Leon Bailey: Future depends on playing 'at the highest level' for club, country
Bayer Leverkusen's Leon Bailey has told ESPN FC that he wants "to play at the highest level" as he faces summer decisions relating to his club and international futures.
Bailey, 20, has been linked to Manchester United and Liverpool, among other clubs, and is in the process of determining which nation to represent at international level amid disagreements with his native Jamaica.
The winger is under contract with Leverkusen through summer 2022, and although he has said that the club is "perfect" for him, he is wary of making a long-term commitment.
"At this moment, I can't really say which particular league I want to touch," Bailey told ESPN FC. "I want to play at the highest level with a team that is going to compete to win trophies. At this moment, there's a lot been said, but I'm not so focused on that. For me, I just want the best for myself and my family and whatever the future brings, then I'm ready to accept the challenge."
Bailey, who has 12 goals in 31 appearances in all competitions this season, admitted he has tried to ignore the constant speculation regarding his future -- especially when it comes to his international career.
Reports have indicated that Bailey may be eligible to be called up by England because two of his grandparents hold British passports, and he may eventually be able to represent Germany if he were to continue playing in the Bundesliga for several years.
For now, however, the only decision Bailey has made is that he will not play for Jamaica.
"I think a lot of people know my thoughts about the situation of me representing Jamaica, [so] there's not much I want to say about it because it's a topic that everybody has been talking about," Bailey said. "I don't want people to have their own impression about me, but one thing I want people to know is I love my country.
"But at the end of the day, I have to think about myself developing as a young player, and my aim is to become the best player in the world. For me to achieve that, I need to be on the right path -- and I think at this moment, choosing Jamaica is not the right path for me."
Bailey said he would like to see Jamaica improve its national team structure so that youth players have a better chance of being selected for the first team.
He represented Jamaica's under-23 side once, appearing and scoring in a friendly against the Cayman Islands in March 2015, and in January, former Jamaica coach Winnie Schafer told Bild he had invited Bailey to play for the senior side on several occasions, only to be refused.
"At this moment, we're not achieving anything because we don't have a system [and] we don't know what we're doing when we're playing," Bailey said. "You have so many local players when we play not used to the professional level of football because Jamaica, for me, is not professional football.
"With players like that, I'm not saying they're not good, but if you don't have an understanding of a system from even a little help from the Europeans or MLS players, then I think you are just putting people on a pitch to play football with no system. You can never win a game like that."
Without that kind of support, Bailey said, he doesn't believe he'll be able to be challenged or succeed while playing for Jamaica.
"We Jamaicans, we have a lot of talent, we have skill and everything, [but] skill and everything is not all about the game," he said. "We just have to a proper system in place. Everybody has to have a good understanding with each other and that's going to take some time to get. It doesn't come like a one-time thing, no.
"I think we just have to start it, and over the years, it can make progress -- but if we have nothing now and think we can make progress, then I don't think that's something that is going to happen."
In order to be challenged, Bailey said, he may have to consider a move to another club -- even though Leverkusen, third in the Bundesliga, are poised to qualify for the Champions League and return to European competition after missing out this season.
Bailey joined Leverkusen from Genk in January 2017, and while he said his "main focus is to play the rest of the games in the Bundesliga" this season, he wants to evaluate his future this summer.
"As a young Jamaican, we dreamt of [playing for big clubs] because these were teams that when we saw them play, we wish we could just be there to just see one of those players," Bailey said. "Now you've been there, you're hearing these things, it makes you feel [like], 'Damn, I'm really making progress.'
"For me, it's more about progress and working hard because when you're working hard, you're going to reach those points. So, of course for me, it gives me a feeling to make me want to work harder to even be recognised by bigger teams, so that's something that motivates me to want to work harder and push for more."
Follow @ESPNFC on Twitter to keep up with the latest football updates.