Leon Bailey was subjected to another substitute role yesterday (13 March) with rumours rife that the £25m (US$32.5m) middle man could soon be on his way out of Aston Villa.
The 24-year-old Jamaican international, shipped in from German outfit Bayer Leverkusen last summer, has yet to set the English Premier League alight with his silky skills.
However, Tottenham Hotspur could come knocking. Bailey turned down a move to Chelsea in January 2017, when the current Spurs head coach Antonio Conte was at the helm. But the deal stuttered as the Kingston-born star was not guaranteed regular games and would most likely have been loaned out.
When Bailey became the club’s third-most expensive player ever at Aston Villa, he was expected to fill the huge boots of Manchester City-bound England star Jack Grealish.
It initially appeared that Bailey, with a record of relentless and fearless blitz towards goalmouth, would make an instant impact. Only for a string of fitness issues to hinder his chances this campaign.
And with the whizzy winger rarely fit, new manager Steven Gerrard has understandably tinkered his tactics with the arrival of Brazilian midfielder Philippe Coutinho.
Bailey’s future with Villa has been dented by Gerrard’s latest tactics. There is no room for wingers under the successful narrow 4-3-1-2 formation, with Coutinho playing in the No.10 position behind two strikers.
Gerrard wants the club to exercise their option to sign Coutinho from Barcelona for 40m euros (US$43.6m). Especially as results and performances are largely going Gerrard’s way since Coutinho arrived on loan from the Spanish giants, except yesterday’s 2-1 defeat to West Ham with Bailey employed as a 69th-minute substitute.
Now Bailey no longer seems to be in the long-term plans of the Villa boss, because online gossip columns claim that Gerrard is plotting move for a trio of international midfielders. Wilfred Ndidi (Leicester City and Nigeria), Kalvin Phillips (Leeds United and England) plus Georginio Wijnaldum (Paris St-Germain and Holland) are all on the radar.
Gerrard recently explained: “Leon’s focus has to be on staying fit, getting himself in the best physical condition and allowing his talent to flourish.
”Everyone is waiting for him – the owners, the board, the staff, the players. We are all waiting for Leon to really burst onto the scene, stay healthy and find his best level.”
Bailey’s debut season in England remains frustrating, watching from the sidelines because of injuries and lack of minutes under Gerrard.
Within minutes of his debut, as a substitute on the opening day of the season, he provided a goal assist. But he picked up an injury, which sidelined him for three matches, before an impressive return against Chelsea – a team he previously turned down signing for.
He made a name for himself with a thunderbolt goal in the 3-0 victory over Everton, only to miss the next four games because of injury.
Then under pressure manager Dean Smith needed the raw talent of Bailey to help inspire lacklustre Villa, so the Reggae Boy was utilised for six matches despite injuries and illness. This proved to be his downfall this term, with a severe thigh injury sidelining Bailey from December to February.
He has since returned to Gerrard’s squad following fitness problems, but whether Bailey is a player in the long-term plans of the Villa head coach remains to be seen.
Cameo appearances from the dugout, or keeping the bench warm and not playing, was not why Bailey signed for Villa. He is an extremely determined and technically gifted player who will understandably be unhappy unless he starts to get more minutes on the pitch.
Coming on for Danny Ings with yesterday’s game scoreless changed within 60 seconds of being thrown into the cauldron, with West Ham taking the lead and soon adding a second to control the match.
Gerrard freshened things by adding width to the insipid Villa display, allowing Bailey and fellow substitute Emi Buendia to go on the attack. Bailey was almost rewarded with an ambitious shot from outside the box on 81 minutes, and set up Buendia with a last-gasp golden opportunity only for the Argentinian international to scuff his chance from six yards.
A consolation last-minute goal for Villa was scant reward for Bailey, who seized his chance to impress Gerrard and make a statement that he is a future match-winner.
The English top-flight is undoubtedly a physically demanding league, yet Bailey has all the required traits required to succeed including pace and power. He just needs to potentially find a club where he can race down the wings to terrorise defenders on a regular basis.
Tottenham Hotspur seems to be a realistic destination during the summer transfer window, should Bailey no longer be part of Gerrard’s future plans but wish to opt to stay in England next season.
It is most unlikely that he will not be part of Jamaica’s three CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers this month. With the Boyz already out of contention for the 2022 FIFA World Cup finals in Qatar, then the Jamaica Football Federation understandably wish to save money and give island-based players a shot.
Bailey will try his hardest to battle his way into the Villa starting line-up before the season concludes, and today’s display made a statement to Gerrard. His debut season in England has so far been a massive disappointment overall, so he desperately needs some time on the pitch to prove that he remains an exciting talent to attract potential employers.
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