Leon Bailey: The rise of one of Aston Villa's star players

Leon Bailey has been a star performer for Aston Villa during a historic season for the club, a season that has seen them qualify for the UEFA Champions League for the first time in 41 years. Bailey's career at Aston Villa hasn't been plain sailing and this piece will dive deep into the career of the Jamaican international and how he has reached the top.
Aston Villa v Liverpool FC - Premier League
Aston Villa v Liverpool FC - Premier League / Alex Livesey - Danehouse/GettyImages

With 10 goals and 9 assists in the Premier League this season, Leon Bailey has proved to be one of Aston Villa's key men this season. The left-footed Jamaican, playing on the right of midfield, caused constant problems for opposition defenders that tried to stop him. If you had asked Villa fans at the start of the season for their opinions on Bailey many would have told you that he had been a very inconsistent performer and perhaps wasn't at the level required for a Premier League side like Villa.


Since signing in August 2021, Bailey had registered just 5 goals and 6 assists in 51 games for Villa prior to the start of the 2023/24 season. Bailey was signed from Bayer Leverkusen for a fee of nearly £30 million following a season that saw Bailey produce 26 combined goals and assists in 40 games across all competitions in the 2020/21 season. When Dean Smith signed Bailey, this is what he had to say on his new man:

"Leon is a hugely exciting young striker with great pace and creativity."

Dean Smith

His electric pace and ability to take on and beat a defender was what influenced Smith to bring Bailey to Villa Park but the fans sadly saw very little of that in his first season in Claret and Blue.

Leon Bailey
Aston Villa v Everton - Premier League / Marc Atkins/GettyImages

Bailey's first season was hampered heavily by injuries and the Jamaican international was limited to just seven starts in eighteen appearances. Hamstring, quadricep and ankle injuries at different times during the season meant the Villa faithful saw very little of the qualities on show during his time in Germany and so many were beginning to wonder if Villa had wasted their money on someone who was signed to take over from Jack Grealish, who had departed Villa for City in the same week.

Bailey continued to struggle during the reign of previous Villa manager Steven Gerrard. Bailey found himself in and out of the team and had a very fractured relationship with Gerrard. Bailey has discussed his struggles during this reign and said:

"The relationship wasn’t really there, for me. I wasn’t feeling confident and had no comfort. At one point, I was not happy at all and I wanted to leave, but when Unai came in everything changed."

Leon Bailey

As Bailey said himself, his career at Villa was curtailing to a miserable end under Gerrard and it was only when Unai Emery came in as the new Head Coach that Bailey began to show the fans what he was capable of. Bailey scored and produced a Player of the Match performance in Emery's first game in charge, the 3-1 win at home against Manchester United. Since then, Bailey hasn't looked back and has proven that he can perform at a high level consistently for the team.

Steven Gerrard, Leon Bailey
Leicester City v Aston Villa - Premier League / Michael Regan/GettyImages

Bailey was rewarded for his improvements on the pitch with the offer of a new contract and that was signed and announced in February. Prior to that announcement, coach Emery had this to say:

"His commitment has improved, his focus, working harder every day, his way here adding for us his skills – scoring goals and assists. And we decided he deserved to extend his contract."

Unai Emery

Bailey became Villa's main threat in attack this season and often he was the man the team went to when they needed some inspiration in more difficult moments. Many fans believed that Moussa Diaby, the new £50 million signing, would be that man. Bailey however has often kept Diaby out of the team and proved to be one of the best attacking wingers in the Premier League.


When considering Bailey's rise to the top with Villa, it is important to look back in his past to see how he reached this point. When you think of most Premier League footballers and the journey they might have been on to reach the heights they have, most probably played from a young age and grew up being looked after by professional academies. Bailey's story began slightly differently.

Bailey was one of 23 children adopted by Graig Butler (his adopted father) that were born and raised in Cassva Piece, Jamaica. Cassava Piece North of Jamaica's capital Kingston, and is a place well known to be an unprivileged ghetto heavily associated with gangs and violence. As reported by Jacob Tanswell (The Athletic) back in December, Louis Miles, a film director and producer, had this to say about Bailey and his early life:

"You hear a lot about hard knocks and how tough it was for a lot of sportspeople, but what Leon had to go through… he probably shouldn’t be a Premier League player given his background."

Louis Miles

Tanswell also wrote "Bailey could not read or write until he was 14. School was difficult and his mother struggled to provide the safe environment a child needs". It was Butler and his motivation to help Bailey to progress his football that really saved his life. Bailey would train for six hours a day in the incredible Jamaican heat, improving his technical skills on repeat. It was Butler's training that gave Bailey the focus he needed before inevitably falling into the criminal circle that Cassava Piece was known for.

Leon Bailey
Jamaica v Mexico: Semifinals - 2023 Concacaf Gold Cup / Matthew Ashton - AMA/GettyImages

Bailey began playing for his adoptive father's academy Phoenix All-Stars before youth spells in Austria and Slovakia. Following impressive spells in those countries, a big club made contact to sign Bailey. That club was Ajax, but the deal fell through due to FIFA rules. Bailey's big break later came when Belgian super club Genk signed him in August 2015. Bailey was awarded the Belgian Young Footballer of the Year in 2016 before being signed by German giants Bayer Leverkusen. Bailey continued to showcase his ability, now on a much bigger stage, and that then led to Smith wanting to bring the wing wizard to the Premier League.

Leon Bailey
Arsenal FC v Aston Villa - Premier League / Mike Hewitt/GettyImages

And now, three years on from his move to England Bailey has played an instrumental part in guiding Aston Villa to a top four finish and qualifying for the Champions League. Bailey will hope to continue this fine form into next season and prove even further that he is one of the most talented attacking players in Europe.