From a poor display against Newcastle to leading the line emphatically against Everton – what can we expect from Leon Bailey’s Aston Villa career moving forward?
Words: Andy Bates | Threads: @andyvillak2
No player encapsulates the light and shade of Aston Villa’s recent transfer business quite like Leon Bailey. Whilst usually a signing will either thrive or fall by the wayside, Leon Bailey’s Villa career has seen more twists and turns than a nearby Drayton Manor rollercoaster.
This can even be demonstrated in the small sample size of the opening TWO matches of this season. Away at Newcastle he looked abject and was hooked at half time. A week later at home to Everton he was bright, incisive and dangerous, providing a goal and a brilliant assist for John McGinn, in a match winning performance.
These concerns regarding the former Bayer Leverkusen winger’s consistency are not a new thing, as injury and fluctuating form has blighted his career since he made the £30,000,000 move from Germany in 2021. He was in fact coming back from injury when he signed, and was used as a substitute in the first match of that season, in a 3-2 defeat at Watford, assisting for John McGinn again, as part of an exciting cameo.
It was his game changing performance against Everton at home however, a few weeks later, which planted the seed that this player might provide the magic missing from the team after the sale of Jack Grealish to Manchester City. Having come on as a second half substitute he assisted and scored in a 3-0 win, before sustaining an injury that would keep him out for around three months.
It wasn’t just his goal contributions that day which had an impact. His pace, skill and general persona electrified Villa Park and lifted the otherwise somewhat flat mood around the club, giving belief that we had found a top class attacker who could lead the post Grealish era in a forward direction. This did not prove to be the case, as just weeks later, Dean Smith was fired and replaced by the vastly over promoted Steven Gerrard and Bailey made little impact for the remainder of the season as Villa limped into 14th place in the Premier League.
Since then there have been a collection of false dawns and niggling injuries, interspersed with the very occasional eye catching, complete wide-man display that gets the fans off their seats. One such performance came in the game just days after Gerrard was mercifully relieved of his duties. Bailey had himself put in another non-descript display at Craven Cottage in the 3-0 reversal which led to the manager’s sacking in the tunnel after the game.
It was Brentford at home, who would have smelt blood in the water with Villa in turmoil. Interim manager Aaron Danks had other ideas though, as a refreshed Villa led by Bailey launched out the blocks to batter the Bees 4-0, with Bailey scoring and laying on two more, the second for Watkins with a Tony Daley-esque 40 yard dribble down the wing followed by a perfect centre for the striker to score on the third attempt.
Leon Bailey did in fact make a good start under Unai Emery also, scoring important goals against Manchester United in a 3-1 win and in a 2-1 home win against Leeds United, using his pace, skill and rasping left foot shot, to make him Emery’s ‘go to man’ to deliver a fast start to matches, particularly at home.
The truth appears to be that Emery sees a lot of potential in Leon Bailey, as he more often than not will turn to the Jamaican for big matches, even when his form has been poor, or other options seem, from the outside at least, more reliable.
Nevertheless, the prevailing feeling that Bailey is merely filling a spot, until either Monchi and his team find a replacement, or he receives an offer he cant refuse, remains. Last summer, Bailey’s agent (and adopted father) spoke publicly of a desire to move for Champions League football, leading to strong links to Dutch giants Ajax. Then this summer, similar talks around a possible move the now mega rich, state backed Saudi Pro League has been simmering in the online transfer chat.
For the club, this would very much be a loss cutting exercise, as even the oil rich Saudis are unlikely to match the fee paid for Bailey two years ago. Plus with attacking talent such as Jacob Ramsey, Philippe Coutinho and Emi Buendia currently on the treatment table, any further sales would surely prompt action in the transfer market to replace them, prior to the 1st September deadline.
We have seen that Unai Emery, a man who continues to have implicit trust from the Aston Villa faithful when it comes to all things football related, rates Bailey and wants to use his attributes whenever possible, despite this seeming like something of a wild punt at times. So, it seems the decisions lie very much at Leon’s door.
Does he look to move in Europe, or seek the vast wealth in the Middle East, in the footballing comfort zone, or can he take the rather unexpected opportunity presented by Aston Villa, to take his game onto a new technical level, in a similar way to the likes of Ollie Watkins, Ezri Konsa and most of all the aforementioned John McGinn?
He has first hand experience of what listening to and working with an elite coach like Unai Emery can do for player’s ability. We as fans, Emery himself and presumably Leon, also know how good he can be at his best and the talent he possesses, because we have all witnessed him produce those levels. It is simply a matter of whether Bailey can learn to be his best version more often and justify the faith show in him, making his selection less of a gamble and more of a banker.
In Bailey we have a player with huge ability who lacks consistency and possibly a bit of direction. It is those missing elements which separate countless players, especially wingers, from being ‘also rans’ from world class talents on a par with the likes of Mo Salah and Raheem Sterling, which is the level Leon Bailey should be aiming for. If he can combine his natural gift, with a solid work ethic and take advantage of the world class coaching which has landed in his lap, then who knows what this conversation could look like a year from now.
No-one would have foreseen the upward trajectory of Villa, and the potential provided by the manager. It is now up to Bailey to wake up to the opportunity, believe in himself, commit to the task and show that he is more than an occasional, inconsistent squad option and become a genuine top drawer attacker in the biggest league in world football.