'It's my life!'

'It's my life!'

Leon Bailey says he takes pride in flying Jamaica's flag in Bundesliga

Thursday, February 18, 2021

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Jamaican football sensation Leon Bailey says he carries with pride the burden of being an ambassador for his country in the German top flight.

The 23-year-old winger, who lights up the pitch in the Bundesliga for Bayer 04 Leverkusen, shares that he wears the love of his island home over his heart and is representing it every day — both on and off the field.

Bailey, who has been having a splendid season so far, says he feels he is “carrying the country on his back” being the only Jamaican plying his trade at the highest professional level in Germany.

“It (representing Jamaica) means everything to me. It's my life and it's what I must do every day and I have to represent it well and that's what I try to do as much as possible, because there are a lot of people watching, especially the younger fans,” the speedy winger said in an interview with Bundesliga.

The former Genk star of the Belgian league says he is confident other Jamaican players will make the breakthrough to the highest level of the professional game in Europe.

“There are quite a few players who are already playing in the Belgian league and there are a few playing outside of Europe as well. It's getting there and there are more players born and raised in Jamaica coming out and getting their opportunities.

“This is an amazing feeling because I was basically one of the first ones to make it this big and I am just grateful that I can see my fellow Jamaicans getting there as well. It's not just Leon Bailey, because there are more Jamaicans out there and it's nice to see.

“I'm sure it's nice for players from different countries to watch their fellow countrymen playing in the same league and to be able to play against each other. It was always one of my dreams and it is slowly becoming reality,” he said.

Bailey, whose meteoric rise in football started with a stint in Austria before moving to Belgium and then to Germany, says he is optimistic for the youth system in Jamaica even as it has underperformed over the years.

“I wouldn't really say that [improvement in the youth system], but they have been trying, so I do have to give them credit for that. They are trying their very best to put proper systems in place, but I wouldn't say that they have done it quite good enough yet.

“I think they are on their way to doing so and that's most definitely something that we really need. Due to the coronavirus situation right now, it's just been chaos, but hopefully this can all go away soon. I hope that, someday, things can get better, and that the world can get back to normal,” Bailey noted.

On the professional front this season, the Jamaican boy wonder has been instrumental in keeping Leverkusen (36 points) in the top frame — trailing only leaders Bayern Munich (49), RB Leipzig (44), Eintracht Frankfurt (39) and VfL Wolfsburg (39) at the time of writing.

In the 5-2 thriller against Stuttgart recently, where the irrepressible Bailey was inspiring, is seen as the quintessential game that was both a defining moment for Leverkusen's overall attacking prowess and the Jamaican's growing influence in the team he joined in 2017.

“It was a game that we needed to win, and it was very important for the whole team and for the fans. It was important for us to feel alive again because 2021 wasn't the best so far for us. This game really gave us back that confidence and shows that we are again that team from last year. It was a very nice game, and it was a very good feeling to be able to score so many goals after not scoring all that many recently. We just hope that we can continue this,” said the Jamaica international.

The Reggae Boyz midfielder says his good Bundesliga season, where he has five goals and six assists in 20 appearances, is due to key fundamentals.

“I've been in top form this season physically, emotionally, and mentally. I feel so good that I can play every game for 90 minutes and keep going. My body is in good shape right now and I've been working hard on it to stay in good shape. It's been going great so far, and I've been feeling great,” Bailey noted.

His superb form, he shared, is due to new approaches.

“I have changed the way I recover, the way I eat, the way I sleep, and I changed a lot of stuff. I have really taken the time out to focus on my body this year because I really had problems with injuries last year. For a professional footballer, injuries can tarnish your career and that's something I don't want. I have to learn from all these mistakes and try to improve,” Bailey stated.

The exciting player says the coaching philosophy of Peter Bosz suits his playing style.

“It (coach's philosophy) is important because I am the type of player who likes to be creative and to take on defenders and to shoot. We play a lot down the wings and we play a lot of one-on-one. These kinds of things are the strengths of Moussa Diaby and me, and it's always good for us if we can play to our strengths.

“As you can see, we do that a lot and sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn't. It has been paying off most of the time so far and we just need to continue focusing on that,” Bailey reasoned.

The Jamaican, who has made some eight appearances for country since his delayed debut in 2019, says one of the good things about Leverkusen is that it allows young talent to flourish.

“Leverkusen has always been a team like that. They have always had young players coming up through the youth academies and it's a team that builds players and brings them up to the next level. They are very smart people, and they have very good coaching staff and a very good understanding of football. This is one of the reasons why it's good for young players here.

“The young players know that they have talent and they just need the platform to utilise this talent. Leverkusen is the team that gives these young players the opportunity and they then take their opportunities. This means that they suddenly have their foot in the door, while a lot of other teams don't give young players these opportunities,” Bailey said.

Bailey, who was inspired by the Brazilian ball magician Ronaldinho as a boy growing up in the Jamaican capital Kingston, says nowadays he admires the playing style of Bayern Munich winger, the Frenchman Kingsley Coman.

“He is very aggressive in his actions and he uses the ball so quickly. That is something that I would want to steal, but I am sure that I can work on that myself to be able to be more aggressive in taking on several defenders at once. I need to just utilise my speed because I already have the speed and I just need to use a burst of speed to finish off the job,” said Bailey.

The wide attacker says when it comes to his footballing abilities, there is always room for improvement.

“I need to take my chances and be more vicious in front of goal. I think that's something I really need to work on because it has cost us a lot of times. We have created so many opportunities, but we are not taking them, and I think if we are really vicious in front of goal, we can cause so much more damage in the early parts of the game [and] this would make the game a little bit easier for us,” Bailey asserted.

The Jamaican, who became a father to son Leo last year, says the experience is a whole new ball game for him.

“It gives me a totally different motivation. It is my first time being a dad, so there are a lot of things I am learning as well. It shapes me in ways that I have never seen before, but that's mostly being a dad at home. Once I'm on the pitch, it's just business, so it doesn't change anything about me in the footballing aspect. But being a dad at home shapes me in different ways,” Bailey shared.

It was once thought that the footballer's son's name was a tribute to his close friend, the sprint great Usain St Leo Bolt.

But Bailey said the christening of his offspring came closer from home.

“I am a Leo, and I was born in the month of August. I named him Leo because he is a Leo like me. He's a young Leo and it's also a shortening of my name. If you put my name and his name together, it looks the same and it's only one letter missing,” Bailey explained.

— Sean Williams

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