Leon Bailey’s long road to Aston Villa via Slovakia and a cold Austrian park | Aston Villa
FBetween rejections and assaults, Leon Bailey’s journey to the Premier League has been a whirlwind trip. But through all the trials and tribulations, the Jamaican international has never given up on his dream.
Just over a decade ago, the Aston Villa player signed for £ 30million in early August sat in an office with his stepfather Craig Butler and brothers Kevaughn and Kyle shuddering Austrian cold. Facing the four of them, the Red Bull Salzburg academy director had a puzzled expression on his face. “Do you want a trial? “
Butler nodded morosely and as the Headmaster shook his head he begged and begged, refusing to take no for an answer. “In the end, he agreed,” Butler recalls, recalling his adopted son’s first trial in Europe. The four had only arrived in Austria a few days earlier. They had walked from Kingston, Jamaica to the Salzburg training complex uninvited and begged to be invited. It was the opportunity of a lifetime. An opportunity Butler had prepared them for in Jamaica since the age of six. But nothing could prepare them for the cold.
“It was very cold,” exclaims Butler. “During the trial, the boys froze on the ground. They couldn’t walk, let alone run. It was too much. I asked the director to give us more time to adjust, but he said no.
Despite the rejection, Leon and his brothers weren’t about to give up. They hadn’t traveled half the world to fall at the first obstacle. “When we got home, the boys took off their t-shirts and ran five kilometers in the cold. We started the adaptation process the next day. We went to train on the courts and got used to the cold, ”Butler recalls.
There were more rejections and raised eyebrows as Butler took his boys to all the pro clubs in the area. Eventually, a team just south of Salzburg and Austrian second division Anif were ready to give them a chance after the club manager spotted them playing in a local park. “They put Leon in the Under-17s even though he was only 13 at the time and still killing everyone.”
Bailey was instrumental in the club’s run to the Austrian Under-17 Cup final that year to set up a meeting with an all-too-familiar opponent at Red Bull Salzburg. “They won 4-2 in the final,” Butler recalls. “Leon scored two or maybe three, and Kyle had three assists. Suddenly Red Bull Salzburg wanted all three boys.
But Butler didn’t want it. He had already considered the next stop on the boys’ European tour. Austria had taught them everything they needed to know. Belgium’s KRC Genk, however, had more to offer. “I wanted upward mobility for the boys. Genk was famous for Kevin De Bruyne, Christian Benteke and Thibaut Courtois. The technical training skills they had at the academy were what the boys needed to take the next step. “
In Genk, Butler and his boys were able to settle in while playing for the club as guest players. They found a place and things seemed to have improved. However, their peace was short-lived. Butler flew to Mexico on a business trip in late 2012 to complete the paperwork, which would allow his sons to stay in Belgium and register as players. Dressed in a business suit with a briefcase, he became easy prey for the thugs who robbed and beat him.
The next thing he knew was to wake up in a hospital bed, his body bruised and burning with pain. His knee was broken. Her kidney was breaking down and every bone in her body was aching. Ten thousand miles away, Leon and his brothers didn’t know where Butler was. They were all minors in foreign lands and had to go without him for weeks.
“I was a broken man. I promised to get back to them and find a way for them to become professional players, ”Butler recalls.
After his recovery, the local authorities refused to allow him to stay in Belgium. He had previously fallen out with the club, which means the boys returned home in 2013. Throughout their time in Europe, Butler held odd jobs, including cleaning the toilets, in order to join the two. ends.
Upon their return to Jamaica, Bailey and his brothers trained at Butler’s Phoenix All Star Academy. But the plan was still to return to Europe. Once Bailey turned 18 there were legal ways to go back. Thanks to Ajax’s affiliation with AS Trencin, Bailey and one of his brothers, Kyle, ended up in Slovakia, but potential Ajax ties fell apart. Genk rushed in again.
Back in Belgium, Bailey thrives in a familiar environment. He immediately entered the first team and won the Jupiler League Young Player of the Year award in his debut season. Manchester United, Chelsea and Manchester City all wanted the 18-year-old, but the next logical step was the Bundesliga and Bayer Leverkusen – another club that used to help players reach the next level.
But the dream has always been the Premier League and when Aston Villa came to call Butler, who now works as Bailey’s agent, was happy to help. “It’s extremely exciting for Leon to be in the Premier League,” he admits. “We’ve always taken our time to make sure it grows and takes the right steps along the way. This [the Premier League] has always been our goal. Our destination.
Thinking back on the tough road that took his son to the upper echelons of the game, Butler believes the tough upbringing gave Bailey tremendous mental toughness. The one who, coupled with his undeniable abilities, can take him to the top.
“Because of everything we’ve been through, I know Leon can’t be stopped,” he says. “Going to an emerging club like Aston Villa, where he has the chance to help them achieve something big, maybe win the championship or finish in the top four, is the challenge he needs. Leon is to become one of the best players in the world.