Leon Bailey, seeking an escape route from Bayer Leverkusen since June, made two goal assists last night (22 October) as his German side put six past OGC Nice in their opening Europa League match this term.
The 23-year-old Kingston-born whizzy winger, heavily linked with a clutch of English Premier League (EPL) clubs, sported his no.9 jersey and made an impressive start under head coach Peter Rosz as they reeled off a 6-2 triumph.
Bailey got the hosts off to a perfect start, his beautifully timed throughball gifting Nadiem Amiri the simple task of beating goalkeeper Walter Benitez for a deserved 11th minute lead.
The Group C contest hotted up with Lucas Alario doubling their tally just five minutes later after he slammed the ball into the roof of the net from a tight angle.
Bailey, who had been out of favour with Rosz towards the end of last season, was given a free role as an attacking midfielder and seized his chance with aplomb to create a string of goalscoring chances in the opening half-hour.
But the French outfit suddenly made a shock recovery to reduce the deficit on 31 minutes from a counterattack. Amine Gouiri’s effort catching shotstopper Lukas Hradecky flat-footed to stun the hosts. And Hassane Kamara almost equalised but his effort rattled the woodwork just before half-time.
On the hour mark Exequiel Palacios stole the ball from Morgan Schneiderlin on the edge of the box to set up a tap-in for Moussa Diaby to restore their two-goal cushion.
With Bailey and his team-mates buzzing following this goal, it was only a question of time before Bayer Levenkusen added to their tally.
Karim Bellarabi snatched his brace with a pair of thunderbolt long range shots on 79 and 83 minutes respectively, the latter goal neatly set up by Bailey.
Florian Wirtz converted Diaby’s cross into the box with three minutes remaining for a 6-1 lead, with Alexis Claude Maurice reducing the deficit by grabbing a consolation strike.
Bayer Leverkusen’s other Group C opponents are Hapoel Be’er-Sheva FC and Czech club SK Slavia Praha, the Israeli champions romped to a 3-1 success last night to lie second in the four-team table.
This match could be the one to kickstart the return of Bailey’s silky skills. He had to play second fiddle to Kai Havertz last season, but with the German international having recently moved to Chelsea Bailey no longer has to live under his shadow.
His outspoken stepfather Craig Butler, who likes to call the shots, was so frustrated that his protégé wasn’t getting a starting spot under Rosz last term that there were discussions with the club in July about paying off the remaining three years of his contract in order to leave.
And Bayer Leverkusen were willing to cash in on Bailey had an acceptable offer been tabled by Butler or another team. Despite employing an England-based agent to speed up a switch to the EPL, nothing transpired despite being constantly linked with Everton, Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur.
Bailey’s indifferent season – beset by injury and suspension – saw him make just 22 Bundesliga appearances during a dogged 2019-20 campaign, and only bag five goals. He missed out on qualifying for the Champions League on the last day of the season as Bayer Levenkusen stuttered to fifth in the German Bundesliga.
His usual spark, which prompted Chelsea to table a bid a couple of years ago, has been missing for 21 months for club and country. However, his latest foray in the Europa League showed signs that Bailey could finally be on the brink of returning to his best and become a true shining star.
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