The Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) has found itself embroiled in yet another controversy following the announcement of the Reggae Boyz squad for the upcoming Copa America competition. The squad, revealed on Wednesday, included Aston Villa winger Leon Bailey, who quickly took to social media to label the inclusion as "misleading information." This development has sparked confusion and debate among fans and stakeholders alike.

JFF President Michael Ricketts, in an interview with Sportsmax.TV early Thursday, provided insight into the selection process and the circumstances surrounding Bailey's inclusion. The president explained that no player is selected for national duty until there is dialogue with the player’s club or representatives.

According to Ricketts, the situation stemmed from complex interactions between the JFF, Bailey, and his father and agent, Craig Butler. Butler, he said, had attempted to negotiate Bailey's availability for the national team by seeking the selection of players from his Phoenix Academy for both the national senior team and the national U20 team.

"We don’t speak with the players; we speak with the player's club or the player's agent. In this case, (Craig) Butler, got in contact with the General Secretary Dennis Chung,” Ricketts said.  “He wanted other players [from Phoenix Academy] in the U20 squad and he wants players in the senior team in exchange for Bailey. The General Secretary told him no, I can’t deal with that."

The president explained that the general secretary does not play a role in team selection, that is the responsibility of the coaching staff.

Ricketts noted that following his conversation with Chung, Butler then placed a call to Coach Heimir Hallgrimsson and during their conversation assured him that Bailey would not be available for Jamaica’s game against Mexico but would be available for the second and third group-stage games of the Copa America. Consequently, the coach decided to include Bailey in the squad based on this assurance.

Ricketts said he is unaware of any other matters that arose between Butler and the Reggae Boyz head coach.

"Having told the coach that Bailey would be available for the second and third games, the coach named Bailey as part of the squad," Ricketts stated.

Bailey, who has been suspended since the November international break for breaking curfew, had not featured in Jamaica's recent matches, including the 2026 World Cup qualifiers against the Dominican Republic and Dominica earlier this month. Following his suspension, Bailey announced on a podcast that he was taking a break from international football.

On social media Wednesday, Butler reiterated Bailey’s stance, stating that posts suggesting Bailey’s willingness to participate in the Copa America were misleading. "Posts made on social media that are surfacing at this time is a misrepresentation of his position," Butler wrote. "We wish the Reggae Boyz well in the Copa America competition and he, along with his management team, will continue to support the Jamaica National Team at all levels … change must come…Respect and One Love for all."

The squad was announced at Tracks and Records in Kingston on Wednesday evening when Coach Hallgrimsson told media that discussions between Butler and the JFF had gone well, indicating that several issues of concern were addressed, which presumably led him to believe that the player was available for selection.

“So the talk was between his (Bailey’s) agent and the JFF, so I would like to give a lot of credit to Craig and Mr Chung so they sorted out whatever was the issue between him and the JFF so after that I think he has always wanted to represent Jamaica,” the head coach said.

“I don’t want to talk too much about what went on at a meeting I wasn’t attending but I’m just grateful  that this happened and this was resolved. We have been talking about some of the issues he was talking about so we shared some of the same thoughts in so many matters and hopefully it will just help us grow, continue to improve to become more professional…”

However, in an interview on CVM Television Thursday morning, hours after Bailey’s social media post, Butler explained that he met with the JFF and he explained his concerns and they long-term reparations of the damage (of the relationship between the player and governing body.

He said they did not commit to any player whether Bailey of (Dujuan) Whisper Richards rejoining the national team because “we felt that we should take a stand (against the JFF’s lack of professionalism) but more importantly that Leon is taking a break.

“Leon hasn’t had a break since 2016 and he is taking a break to spend time with family. We explained to them that he is not ready but we will speak to him and they (JFF) are not to make any attempts to include him in the squad until I got confirmation or a communication from Leon, who is at Disney World with his family.”

Jamaica is set to open its Copa America campaign against Mexico on June 22, followed by matches against Ecuador on June 26 and Venezuela on June 30.

President Ricketts emphasized the importance of moving forward regardless of the situation. "The show must go on," he declared, underlining the need for the team to remain focused amid the ongoing controversy.

Several calls made to JFF General Secretary went unanswered.

 

In an unfortunate developing situation, Jamaica and Aston Villa winger Leon Bailey has withdrawn from the Reggae Boyz 26-man squad named for the upcoming Copa America tournament. His inclusion and subsequent withdrawal comes amid controversy and conflicting statements from Bailey and his representatives.

Bailey, who was suspended for breaking curfew during the November international break, has not featured in Jamaica's recent matches, including the 2026 World Cup qualifiers against the Dominican Republic and Dominica earlier this month. Following the release of the squad by the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) Wednesday, Bailey took to Instagram on Wednesday night to label the selection as "misleading information."

The winger’s father, Craig Butler, reiterated Bailey’s stance on social media, stating that his son's decision to step back from international duty remains unchanged. "We kindly ask that you respect his wishes at this time," Butler wrote. "Posts made on social media that are surfacing at this time is a misrepresentation of his position. We wish the Reggae Boyz well in the Copa America competition and he, along with his management team, will continue to support the Jamaica National Team at all levels … change must come…Respect and One Love for all."

The JFF has not commented on whether they received a commitment from Bailey to participate in the tournament.

Bailey, 26, recently expressed his deep love for his country and his frustrations with the national team environment. In a recent interview with The Cut, he said, "Honestly I don’t know when I will be back in the national team colours. I love my country to the core. I am always here in Jamaica. I can’t tell when I will be back in the national team colours. Once I feel like I have seen a little bit of change … I don’t know how to explain it but why I’m taking a break is because it is too much for my head sometimes."

He continued, "A lot of people don’t understand or look deeply into why I am representing. I really love my country. I love my country so much that I am willing to get injured, willing to risk not going back to a starting Aston Villa team. I make so many sacrifices to make the national team. People don’t understand that and that’s what hurts me. It’s too much for my head sometimes."

The Reggae Boyz squad for the Copa America is as follows:

Goalkeepers: Shaquan Davis, Andre Blake, Coniah Boyce-Clarke, Jahmali Waite

Defenders: Dexter Lembikisa, Di'Shorn Bernard, Greg Leigh, Damion Lowe, Michael Hector, Richard King, Wesley Harding, Ethan Pinnock, Jon Bell, Amari'i Bell

Midfielders: Kasey Palmer, Kevon Lambert, Bobby Reid, Alex Marshall, Joel Latibeaudiere, Karoy Anderson

Forwards: Shamar Nicholson, Renaldo Cephas, Michail Antonio, Demarai Gray, Kaheim Dixon, Leon Bailey*

 

With Bailey's participation in doubt, the Reggae Boyz will have to navigate the Copa America without one of their key players, unless further developments arise. The situation remains fluid, and fans are eagerly awaiting clarity on Bailey’s final decision regarding his national team duties.

Adrian Reid Jr’s consistent showing throughout the recently-concluded Jamaica Premier League (JPL) has been rewarded with a senior team call-up, as Reggae Boyz Head coach Heimir Hallgrimsson named a 26-man squad for the upcoming Concacaf World Cup qualifying fixture against Dominican Republic at the National Stadium on June 6.

Reid Jr’s inclusion comes as Hallgrimsson will be without a number of his first choice players –Demarai Gray, Amari’i Bell, Joel Latibeaudiere, Ethan Pinnock, Andre Blake and Dujuan Richards –due to injury, while Leon Bailey remains unavailable.  

The 17-year-old Reid Jr, who assisted Cavalier to the JPL title, has represented Jamaica at the youth level, and is now on the cusp of following his father and former Reggae Boy Adrian Reid as senior team representatives.

Whether or not the central defender will be giving his debut, is left to be seen, as along with those injured, Hallgrimsson will also be without right-back Dexter Lembikisa and midfielder Kasey Palmer, who will both serve card suspensions for the opening World Cup qualifying contest.

After next Thursday’s game, the Reggae Boyz will then be on the road three days later for their second Group E fixture against Dominica.

The group also comprises British Virgin Islands and Guatemala.

Reggae Boyz Squad - Shaquan Davis, Jayden Hibbert, Coniah Boyce-Clarke, Jahmali Waite, Dexter Lembikisa, Di'Shon Bernard, Greg Leigh, Damion Lowe, Michael Hector, Richard King, Tayvon Gray, Jon Bell, Kasey Palmer, Karoy Anderson, Bobby Reid, Daniel Johnson, Alex Marshall, Adrian Reid Jr, Kevon Lambert, Shamar Nicholson, Renaldo Cephas, Michail Antonio, Deshane Beckford, Kaheim Dixon, Cory Burke, Devonte Campbell

Michael Ricketts, the President of the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF), remains hopeful that the ongoing issues between the association and Aston Villa winger Leon Bailey will be resolved soon.

Bailey was dropped from the national team after breaking curfew prior to a crucial Nations League semi-final against the United States in late March. Subsequently, Bailey, speaking on the ‘Let’s Be Honest’ podcast, aired his grievances publicly, criticizing the JFF's professionalism and citing reasons for taking a self-imposed break from international football.

In response, the JFF issued a detailed statement refuting Bailey’s allegations.

On Thursday, Ricketts expressed regret over the situation and emphasized the player's past dedication to representing Jamaica on the field.

"I just think it is so very unfortunate and I hope he really doesn’t mean what he is saying," said Ricketts. "He probably was a little bit upset but we are hoping that things will settle down because he has given his all for his country.

“I remember, I think it was after the Canada (in the Nations League quarter-final) game that he came up to me and said ‘President, you know every time I go on the field I try to do my best because I am representing my country’ and I guess he felt bad because he didn’t do as well as people were expecting.

“And when he said that to me, I just thought that here is somebody, who it might not be working for him then but his heart is in the right place.

“I remember years ago, (West Indies cricket great) Viv Richards was going through a bad patch and when he was interviewed he said that you lose form but you don’t lose class and if you have the class the form will come back and I am just hoping that these issues and these utterances from Bailey will, sooner rather than later, be sorted out and that we can re-establish a proper relationship.”

However, Ricketts expressed concern over the tendency of airing internal grievances in public, particularly given the widespread reach of social media.

"I really don’t think he (Bailey) had an issue that had to be played out in the public," Ricketts remarked. "It’s just unfortunate and we are just hopeful that we will be able to sort these things out and have them amicably settled rather than going public because social media, it’s all over the world. So whatever you say or do the whole world will know."

Despite the current challenges, Ricketts expressed optimism about restoring a positive relationship with Bailey in time for upcoming national team activities.

"We are hoping that the coach (Heimir Halgrimsson) will work this out," Ricketts concluded. "I know the coach really wants to have this sorted out quickly. He is very disappointed but at the same time he is very optimistic that he will get it sorted out soon."

The JFF remains committed to addressing and resolving any issues with Bailey to ensure a harmonious working relationship moving forward. Jamaica will begin its World Cup campaign against the Dominican Republic on June 6 at the National Stadium in Kingston. Their next match will be against Dominica in Dominica on June 9.

 

Amidst the fallout from Jamaica's defeat to the United States in the CONCACAF Nations League semi-final, the Jamaica Football Federation (JFF) found itself thrust into the spotlight, not for the on-field performance, but rather for the controversy sparked by one of its own players, Leon Bailey.

Bailey, the talented Aston Villa winger, had recently taken to the "Let's Be Honest" podcast to air his grievances against the JFF, leveling accusations of unprofessionalism and neglect against the governing body. His claims ranged from issues with flight arrangements to delays in payment, painting a picture of dissatisfaction that led to his hiatus from national team duties.

Bailey was suspended and not invited to be part of the team for the Nations League semi-final after he broke curfew during a previous team camp and as a consequence was not considered for selection by Coach Heimer Hallgrimsson. The player has since said he will make himself unavailable for national duties for the foreseeable future.

In response to Bailey’s disparaging statements, the JFF has wasted no time in responding to the player’s allegations. In a detailed statement released on Friday morning, the federation sought to debunk the assertions made by the disaffected Reggae Boyz winger.

The statement led with the acknowledgment of Bailey's comments on the podcast, swiftly moving to address the inaccuracies and misconceptions contained therein. Notably, the JFF emphasized that while Bailey's criticism of the coaching staff would be addressed separately, the focus would be on clarifying the factual inaccuracies regarding the federation's operations.

One of the primary points of contention was Bailey's claim that he had to personally book his airline tickets and often endured subpar travel conditions, such as economy class with multiple stops. The JFF countered this assertion by presenting evidence of recent flight bookings for Bailey, all of which showed premium economy or business class accommodations with standard one-stop routes, effectively refuting Bailey's narrative.

“Firstly, the charges made that Leon has to book his own airline tickets, is always contending with multiple stops, and is always booked in economy are inaccurate and contradictory,” the JFF said in its statement.

“Contradictory because if he says he books his own ticket but then says that he is always booked in economy, with multiple stops, and always receives the tickets late, then it would suggest that he is the reason why he has those issues, as he is the one, he asserts, who books the tickets. The fact though is that these statements are untrue.

“In order to verify these statements, we researched the last three bookings for Leon, and the following were the results:

A ticket booked for a travel date of 4 September 2023, shows a booking on AA 6958 leaving London Heathrow at 10:25AM, with a stop in Miami and then a flight on AA 0850, departing at 5:57PM to Jamaica. This is a typical one stop for flights out of the UK to Jamaica, and the seat type for both flights were Business.

“A ticket booked for travel date 13 November 2023, shows a booking on VS 0103 leaving London Heathrow at 10:50AM, with a stop in Atlanta and then a flight on VS 3832, departing at 6:10PM to Jamaica. This is a typical one stop flight out of the UK to Jamaica, and the seat types were Business and Economy, respectively.

“A ticket booked for travel date 19 November 2023, shows a booking on AC 0983 leaving Montego Bay at 1:45PM, with a stop in Toronto and then a flight on AC 0854, departing at 6:20PM to London Heathrow. This is a typical one stop flight out of Jamaica to the UK, and the seat types were Business for both.

The JFF continued: “We could, of course, show additional similar tickets booked for Leon (which he travelled on) and so we are at a loss about the statements that he books his own tickets, that they were sent to him late (when all itineraries are sent days before to the players for confirmation), and that the bookings were primarily economy.

“The JFF does have a policy that all players are booked on premium economy, which is similar to what is done in other sporting organizations, as the cost of booking all players on Business would make the programme unaffordable. This is communicated to all players, and they advise in many cases (including Leon) that we should use any monies owed to them to purchase Business class tickets on occasions, when they advise. The option is available to all players to upgrade their tickets themselves or by setting off against funds owed to them.”

Furthermore, the JFF refuted Bailey's allegations of non-payment, stating that while outstanding funds from 2022 were being addressed, players received consistent per diem payments and had their camp and game expenses covered by the federation.

“The charge made that he has received no monies from the JFF, is untrue. The JFF has stated that funds are outstanding to the Boyz, from as far back as 2022, and we have made inroads in paying it down, and has advised that we will pay them off in second quarter 2024.

“We can confidently say though that we have been paying per diem consistently, and we also cover all costs relating to the camps or games. So, saying that no funds have been received from JFF is misleading, and unfortunate. We would like to add that the JFF, like many national federations, is not able to match what is paid by the professional clubs.

“We would think though that the honour of playing for your country is something that all patriotic Jamaicans would want to do, as we realize that we will never be able to match the financial rewards of the professional clubs. We never realized that playing for Jamaica was primarily about financial rewards, and that this would be a main consideration”.

In addition to addressing Bailey's specific grievances, the JFF clarified the division of responsibilities between the federation's secretariat and the coaching staff, reiterating that team selections were solely within the coach's purview. This distinction aimed to underscore the federation's commitment to fairness and equality among players while respecting the autonomy of the coaching staff.

“The JFF secretariat would also like to say that the decision about team dynamics, and who is selected or not, remains the sole decision of the coach and his staff. The secretariat merely receives the requirements from the team technical staff, and determines if we have the funding support or not.

“So, the implication that it is the JFF secretariat that determines who is selected to the team is false. The accountability of the coach to the JFF secretariat is whether he is a success or not, and our job is merely to hire or terminate the coach but not interfere in the coaching decisions.

“One thing we will not encourage is for any player to be treated differently from any other. However, what happens within the team is a matter for the coaching staff.

 “The JFF wants to say again that it is unfortunate that we have to be addressing these public comments, as we believe that the professional thing to do is for differences to be addressed with each other and not through social, or other media.”

 Despite the disappointment expressed by the JFF at having to address such public comments, the federation remained steadfast in its dedication to professionalism and integrity within Jamaican football. Moving forward, the JFF hoped that internal dialogue and resolution would prevail over public discord, reaffirming its unwavering support for the national team and the sport as a whole.

 

Aston Villa and Reggae Boyz attacker Leon Bailey has confirmed that he’s taking a break from international football after being suspended by the Reggae Boyz for their upcoming Concacaf Nations League semi-final against the USA in Dallas.

Bailey’s suspension came due to him reportedly breaking curfew and not staying at the team hotel during the Reggae Boyz last camp in November.

As a result of this as well as a number of other factors he brought up during the latest episode of the Let’s Be Honest Podcast hosted by social media star Jaiifrais on Wednesday, Bailey has decided to take a break from representing the Reggae Boyz, essentially saying it’s not worth it.

“Jamaica’s national team is not doing anything for me. Jamaica’s national team is not going to give me exposure. Playing for Jamaica is not going to make Real Madrid call me. I am shining light on the national team by playing overseas and representing as a Jamaican all the time. People know Leon Bailey everywhere in the world,” he added before going further.

“It’s two things I’ve always asked them for and every time, I can’t get it. You have people booking flights for me and sending me from England to Jamaica with three different stops. All I ask for is a proper flight and a room by myself and I can’t get that. If I don’t go the national team I can go on my vacation and I can live good,” he said.

“I am Jamaican and I love my country and hopefully one day my kids can come up and grow up in a better environment than I did but sometimes I think about it and realize that these things were happening before I was born so, can I be the change? There’s only so much a person can endure because I can’t be putting my best foot forward every time and all I get is disrespect and people not showing up for me at all,” he added.

 

Bailey then quickly clarified his two main motivations for playing for the national team.

“I’ve dealt with it all these years because I want to stay grounded but really and truly I don’t have to deal with it. I’m not here for money or exposure. I’m here to help the team get to the next World Cup and try to change the environment for kids growing up,” he said.

Specifically, regarding the suspension, the Aston Villa star says he wasn’t surprised and that he was considering a break from the National Team even before the suspension was handed out.

“I did break curfew but that’s normal. Every player does that. After your last game for your country, you’re going to travel the next day. Nobody is staying at a hotel. It’s just the way how it was presented that I didn’t like. He did say to me that he wasn’t going to invite me to the next camp but, way before this happened, I always had it in my head that this is too much on my plate when it comes to the National Team and I was really going to take a break from it and then that just tipped off everything,” he said.

“When he mentioned that to me now I said to myself that I really couldn’t understand because the coach comes to me about everything. Me and him have video calls about any little thing at all. So, for him to look on me and tell me he’s not inviting me to the next camp, I felt that was really harsh and it just said to me that me being in the National Team right now, it really drains my energy a lot,” Bailey added.

Bailey said the relationship between himself and Hallgrimsson is still good but he hoped things would have been handled differently.

“Me and him have a good relationship. We’ve always had a good relationship. I can see where he’s coming from in terms of the style he wants to implement in the National Team but I feel like there has to be more understanding,” he said

The 26-year-old then, once again, turned his attention to the running of the team itself by the higher-ups, blasting the lack of professionalism surrounding it relating to things such as travel and equipment.

“A lot of people don’t know that most of the time, I book my own flights to come and represent Jamaica because they are very unprofessional. You’re getting your flight details 11pm to travel the next day. Jamaica National Team doesn’t pay us. I can’t remember the last time I received a dollar from the National Team. It’s very unprofessional in ways you can’t even imagine,” he said.

He went on to give more examples.

“You’re turning up and they don’t have equipment for you. You’ll go and they’ll only have a one shirt for you and you have to find shorts. Players turn up to games and it’s a women’s shirt they print out for them to wear. It’s ridiculous and they don’t know how to operate. When we go places I feel exposed,” he said.

“No, never,” was Bailey’s response to the question of whether or not he’s ever voiced these concerns to the JFF.

“I try to mesh with everybody and I never want to give any of my teammates the feeling that I’m more than them. I am not that person and If I want the team to do well, I can’t make anybody feel like I’m better than them,” he said.

 As for the length of his break, Bailey refrained from giving a specific time.

 

 

 

 

Aston Villa boss Unai Emery said Ollie Watkins’ knee injury sustained in the 4-0 Europa Conference League last-16 win over 10-man Ajax was “not more than a cut”.

Watkins, named in England boss Gareth Southgate’s latest squad earlier on Thursday, headed Villa in front in the 25th minute, having already sustained the injury in a challenge with Ajax goalkeeper Diant Ramaj.

But the former Brentford striker limped off eight minutes later and had to watch his team-mates run riot in the second half with Leon Bailey, John Duran and Moussa Diaby goals killing off the tie after last week’s goalless draw in Amsterdam.

It sent Villa through to their first European quarter-final since 1998 and their mood will be heightened even more by the good news on Watkins’ injury.

“The injury is not more than a cut on the knee,” boss Unai Emery said. “Maybe he is available for Sunday, I think maybe we have to wait for tomorrow and Saturday, but it is a cut.”

Watkins’ goal put Villa on course for a win which became much easier in the second half when Ajax were reduced to 10 men.

Villa were 2-0 up by that point through Bailey’s strike, with Duran and Diaby booking their spot in the next round.

“We were very respectful of them. We were how we needed to face them here with our supporters at Villa Park, trying to perform better than the opposition with our quality on the pitch,” the Spaniard added.

“The second half was easier for us after the red card. We’re happy because we are motivated in this competition.”

Ajax defender Devyne Rensch was frank in his assessment of his side’s exit.

He said: “Yeah, it’s s**t. It’s painful we are used to winning for cups and competing and that is not going to happen.

“It’s a real let down, it’s a disappointment, it shouldn’t be happening, but we have to move on.

“Being Ajax we are always in the running for the top prizes and this season it is just not the case and it is very difficult to accept that.”

Goalkeeper Shaquan Davis and strikers Kaheim Dixon and Bailey Cadamarteri have been included in Heimir Hallgrimsson's senior Reggae Boyz side for their upcoming Concacaf Nations League (CNL) semi-final contest against United States on March 21.

Though Davis, who represents Mount Pleasant and Dixon, of Arnett Gardens, both made their senior team debut in the recent friendly series against Trinidad and Tobago, it is their first time making the Reggae Boyz Nations League roster, while British-born Cadamarteri is being called to the Jamaican set up for the first time.

The six-foot tall 18-year-old, who plays for Sheffield Wednesday, alongside another Reggae Boy Dishon Bernard, also has Italian and Irish descent, but chose to honour his Jamaican heritage.

In fact, the rising English Championship sensation was interested in playing for Ireland, but doesn’t qualify, as his great grandparents hails from the Emerald Isle.

Still, their loss is Jamaica's gain and Hallgrimsson and company will be eager to put his skills to the test at some point in time in this crucial semi-final contest. 

Cadamarteri burst onto the scene this season with three goals in 11 Championship outings for the Owls and qualifies to represent Jamaica through his father Danny Cadamarteri, who played for Everton in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Meanwhile, a notable absentee from the 23-man squad is Aston Villa winger Leon Bailey, who misses out on a spot in the squad after he was suspended for breaking curfew during the last national camp.

Squad: Andre Blake, Shaquan Davis, Jahmali Waite, Richard King, Damion Lowe, Dishon Bernard, Michael Hector, Dexter Lembikisa, Tayvon Gray, Greg Leigh, Daniel Johnson, Joel Latibeaudiere, Bobby Reid, Karoy Anderson, Kasey Palmer, Renaldo Cephas, Cory Burke, Demarai Gray, Bailey Cadamarteri, Shamar Nicholson, Michail Antonio, Jamal Lowe, Kaheim Dixon

Craig Butler revealed that his wish was for his son Leon Bailey to join Ajax, but has no regrets that he has found a home at Aston Villa.

The comments came ahead of Aston Villa's goalless stalemate with the Dutch club in Thursday’s Europa Conference League Round of 16 match at the Johan Cruyff Arena.

Bailey, 26, was subject of transfer interest from Ajax during his time at Genk before joining Bayer Leverkusen in 2017. But the Dutch giants continued to follow Bailey throughout the years, and he nearly joined the club on three separate occasions.

Butler revealed that the last potential switch came in 2022, a year after the winger joined Villa and struggled under former boss Steven Gerrard.

"Bailey was indeed already in the picture at Ajax, but also at Genk, to whom I eventually sold him. Ajax did want him, but not according to the agreements that were in place," Butler told Voetbal International.

"We were always very close, but the final push from Ajax was missing. I would have liked to see it happen. Who knows how it would all have turned out, but we stand by the choices we made. In retrospect, it was the steps that were necessary.

"Leon’s transfer to Aston Villa has turned out well. He’s doing well and he loves the fans. Who knows where Leon would have been now if he had gone to Ajax, because Ajax has produced great players worldwide. If Leon had signed with Ajax, he would probably have been sold for a lot more money, but money isn’t everything,” he added.

Bailey himself revealed that being at the Birmingham-based Villa under Unai Emery's leadership is the happiest he's been in his career.

“I would say yes. I think at the moment things have been going really well for me. I've been scoring goals and I've been getting assists," Bailey told the media ahead of the European clash.

"I've been really showing up for the team whenever I call up. And right now, I feel good, and I would say it's the best moment of my career,” he declared.

Aston Villa survived a testing assignment at Ajax as they drew 0-0 in the first leg of the Europa Conference League last-16 in Amsterdam.

Villa were second best throughout the night at the Johan Cruijff Arena but the Dutch giants, led by England international Jordan Henderson, could not make their advantage count as it ended goalless.

They were reliant on goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez to produce an important save and were unable to produce their dynamic attacking football at the other end.

Both sides were reduced to 10 men in the final 10 minutes as Ezri Konsa was harshly sent off for two yellow cards, with Tristian Gooijer following for the hosts moments later.

But Unai Emery’s men will now be confident of winning in next week’s second leg at Villa Park, where they are so strong, and booking their spot in the quarter-finals.

With a crunch game in the race for the Premier League top four against Tottenham to come on Sunday, Emery made several changes to his side, with John McGinn and Leon Bailey among those dropping out.

One of the replacements, Moussa Diaby, almost made an early impact when he created space for himself only to shoot straight at Ajax goalkeeper Diant Ramaj.

Ajax are nothing like the side that reached the semi-finals of the Champions League five years ago and are labouring in fifth in the Dutch Eredivisie.

But they gave the Villa the run around in a first half where Emery’s men were pegged back and lucky to survive.

Henderson gave them a scare on the half-hour when he whipped a 25-yard free-kick over Martinez’s crossbar before the home side’s big chance six minutes later.

Jorrel Hato brought the ball out of defence and played in Brian Brobbey with a defence-splitting pass, but the Netherlands international shot into the side-netting as he closed in on goal.

Villa did not improve much after the break and brought on McGinn and Bailey to try and get control of the game.

But they were reliant on Martinez to keep them level in the 68th minute as the World Cup winner produced a smart stop to keep out Kenneth Taylor’s effort from Borna Sosa’s cut back.

Villa’s task looked like getting harder after Konsa had to walk for a second yellow card when it looked like he was being fouled.

But Gooijer picked up his second booking moments later and Villa were able to see the game out unscathed.

Aston Villa strengthened their grip on a top-four position in the Premier League with a pulsating 4-2 win over Nottingham Forest.

Villa have their sights firmly set on Champions League qualification and a first home league win of 2024 saw them move five points clear of Tottenham in fifth.

Ollie Watkins and Douglas Luiz’s double saw them cruise into a 3-0 first-half lead only for Forest to scare them with goals either side of half-time through Moussa Niakhate and Morgan Gibbs-White.

But Leon Bailey struck on the hour to give Villa breathing space and they saw it out to give themselves a cushion over the chasing pack.

Forest were lucky still to be in the game at half-time after being overrun in the first 40 minutes but improved after the break and had enough chances to scrape a point, which would have been handy in their battle against relegation.

Villa needed less than four minutes to go in front as Watkins scored his 14th of the season.

This was one of his easiest finishes, though, thanks to the work of Bailey, who gave him a simple tap-in after being played in down the right and making light work of Murillo.

Watkins could have had his second six minutes later as Villa advanced down the other side, but the England striker’s shot from Jacob Ramsey’s cut-back was blocked on the line by Niakhate.

Villa’s second goal came just before the half-hour and again was built on the right as Cash passed to Ramsey, who teed up Luiz to sweep into the corner.

Forest skipper Gibbs-White summoned his team for a huddle after that went in and gave an impassioned speech, but it had little impact as Villa went three up in the 39th minute.

John McGinn sent in a delightful cross from a recycled corner for Luiz to plant a free header into the corner for his second of the match.

Forest gave themselves a lifeline in first-half injury time as Taiwo Awoniyi headed a corner back across goal and Niakhate chested the ball over the line from close range.

They made three changes at half-time and it had the perfect impact as they made it 3-2 shortly after the restart when substitute Divock Origi slipped Gibbs-White through and he clipped by Emiliano Martinez.

Moments later it should have been 3-3 as Anthony Elanga was sent clear by Origi but dragged his shot wide.

Villa had been like rabbits in the headlights but they began to reassert themselves and almost scored a fourth when Alex Moreno teed up Youri Tielemans, but the Belgian stroked his effort into the post.

The hosts did take control again on the hour as they made it 4-2, with Forest shooting themselves in the foot.

Playing out from the back, Andrew Omobamidele passed to Tielemans, who slipped in Watkins and when Matz Selz came out to block the loose ball it fell to Bailey who had a simple tap-in.

Aston Villa have confirmed Leon Bailey has signed a new contract with the club.

The 26-year-old Reggae Boyz attacker has been in sensational form this season and is playing the best football of his career to date. He has made 32 appearances in all competitions so far this term, recording 19 goal contributions across those games.

His 13 goal involvements in the Premier League is already more than what he managed in his first two seasons at the club combined.

Bailey joined Villa for £30 million in the summer of 2021 from Bayer Leverkusen. He was one of three players targeted by Villa to replace the void left behind by Jack Grealish, who joined Manchester City for £100 million.

Injuries marred his first campaign with Villa as he only started seven times and scored on just one occasion.

Last season, Bailey improved following the arrival of Unai Emery, and played his role in helping the club qualify for European football with a seventh-placed finish.

What the papers say

Raphael Varane is reportedly the latest big name attracting a wealth of interest from Saudi Arabia. The Daily Star says Saudi Pro League side Al-Nassr are hoping to reunite the Manchester United defender with his former Real Madrid and Red Devils team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo, with an offer believed to be in the region of £50million a year.

The Independent reports Kylian Mbappe‘s contract negotiations with Real Madrid have hit a stumbling block. According to the paper, the two parties are yet to come to terms on the 25-year-old striker’s wage package, with an agreement believed to be a way off. However, there is belief amongst all involved – including Mbappe’s current club Paris St Germain – that a deal to take the France captain to Spain will eventually be made.

And The Telegraph reports Aston Villa has reached a verbal agreement on a new long-term contract for Jamaica winger Leon Bailey.

Social media round-upPlayers to watch

Raphinha: Journalist Paul O’Keefe says on X the Barcelona attacker is being carefully monitored by Tottenham.

Hwang Ui-jo: The Nottingham Forest striker has agreed terms to spend the rest of the season on loan at Turkish side Alanyaspor, reports Turkish outlet Sports Digitale.

Reggae Boyz forward Leon Bailey is set to sign a new contract with English Premier League (EPL) club Aston Villa.

Discussions have been planned over a new deal since December, with Bailey keen to commit his long-term future to the Villains.

Bailey’s existing contract, due to expire in June 2025, was signed when he joined Villa from Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen for a fee in the region of £30million (now $37.7m) in the summer of 2021.

The 26-year-old struggled with injuries during his first year at Villa Park, making only seven Premier League starts and a further 11 appearances off the bench in the 2021-22 season.

He played more regularly last season under Steven Gerrard and then Unai Emery, registering four goals and four assists in 33 league games.

This season, though, has been his most productive at Villa, with his 10 goals in all competitions second only to Ollie Watkins’ 16 at the West Midlands club.

Bailey previously played for Belgian side Genk before joining Leverkusen in 2017. He scored 39 goals in 156 games for the German club before leaving for Villa.

Bailey’s importance to Villa has grown over the winter months, with head coach Unai Emery having been keen to develop the Jamaican’s consistency away from home.

Bailey has become Villa’s most threatening forward, scoring or assisting at an average of every 78 minutes this season.

“His potential is amazing,” says Emery. “Progressively, he’s getting better and he’s humbled to listen and improve. His qualities and skill… sometimes when we play at home, we watch him and think, ‘Wow, what a player’.”

Bailey has largely operated from the right wing this season, scoring 10 times and registering nine assists across 31 appearances. In Villa’s 4-2-2-2 system, the Jamaican’s pace has provided a key outlet on transition, stretching play alongside Watkins.

Internationally, Bailey has played 30 times for Jamaica, having made his senior debut in 2019. He has scored five goals for the Reggae Boyz.

 

 

 

Aston Villa returned to winning ways in style as they put Sheffield United to the sword with four goals in the opening 30 minutes in a 5-0 romp at Bramall Lane.

Villa’s Premier League top-four hopes had faltered after winning just one of their last five matches but Unai Emery’s men put that right to move above Tottenham and back into fourth.

Goals from John McGinn, Ollie Watkins, Leon Bailey and Youri Tielemans before the half-hour put them in dreamland and Alex Moreno’s second-half goal made it a day to remember for Villa, who registered their biggest Premier League away win since 2004.

At one point they would have had history in their sights as they had more than 45 minutes to try and find four more goals which would have equalled the record victory in the Premier League era, but they took their foot off the gas.

Still, it was bad enough for Sheffield United on another embarrassing day for the club, just four months after they were beaten 8-0 by Newcastle at Bramall Lane.

Boss Chris Wilder will surely know his side will be playing in the Championship next season as they have taken just 10 points from 23 games and are the same number away from safety.

Villa will hope to use this as a springboard for the rest of the campaign as they eye Champions League qualification for the first time.

It was the vision of Douglas Luiz that enabled them to take a two-goal lead within 16 minutes.

First, the midfielder sliced open Sheffield United’s defence with a fine pass which set Watkins through on goal. The England international lifted the ball over the on-rushing Wes Foderingham and onto the post, with McGinn tucking the rebound into an empty net.

Luiz’s assist for the second goal four minutes later was even more eye-catching as he again played in Watkins with an outrageous pass with the outside of his boot and this time the striker found the bottom corner.

It was 3-0 four minutes later with another goal of quality as Bailey cut inside and whipped a brilliant left-footed strike into the top corner.

A section of the home fans were fearing a repeat of that Newcastle nightmare and left the ground and even more headed for the exit 10 minutes later when Tielemans made it 4-0 with another picturebook goal.

The Belgian found acres of space on the edge of the area from a corner, took a touch and then rifled in off the underside of the crossbar to complete a dream half-hour.

Villa needed 83 seconds of the second half to make it five, as some slapdash defending from Auston Trusty allowed Watkins to tee up Moreno to volley home from close range.

United were at least able to stem the tide and threatened to get on the scoresheet but Emiliano Martinez saved from Anel Ahmedhodzic and Jack Robinson.

Their misery was complete late on in the game when Vini Souza poked home from a set-piece but VAR ruled it out for offside.

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