West Ham forward Michail Antonio and Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey have both been included in a preliminary Jamaica squad for next month’s Gold Cup.

The 31-year-old Antonio switched country’s earlier this year, having never been capped by England after several seasons in the English topflight.  According to reports, the forward, who had an impressive season in the EPL, is still working on finalising his official documents to represent the Caribbean country but it is hoped the issue can be resolved in time for him to make his debut at the tournament.

Bailey also had a strong season for Leverkusen in the Bundesliga but will be fighting to be fit in time for the tournament after breaking his toe in the final few weeks of the season.

The squad will also include the likes of Swansea’s Jamal Lowe, Watford’s Andre Grey, and Reading’s Liam Moore.  The team also includes first-string goalkeeper Andre Blake and defender Damion Lowe who have been part of teams that have made two appearances at the tournament's final.  Should all the players be available it could mark the first time the team’s coach Theodore Whitmore will have a full squad at his disposal.

Jamaica preliminary squad

 MF JAHSHAUN MUSTAF - MIAMI FC (USA)

FW MICHAIL ANTONIO - WEST HAM UNITED FC (ENG)

FW LEON BAILEY - BAYER 04 LEVERKUSEN (GER)

GK DILLON BARNES - QUEENS PARK RANGERS FC (ENG)

DF AMARII BELL - BLACKBURN ROVERS FC (ENG)

GK ANDRE BLAKE - PHILADELPHIA UNION (USA)

FW BRIAN BROWN - NEW MEXICO UNITED (USA)

DF JAVAIN BROWN - VANCOUVER WHITECAPS FC (CAN)

FW CORY BURKE - PHILADELPHIA UNION (USA)

FW NORMAN CAMPBELL - FK GRAFIČAR BEOGRAD (SRB)

GK AKEEM CHAMBERS - WATERHOUSE FC (JAM)

MF JORDAN COUSINS - WIGAN ATHLETIC FC (ENG)

FW EAST JAVON EAST -  SANTOS DE GUAPILES (CRC)

DF ONIEL FISHER - LA GALAXY (USA)

FW JUNIOR FLEMMINGS -  BIRMINGHAM LEGION (USA)

GK KEMAR FOSTER - PORTMORE UNITED FC (JAM)

FW OWAYNE GORDON - AUSTIN BOLD (USA)

FW ANDRE GRAY - WATFORD FC (ENG)

DF WESLEY HARDING - ROTHERHAM UNITED FC (ENG)

DF MICHAEL HECTOR -  FULHAM FC (ENG)

MF KEVAUGHN ISAACS - MOUNT PLEASANT F.A. (JAM)

MF DANIEL JOHNSON - PRESTON NORTH END FC (ENG)

FW  DANE KELLY -  CHARLOTTE INDEPENDENCE (USA)

GK AMAL KNIGHT - UNATTACHED (JAM)

MF KEVON LAMBERT - PHOENIX RISING FC (USA)

DF KEMAR LAWRENCE - TORONTO FC (CAN)

DF GREGORY LEIGH - ABERDEEN FC (SCO)

MF LUCA LEVEE - HARBOUR VIEW FC (JAM)

DF DAMION LOWE - AL ITTIHAD (KSA)

MF JAMAL LOWE -  SWANSEA CITY FC (WAL)

MF TYREEK MAGEE - KAS EUPEN (BEL)

FW KEMAL MALCOLM - AD CHALATENANGO (SLV)

DF ADRIAN MARIAPPA -  BRISTOL CITY FC (ENG)

MF CHEVONE MARSH - AD CHALATENANGO (SLV)

GK DWAYNE MILLER - SYRIANSKA FC (SWE)

DF LIAM MOORE - READING FC (ENG)

MF RICARDO MORRIS - PORTMORE UNITED FC (JAM)

FW RAVEL MORRISON -  UNATTACHED (JAM)

FW COLORADO MURRAY - WATERHOUSE FC (JAM)

FW SHAMAR NICHOLSON - ROYAL CHARLEROI SC (BEL)

FW DEVER ORGILL - MKE ANKARAGUCU SK (TUR)

MF KASEY PALMER -  BRISTOL CITY FC (ENG)

MF KAHEEM PARRIS - NK KRKA (SVN)

DF ETHAN PINNOCK - BRENTFORD FC (ENG)

DF ALVAS POWELL - PHILADELPHIA UNION (USA)

FW BOBBY REID -  FULHAM FC (ENG)

DF LADALE RICHIE - MOUNT PLEASANT F.A. (JAM)

MF KEMAR ROOFE - RANGERS FC (SCO)

MF KEVIN STEWART -  BLACKPOOL FC (ENG)

DF AJEANIE TALBOTT - HARBOUR VIEW FC (JAM)

GK DENNIS TAYLOR - HUMBLE LION F.C. (JAM)

DF CURTIS TILT - ROTHERHAM UNITED FC (ENG)

FW BLAIR TURGOTT - OSTERSUNDS FK (SWE)

FW PETER VASSELL - INDY ELEVEN (USA)

MF LAMAR WALKER -  MIAMI FC (USA)

MF JE-VAUGHN WATSON - UNATTACHED (JAM)

GK JEADINE WHITE - CAVALIER F.C. (JAM)

MF DEVON WILLIAMS- MIAMI FC (USA)

FW  ROMARIO WILLIAMS - AL ITTIHAD (KSA)

MF CHAVANY WILLIS- PORTMORE UNITED FC (JAM)

 

Jamaica international and Bayer Leverkusen winger, Leon Bailey, will be out of action for the rest of the season after suffering a broken toe.

The 23-year-old sustained the injury after a collision early in the match but continued to play until halftime when he was withdrawn.    

The player then missed the team’s midweek training session, with later scans confirming that the midfielder had fractured the digit.

Bayer Leverkusen head coach Hannes Wolf confirmed on Friday that the player would not return for the season.  The diagnosis meant that Bailey missed the player’s match against Union Berlin on Saturday, a 1-1 draw, and the club’s final game against Dortmund.

"He will not be able to play again [this season]," Wolf told reporters ahead of Leverkusen's game against Berlin.

The winger was not expected to suit up for his country during the international break, due to contractual issues and it remains to be seen how long he will be out of action.

In total, Bailey has scored 15 goals this season and provided 10 assists in a solid campaign for Leverkusen who are fighting for a place in European football next season.

 

Leon Bailey scored his ninth Bundesliga goal of the season and assisted in another as Bayer Leverkusen defeated Eintracht Frankfurt 3-1 at the Bay Arena on Saturday.

 

Jamaican winger Leon Bailey scored two goals and had an assist as Bayer Leverkusen blanked Cologne 3-0 in the Bundesliga on Saturday.

Jamaica international, Leon Bailey, believes a strong performance at the FIFA World Cup would be the highlight of his career and expressed belief in the current squad’s ability to get to the next edition of the tournament in 2022.

The 23-year-old Bayer Leverkusen winger has been in splendid form for the Bundesliga club so far this season, scoring 12 goals and getting 8 assists in all competitions.  The player is, however, yet to really kick his international career into gear, scoring once in only eight appearances.

Bailey is expected to feature prominently for the team in the coming months, with Jamaica scheduled to take part in the CONCACAF Gold Cup, before beginning the CONCACAF World Cup qualifiers in September.  With potentially four teams able to qualify for the 2022 World Cup, from the region, Jamaica are currently CONCACAF’s 6th best team according to the latest rankings.  The Caribbean team is, however, already in the final round and could have a good chance to qualify.  Several members of the Jamaican national team are, however, embroiled in a protracted dispute with the country’s football federation, which could have an impact on their campaign.

“I think we have a good team. We can really keep up. Go to the World Cup and keep up there. The most important thing is that it would give Jamaica a lot of attention,” Bailey told OneFootball.

Bailey, who hopes to be an inspiration to young players from Jamaica, does not want to simply make up numbers at the tournament, should the team qualify.

“Not just playing at a World Cup for Jamaica, but also asserting yourself at a World Cup with Jamaica. Don't just play the group stage. Keep up. Quarterfinals, semi-finals, even a final. That would be the greatest achievement of all time for me. "

English Premier League club Manchester United has reportedly contacted agents of Jamaica international Leon Bailey with a view to potentially securing the services of the player this summer.

The 23-year-old winger is under contract with German club Bayern Leverkusen until 2023 but rumors have run rife that the player could be set for a move away from the Bundesliga this transfer window.

With United in the marketplace for more attacking options, the Jamaica winger, who is valued somewhere in the region of £50 million, could be a solid bet.  According to reports, the Reds Devils have sent scouts to keep an eye on his development in the past 18 months.  Initially, the club was thought to be interested in Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho but the clubs remain far apart on valuation numbers.

The Jamaican has had a strong season for the German club in both the Bundesliga and European League.  In the Europa League, the player scored five times and provide 4 assists in 6 appearances, while so far, he has scored 6 league goals and dished 6 assists in 20 appearances.

Bayer Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey believes Lionel Messi needs to leave Barcelona when his contract expires at the end of the season. Such a move, Bailey believes, would take Messi closer to Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of achievement.

"There is a spirit in the team but also the club – a dynamic in the last months and last years. That should lead us one day to a title, that's our big goal."

Bayer Leverkusen are one of Germany's biggest clubs, but not since the 1993 DFB-Pokal have they celebrated silverware.

Leverkusen have come close on numerous occasions in the Bundesliga – runners-up in 1997, 1999, 2000, 20002 and 2011, while they also reached the 2002 Champions League final, succumbing to Zinedine Zidane's iconic volley in Glasgow.

There were also runners-up appearances in the DFB-Pokal – 20002, 2009 and 2020. But an exciting and entertaining Leverkusen, even in the post-Kai Havertz era, are on the right track amid Bayern Munich's domestic and European dominance.

Leverkusen sporting director Simon Rolfes told Stats Perform News: "It's not easy if you're playing with the best team in the world – Bayern – but we have made a step forward and quite close to the top. We want to go forward. If it happens this year, fantastic. But we want to proceed and develop the squad, and mentality."

When star Havertz left for Chelsea at the start of the season in a transfer that could rise to €100million, and Kevin Volland joined Monaco, it left a noticeable hole at BayArena, where the pair scored 30 goals across all competitions in 2019-20.

But led by prodigy Florian Wirtz and a thrilling core of players, including Moussa Diaby, Leon Bailey and Nadiem Amiri, Leverkusen are continuing to challenge this term.

Leverkusen are third in the Bundesliga – three points behind RB Leipzig and 10 adrift of reigning champions Bayern – while Peter Bosz's side are preparing to face Young Boys in the Europa League last 32 and Rot-Weiss Essen in the DFB-Pokal round of 16.

With Havertz having departed, Leverkusen have a better goals/game ratio (2.5) through 26 games across all competitions this season, compared to 1.8 in 2019-20. The club have also improved defensively – goals conceded/game (1.0) and expected goals against (1.0) are better than last term (1.3) and (1.4) respectively.

Collecting 32 points, Leverkusen have played the best first half of a Bundesliga season for seven years – they collected 37 points at this stage in 2013-14.

Leverkusen have also exceeded their xG value of 23.1 to almost nine goals (8.9) – only Bayern have a greater margin between goals and xG (13.9). 

"In general yes because it's a chance for other players to develop and take more responsibility in the team and on the pitch," Rolfes, who was appointed in 2018, said when asked if he was always confident following the exits of Havertz and Volland. "We had the view that there could be other players who could take a step forward. The only thing for sure is Havertz is a world-class player, a fantastic guy and player. It's very difficult to replace him, so we said, it's not our direction to find a replacement for Kai because you will never find that replacement.

"We said okay, we will give our own players the chance to grow, this strategy works out very fast. It's always a risk for sure, but we have the confidence in those players to make a step forward, and also the team. If your superstar is gone, everyone knows we have to give more.

"We try to build-up, play offensive with ball possession, straightforward – the kind of style we showed against Borussia Dortmund [2-1 on January 19] is what we want. We want to have the ball, a lot of clubs and trainers are speaking to play without the ball, in Germany it's very popular, but we want to have the ball and want players who want the ball."

The emergence of teenage sensation Wirtz, and development of Diaby, Bailey, Edmond Tapsoba and Amiri, has further highlighted Leverkusen's successful recruitment and philosophy, which has become synonymous with German clubs.

"You have to have a clear strategy," Rolfes, who made almost 400 appearances for Leverkusen between 2005 and 2015, said. "A clear strategy of recruitment but also your playing style. That's really important for players but also the success of a club – both are strongly connected. For your playing style, you have to sign the right players. Then you have the chance that the players adapt quicker and develop better in your system because they feel comfortable in the way of playing. That's crucial.

"We know the Bundesliga, financially solid, but we are not at the top that we can sign every player, we have to develop players. The strategy is to recruit good players for our style and develop them to the top. Some clubs in Germany are quite successful with this."

"We are focusing on that talent and try to find them," he said. "We analyse millions of data with artificial intelligence, to pre-select and be early. It's not because we know players other clubs do not know, maybe 20 years ago, but everything is transparent. But you have to find them a bit quicker, but also clear in your playing style and what can they develop with your training work, in which areas they can develop in weak points. Because we are not signing players where everything is 100 per cent, we know they have weak points, but we know we have to work with them on that."

Data and AI continue to play a huge role in football, with Rolfes adding: "It's very important and because the data will be better and better, it will become much more important in the future because you will get better results. We are working with our own team on scouting, preparing for next matches – just in our daily work."

The likes of Michael Ballack, Toni Kroos, Bernd Leno and Havertz have all made names for themselves at Leverkusen, and Rolfes continued: "We count on the young players [at Leverkusen]. We give them trust and the opportunity to play. For example, Wirtz, we give him the chance to replace Havertz and not sign another star to put in front of him. That is one thing.

"We have a very professional environment, we really take care of the guys – try to develop them, work on the pitch and prepare them for top football. We have an advantage that the media surrounding is not so big here. That's good for young players to have a familiar environment where they feel very comfortable and less stressful, then try to reach the best level on the pitch."

Wirtz is the heir apparent to Havertz, having made an immediate impact after the 17-year-old swapped Cologne for Leverkusen in 2020.

Having made his debut in May 2020, Wirtz became the youngest goalscorer in Bundesliga history the following month, finding the net in a 4-2 defeat to Bayern after coming on as a substitute. Dortmund's Youssoufa Moukoko has since snatched that record.

Among all players with at least 50 dribbles in this season's Bundesliga, only Augsburg's Daniel Caligiuri has a better dribbles success rate (70 per cent) than Wirtz (65 per cent). 

Wirtz is one of 50 players born in 2003 or earlier to appear in Europe's top five leagues this season. Those 50 players have collected a total of 14 goal involvements – with seven of them coming from Wirtz. 

Among all players in Europe's top five leagues born in 2003 or earlier, Wirtz played the most minutes in all competitions this season (1,579) and had the most goal involvements in all comps (11 – six goals and five assists). 

"I saw him for the first time at 13. Now I have to say, he is playing Bundesliga the same way he was playing at 13, 14, 15, 16 – I followed him all the years. I always said okay, that's the player for us, the player for Leverkusen. That was not a surprise for me when he came to us and adapted very quick to our style," former Germany international Rolfes said.

"It was also one argument I said to him during the transfer. I said, 'you are a player for us, you will develop your skills and strengths much better because that's what we need in our style'. His development is fantastic."

Like Havertz, Bailey could be the next Leverkusen star to leave amid constant speculation over his future.

The 23-year-old winger, who has scored four goals and supplied five assists in the 2020-21 Bundesliga so far, has been linked with the likes of Manchester United and Manchester City and Rolfes is unwilling to sell the Jamaican to just any club.

"He's played a fantastic season," Rolfes said. "He struggled a bit last season, but he is performing at a very high level. A good guy in the squad. He has a chance to score goals for sure. A fantastic technique. That's part of lives also, to sell players but we want to sell to the top eight clubs in the world, but not to other clubs. Sometimes a player will leave us. We have a contract with Bailey but we are quite relaxed."

Diaby is another prime example for Leverkusen, where the accelerating Frenchman has 561 sprints in the league this season, more than any other player. 

The former Paris Saint-Germain speedster has been involved in 15 goals in all competitions in this season (in 26 games) – with his next goal involvement the 21-year-old would already reach his value from his first season in Leverkusen (16 in 39 games). 

"When we extended the contract until 2025, that was a really nice Christmas present to extend the contracts of Diaby, Tapsoba and Wirtz," Rolfes said. "[Diaby] is a key player of our squad. His acceleration and speed is outstanding. He has developed on scoring and assisting. To use his acceleration on a top, top level. He has potential to develop further. I'm very, very happy he is part of our squad."

Meanwhile, Timothy Fosu-Mensah could be the latest success story for Leverkusen, who also completed the signing of Netherlands Under-20 international Jeremie Frimpong from Celtic on Wednesday.

After joining Manchester United's academy in 2014, the 23-year-old called time on his Old Trafford stay in January, and Rolfes said: "He is not so young but the last two years, you had the feeling there was more in the box than there was in the last two years. That's interesting for us, to sign that kind of player where you have the feeling they can reach more. We want to help him.

"Timothy is a really good guy, ambitious guy. I like this. He has the ability, the physicality, very fast, a good technique. A lot of fundamental things that are important for our playing style. Then if the mentality and ambition isn't right, then let's work on that to develop you. I'm convinced Timothy can be the next example for our club."

Kai Havertz was dubbed the 'Crown Prince of German football' while at Bayer Leverkusen but the Bundesliga club have a new star now: Florian Wirtz.  

While his former club colleague has struggled so far to make an impact at Chelsea, Wirtz - the latest young gem to come through at Leverkusen - is dazzling for Peter Bosz's team, who remain ensconced in the top four despite defeats either side of the mid-season break in Germany's top flight. 

The 17-year-old did not wait long to suggest he could be the heir apparent, either. Having made his debut in May 2020, he became the youngest goalscorer in Bundesliga history the following month, finding the net in a 4-2 defeat to Bayern Munich after coming on as a substitute. Youssoufa Moukoko has since snatched that record away.

This season, Wirtz has gone from the periphery to centre stage, scoring twice and providing four assists in 13 appearances. His transition from promising talent to first-team regular has been swift, leading to comparisons to Havertz, the playmaker who swapped the BayArena for Stamford Bridge.

However, for Bosz, while both players have huge potential, the duo differ in so many ways.

"I never compare players with each other because that is impossible. There is no player like the other," Bosz told Stats Perform News. "You can't compare them. That's not possible.

"I also won't do that with Florian Wirtz, because he has his own style. He is different from Kai Havertz, who is more of a striker. Florian Wirtz, as far as I am concerned, is a midfielder, so you can't compare them.

"Also, you can't compare them physically; Kai is 1.92metres (6ft 3in), Florian is shorter. One is left-footed, the other one right-footed. They both have their own style. But both of them are very good. Both are very talented. Both have a huge career ahead of them.

"And Florian is only 17 years old. What he has shown though in the Bundesliga already is something special."

Wirtz has been a part of a Leverkusen squad that has impressed so far in this campaign, both at home and abroad. 

Despite a first defeat to Bayern Munich before the mid-season pause in Germany, Leverkusen gathered 28 points from their opening 13 league games. Only three times have they managed to collect more points across the same period - and on each of those occasions they went on to finish in the top four.

In the Europa League, Die Werkself finished top of Group C to qualify for the last 32 in style, winning five of their six round-robin fixtures. Having reached the quarter-final stage of the competition last year, when they lost 2-1 to Inter, hopes are high they can go further this time around. 

But while there has been much to please Bosz and Leverkusen's supporters so far, the Dutch coach insists there is still plenty more to come from his squad.

"Everyone still has some space to improve," he said, insisting no player has reached a nine out of 10 yet. "The difference to last year is that we are very consistent now.

"We deliver stable performances. It means that we concede less goals. We stand more compact on the pitch.  

"But we have also lost important players. Kai Havertz went to Chelsea, Kevin Volland to Monaco. I think that our team spirit has improved. This is the biggest step ahead." 

Despite Havertz no longer being around, Leverkusen have been excellent going forward, with champions Bayern the only team to score more in the Bundesliga so far. Their attacking intent has not come at a considerable cost defensively either - only second-placed RB Leipzig have conceded fewer goals.

The emergence of Wirtz has been one of the factors in helping Leverkusen continue to progress as a club, even with those key departures in the previous transfer window.

 

"He's a very talented young player. He has a lot more to improve. But, you know, he's only 17," Leverkusen winger Leon Bailey told Stats Perform News about his talented young team-mate.

"He's still learning. But he has a lot of qualities that a lot of older players don't have yet. And that's something you can see clearly, and this is something that's special. 

"And I think, as the years go by, he will only get better. There is a lot more to come from him, as he understands more and get a lot more experience.  

"I would say he's very smart. He has a lot of quality when he's on the ball. And he has a great passing ability."

Bailey's assessment is backed up by Wirtz's output, with no Leverkusen player having created more chances from open play than his tally of 23. While his passing accuracy is perhaps lower than might be hoped for at 73 per cent, his touches in the opposing box (31) and passes into the final third (55) are examples of his forward thinking when in possession. 

Those risks have reaped their rewards this term too, considering his six goal contributions so far. Bosz clearly has faith in him, as only goalkeeper Lukas Hradecky and Moussa Diaby have played more minutes in the Bundesliga so far. 

Any suggestion of becoming the new Havertz may be wide of the mark, but the future looks bright for Wirtz, the latest jewel to emerge at Leverkusen. 

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