Jhamal Tucker

Wed, 26 Jan 2022

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They say hindsight is 20/20 and although we don’t know what the ratio is for hindsight, whatever it is… Leon Bailey seems to have it. The former Bayer Leverkusen man swapped black and red for claret and blue last summer to move to an Aston Villa side seemingly on the rise. 

His estimated 30 million euro move was heralded in Birmingham and lauded in Jamaica as the former Cassava Piece resident was tipped to set the Premier League alight. A few impressive performances to date and he seemed on his way, but injuries, a change at the helm and an ongoing winter transfer window means the dynamics have changed quite a bit since he first arrived in September. But while these developments may have made things complicated for Bailey in England, back home in Jamaica, there’s reason to be optimistic.  

Prior to Michail Antonio’s confirmation as a Jamaican international, Leon Bailey was the one most Jamaicans would pin their hopes on. Even still, “Chippy” is expected to be the main creative force behind Antonio who will be expected to knock in the goals. Unfortunately, it has not quite panned out that way for the Reggae Boyz thus far. This largely has been due to one or the other being unavailable to the team in key moments, but fans still hold out belief that the partnership can pay dividends soon. This is where Aston Villa comes in.

Bailey has made a name for himself in Europe as an explosive winger that is effective in all phases of the attack. When Villa bought him, they were primarily thinking of playing him in a wide position for then manager Dean Smith’s 3-5-2 system. New gaffer Steven Gerrard however favours a more Christmas tree shaped 4-3-2-1 which has two free roaming creative players behind a mobile striker. With the winter acquisition of Barcelona forgotten man Phillipe Coutinho, it’s no doubt the Brazilian’s former teammate turned manager, Gerrard will stick to this system to give his new man the chance to shine. 

An immediate concern might be, “How does Leon Bailey fit into this system?” But that’s simple – he would vie for one of the number 10 spots behind the striker. Argentine Emi Buendia and Coutinho would likely be first choice until Bailey returns from injury but when a choice needs to be made, it might be the Jamaican who ousts one of his South American rivals. With all due respect to Buendia; he’s basically a poor man’s Coutinho, so when the real article rocks up at your club it’s obvious who’s more likely to get the nod. 

Bailey is more direct, faster, stronger and more versatile than Buendia, plus he’s a left-footed set piece specialist which complements Coutinho’s wand of a right foot. In Gerrard’s dream Christmas tree formation, Coutinho and Bailey are likely to be stars at the top end making things happen for Villa – and if that is the case, Jamaica could stand to benefit significantly.

The first game of the incumbent Paul Hall’s reign as Jamaica’s interim head coach for the remainder of the World Cup Qualifiers (at least) ended in a 3-0 defeat to Peru in Lima last Thursday (January 20). Just a week before Jamaica’s WCQ campaign resumes, the team is dispatched by a very beatable Peru team in a friendly international. But if we stop to look beyond the scoreline, the most telling thing about that game was an indication of a structured approach to the game, that is, a legitimate gameplan. 

We’re looking at a case of the stars aligning here with Bailey possibly reprising his new role over at Villa Park in the apparent intended role for the Reggae Boyz. If Bailey truly is to fit into Gerrard’s preferred double number 10 system and become more of a central creator, he would need to rework his playing style a bit on the training ground first. As for Paul Hall’s new look Jamaica, there already seems to be a role tailor-made for this new version of Bailey.

While Jamaica started the game in an orthodox 4-2-3-1 formation, when the team had the ball in possession the average positions saw the team line up in something like a 2-4-3-1. The two centre backs sat deepest with a flat four before them that included the holding midfielders and both fullbacks. The three ahead of those four players were the same as before with two key features. First, the number 10 (Peter- Lee Vassell on the night) enjoyed extreme freedom which he used to good effect, slotting into pockets of space and running into the channels and half-spaces for the hour he was on the pitch. And second, the wide players in that three would often drift inside with Vassell pushing up right alongside the striker.

Paul Hall sounded out his desire to build a team around Leon Bailey shortly after he was named new interim coach. and if we examine the role Vassell played (particularly well at that) then we can maybe get an idea of Hall’s design to do that. With our full strength squad and Bailey at the centre of it all, just think of how dangerous Jamaica can be with that setup. And though he is largely thought of as a winger, Bailey is known to possess the qualities needed to play as a more central creator, and at his day job with Aston Villa he’d be able to get plenty of practice in this new role for Jamaica. Perhaps Aston Villa finding some new rhythm will make the Villains the heroes of the Reggae Boyz qualifying campaign. 

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