Why Leon Bailey won't be England's surprise star at the World Cup

Getty Images
The Bayer Leverkusen winger was born in Jamaica, but has been linked with the Three Lions having never played senior football for his home country

If rumours are to be believed, Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey may be lining out on British soil in the coming months.

Not only has the 20-year-old been linked with a summer switch to the Premier League, amid talk of interest from Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United, there has also been mounting speculation that Bailey could actually play for England before the World Cup?

The former Belgian Young Professional Footballer of the Year has yet to play a senior game for his native country of Jamaica and is reportedly at the centre of an international tug-of-war, with Three Lions manager Gareth Southgate said to be monitoring his progress with Leverkusen in the Bundesliga.

Article continues below

Bailey has been one of the breakout stars of the 2017-18 campaign, having played just eight league games in his first season in Germany after arriving from Genk for €20 million in January 2017.

This term, he has become an integral part of Heiko Herrlich's 3-4-3 approach, lining up at left-wing-back and further up the field as a left-midfielder or left winger.

Bailey's tremendous form saw him score the opener in the 2-1 away victory at Hamburg on Saturday, taking him to nine goals and five assists in 20 games, as Leverkusen moved into the top four.

He has been one of the best performers in Germany in 2017-18, with his club and international future now both the subject of much attention as he decides how best to progress his career.

After Bailey netted his seventh Bundesliga goal of the season in the 4-1 win over Hoffenheim in January, Herrlich gushed over the youngster, telling reporters "Leon Bailey can do anything at the moment."

Is one of those things playing for England?

Is Leon Bailey eligible for England?

Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Bailey has featured for the country's Under-23 side, playing just once in a friendly against Cayman Islands where he scored a free-kick.

Despite repeated calls from former Borussia Monchengladbach midfielder Winfried Schafer to call him up to the Jamaica national team, Bailey rejected the advances during the German's tenure as manager between 2013 and 2016.

"I really wanted to make him a national player," Schafer told Bild in January. "I invited him several times, including to the Gold Cup in America and to international matches. I also tried to call him up when he was at Genk. But his step-father blocked everything."

Bailey's adopted father, Craig Butler, also serves as his agent, and admits that, although they both love their home country, they are unhappy with the way football is run in Jamaica. Butler insists that he only wants what is best for Bailey and his other footballing son, Malta-based midfielder Kyle Butler.

"I am a Jamaican and Leon is born a Jamaican," said Craig Butler. "We love our country. We want what's best for the country, as long as it doesn't affect Leon or Kyle or their careers.

"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."

Kyle Butler has been tipped as a possible candidate for a spot in the Jamaican squad, but has been overlooked because he is not a professional. This is similar to the way Bailey was treated before his move to Europe.

"They always want me to play for Jamaica, but I've had personal problems with the association since I was 11 or 12 years old," Bailey told Kicker.

The problems between Bailey, his agent and the Jamaican Football Federation (JFF) have meant that his international future appears to be unclear.

Leon Bailey Bayer Leverkusen

Craig Butler claims that the FA has contacted him about the possibility of both Bailey and Kyle Butler switching to England, telling RJR News that "the English FA has reached out to us; spoken to them by phone; the offer is for both players and with things that come along with playing for England: endorsement contracts, salaries and things like that we’ve been discussing and we will further discuss later this week when we meet. It is something that you cannot not consider; you have to look at the options."

According to some commentators in Jamaica, it seems that Butler may be using the England rumours as a way to increase his standing with the JFF, where he is eager to be involved in the governing of the country's football set-up. 

“The reality, for me, is that Jamaica has the chance to get the players and to establish a national football culture and if they allow us to help with that then we would prefer to play for Jamaica,” he continued.

Thanks to FIFA eligibility rules, Bailey would be free to switch allegiance to another country he is eligible for as he has not played a competitive game at senior international level. The winger has grandparents who hold British passports, but in order for him to be eligible for England, they would have had to be born in England.

Reports in Jamaica indicate that, while Bailey's grandparents are English, they were not born in England, and thus he would not fulfil the residency requirements to play for the Three Lions.

Butler's sister Laura claimed that his adopted background made him eligible, telling the Gleaner: "Our grandparent, Frank Lesley Holman, fought in World War II for the British Air Force, so he qualifies by that standard."

However, despite the British military background, the FIFA statutes indicate that the parental rules apply only to the biological ancestry of the player. Bailey would only be connected to Holman via adoption rather than biology, and only as a great-grandchild rather than having a grandparent-grandchild link, so would not make him eligible for England as a result.

Butler seemed to raise the stakes further on Wednesday, telling The Sun that they had "given Jamaica 10 days to come up with a solution or we will make alternative choices.

“England have made contact with us in the last few weeks and there will be more discussions in the future. England is not the only option – we have Malta and Belgium.

However, this seems to be more posturing from the agent as he seeks a foothold in the JFF. Bailey did not reside in Belgium long enough to gain citizenship during his time at Genk, while he has no ties to Malta.

“If you end up with 17 Jamaicans playing for different nations all from my Phoenix All Stars academy," Butler continued, "then what will that do the future of Jamaican football? It should force them to change how they view people instead of making it about personalities not football ability."

Butler's latest claims seem to be little more than an ultimatum to the people who run football in Jamaica, with Bailey essentially tied to the country despite this new arbitrary 10-day deadline. The only way the winger can play for any of the other three countries Butler mentions is to unearth a biological parent or grandparent who was born in that territory.

Bailey's club future is up for grabs, but it looks as if the only way he will likely line out at Wembley is for a visiting team.