Checking for Leon Bailey updates in Belgium is now becoming something of a treat, for all the wrong reasons.
Just when it seems the 19 year old’s situation can’t become murkier… it gets murkier. Hull City manager Marco Silva has confirmed his desire to buy the player, and whilst Everton appear to be slipping away, Germany’s Bild insist they’re still one of the interested clubs.
It’s worth looking into the background of the Hull target, because it may help explain why the player’s current situation seems so complicated.
In 2013 Belgian newspaper HLN had a feature on the player, who at that time was in the middle of a struggle between Genk and Standard Liege.
Bailey was born in Kingston Jamaica and played football at the Phoenix All-Star Academy, a set-up controlled by his step-father Craig Butler. In 2012, Butler brought three young talents from the academy to Europe to try and find interested clubs.
Genk were impressed with Bailey but given that he was 15 he couldn’t sign for them due to FIFA rules on recruiting minors. Instead he signed a ‘draft agreement’, and the club worked to make the deal abide by the rules, or at least appear to.
Bailey, Butler, and the two other young footballers brought over from Jamaica, were put up in a house by Genk, explain HLN. Butler then had to travel to Mexico, where he had some other business, to help ‘formalise’ his move to Belgium.
The Belgian newspaper state ‘Then the story takes a dark side. In his own words, Butler was robbed there, kidnapped and left for dead in the desert.’
Whilst Butler was missing, the three young footballers were left alone for four months in Belgium, which obviously left Genk concerned. The club’s then Technical Director, Gunter Jacob, explained at the time: “It wasn’t a healthy situation, but to prevent them from walking around on the streets, we made sure that they could go to school and that they trained with us.”
When Butler returned to Belgium he had no money, so Genk (who at this time must have really rated the player) got the footballer’s step-father a job with one of their sponsors.
Butler had been having work permit problems, and Belgium’s Labour Ministry ended up raiding Genk. At that point Butler took Bailey away from the club and they almost signed a deal with Standard.
In 2015 another Belgian newspaper, Het Nieuwsblad looked at the situation, and also how Bailey nearly signed for Standard instead of Genk: ‘Craig Butler insisted on a structural cooperation between Genk and the Phoenix Academy, his football club. But Genk was only interested in Bailey, not the other Jamaicans. Butler felt cheated and picked up his bags.”
Eventually, the Bailey situation with Genk settled. Those in charge at the club had changed and got on better with Butler. The young footballer made his league debut in August 2015, and began impressing clubs around Europe.
Chelsea almost signed the player, but that deal collapsed, and several other Premier League clubs have been linked.
Right now Hull City look the likeliest destination as far as the Premier League goes, but Bild don’t mention them in their latest report on the player. The German newspaper’s interest is because Bayer Leverkusen also believe they’re close to signing him.
Bild say Everton, AS Roma, and Borussia Monchengladbach are interested, and it was reported earlier this week in Belgium that Everton are the likeliest to be able to meet Genk’s asking price of €25m (which some reports say has now dropped to €20m).
Speaking to Jamaica’s former national team coach Winnie Schafer, Bild have got some further insight on Butler’s plans for Bailey: “Leon already played there in the U23s. I really wanted to make him a national player. I have invited him several times – among others to the Gold Cup in America and to international matches.
“I also called at Genk. But his step-father blocked everything. He did not want Leon to go for a country, but wait for his career in Europe, that Leon would rather be a national player in a European country like Belgium, Germany or England.”
That would suggest that if Bailey joins Hull, Everton, or any other Premier League club, his long term plan could be to play for England. That’s not such an easy route and Bailey would be mid way into his 20s before he was able to represent England, due to FIFA’s residency rules.
Bailey missed training again yesterday, amid the claims of interest from Hull, Everton and others. Skipping the club workout was the latest in a soap opera which has been building over the past week.
- Bailey missed Genk training on Sunday without permission, with it later being claimed he travelled to watch Bayer Leverkusen, a club he has a personal agreement with.
- Everton were listed as an interested club and singled out as able to afford Genk’s €25m asking price.
- Hull City were brought into the situation and it was claimed they also have a personal agreement with Bailey, and are ready to pay €11m for 75% of the player’s rights.
- Bailey’s step-father Craig Butler was stated as being due the other 25%, bringing worries of third party ownership.
- The Bailey camp are keen for the buying club to also sign Bailey’s half-brother Kyle Butler.
- Intermediaries have been working in the middle of a potential deal, acting for both the buying and selling sides.
There’s confidence in Germany on behalf of Bayer Leverkusen, but Marco Silva has made Hull City’s wish to sign the player clear. Given the history of Bailey’s time in Belgium and how this transfer saga has gone so far… anything could happen.