverkusen this season to further highlight the end product that he possesses.
It is easy to see why he is considered to be perfect for the Premier League, and why Chelsea, Arsenal and United have led the chase for his signature.
The Blues and Gunners are still in the market for another creative talent in the final third – amid ongoing speculation regarding the respective futures of Eden Hazard and Mesut Ozil – while the Red Devils have a rich history when it comes to tricky wingers and Bailey could be a suitable heir to Ryan Giggs on the left flank at Old Trafford.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?
Bailey remains tied to a contract at Leverkusen until 2022 and one approach of £22 million from Chelsea is reported to have already been knocked back.
Rudi Voller, sporting director at the BayArena, has said of the mounting transfer talk: “We have proven many times that we can say ‘no’.”
He has, however, countered that comment by telling Die Welt: “There are limits you can reach, but that's a theme of our policy, independent of Leon Bailey. If there is a need for discussion, we all sit down and decide what is best, while also keeping other alternatives open."
A move, then, would appear to be on the cards at some stage, whether that be in the current winter window or further down the line – with England his most likely landing spot.
Outside of his club future, there is also the issue of Bailey’s international allegiance to be ironed out.
He has represented Jamaica at U23 level – netting in his only appearance to date – but he could opt to turn out for Belgium, Germany, Malta or England.
Bailey told Bild on his options: “It's been like that for years, but my opinion hasn’t changed and people have to accept that. Which country I play for is still open.”