Some players are perpetually linked with a move to a club but nothing ever materialises.
Simão Sabrosa was on Liverpool’s radar for what felt like an eternity. Thomas Müller is regularly named as a Manchester United transfer target. There are countless other examples of this, too, and every club has its own mythical beast. The one player they’re destined never to sign despite the countless links.
But Chelsea, however, could defy the odds to sign their longest of long-term targets. According to reports, the Blues are, once again, exploring the possibility of signing Leon Bailey. The Bayer Leverkusen wideman has been on their wishlist since 2015 and every transfer window sees the speedster identified as a potential arrival.
The 22-year-old named Chelsea as one of the clubs who tried to sign him before his 2015 switch to Genk.
“Chelsea, Liverpool, Juventus, were all clubs that my name had then been linked with, contacted by. Everyone wanted me, but not everyone could get the paperwork in order,” Bailey said. “I did it (joining Genk) for my development, not the biggest club. I have to play at my age and progress.”
The Blues tried to sign Bailey again in January 2017 only to see him end up at the BayArena. Reports at the time claimed Bailey turned Chelsea and Manchester United down in order to play first-team football with Bayer Leverkusen.
In his first full campaign in Germany, the Jamaica international stole the show for Die Werkself, netting nine times in 2,223 minutes and chipping in with six assists. His form caught the eye of every top European team and Bayern Munich seemed his likeliest destination with the Bavarian giants looking for someone to eventually succeed Arjen Robben.
He remained a Leverkusen player but 2018/19 wasn’t as kind to him or the club. Bailey struggled for form and the change in management didn’t do him any favours. His output significantly dropped and interest in him waned.
Despite making just seven starts this season he’s already matched his return of five goals and one assist last term. He’s performing for Leverkusen on the big occasions, too. Bailey struck twice in the 2-1 win over Bayern, netted in the 4-3 win over Borussia Dortmund and opened the scoring against RB Leipzig.
His last outing for B04 before football was halted was in the 3-1 Europa League win over Rangers. Bailey scored and the Sunday Express claim Chelsea had scouts in attendance.
Frank Lampard's side need to freshen up their attacking ranks. Pedro and Willian are both winding down their Chelsea careers and are out of contract this summer. That means the Blues only have Callum Hudson-Odoi, Mason Mount and Christian Pulisic to pick from moving forward.
Wilfried Zaha has been named as a target while Jadon Sancho is believed to top the club's wishlist. However, Borussia Dortmund's demands are a little excessive, with reports suggesting that want more than £120milliuon for the England international.
Zaha is a lot of things but a reliable goalscorer he is not. He's a menace in wide areas but Chelsea need someone who can combine trickery with goals. Without the former, you're a passenger in the attack. You're also far too one dimensional to excel in the Premier League. Bailey offers both.
The above graphic shows Bailey's dribble map. On a per 90 basis, he's attempting 4.83 dribbles and completing 65 per cent of them. He isn't overly reliant on volume. Whereas, for example, Eden Hazard attempted close to seven dribbles per 90 during his final season at Stamford Bridge. The Bayer Leverkusen No.9 is an effective, rather than elite, ball carrier. But he doesn't have to be.
What makes Bailey an even more intriguing option is that he's a left-footer playing on the left. In theory, it should be easier to defend against him. Opponents can pin the explosive winger against the byline and push him out of play. But, as the graphic shows, he completes a high number of his attempted dribbles – primarily on the left flank.
On paper, Chelsea would have a perfect balance if they deployed Bailey on the left and Hudson-Odoi on the right.
Not only is he an adept dribbler, but Bailey also has quantifiable output. Granted, the sample size isn't the largest given the 22-year-old has suffered from injuries and missed games through suspension after two red cards. But Bailey has averaged 0.65 goals per 90. He's adding value to his efforts with his placement, too.
His expected goals average is 0.5 but his post-shot expected goals average, a metric which takes into account the final destination of the shot and not just where it was taken from, is 0.57.
Bailey is adding 0.07 to his shots on a per 90 basis. Over the course of a season, that's almost three more goals, purely because of his finishing ability. The below image helps explain why that is.
Bailey hasn't had many shots on target this season, 11 in total, yet 45 per cent have hit the corners and three of his five goals have arrived in those areas. He might not be in the same stratosphere as Sancho when it comes to reputation but, in terms of the impact, he could be just as influential for Chelsea – and for a fraction of the price.
Reports claim the German club expect a bid in the region of £80million for Bailey. Pricey, yes, but it is the going rate for a player of his profile. This move has been five years in the making but now could be the ideal time for Chelsea to make it.
With all eyes on other Bundesliga stars, the Blues could get a free run at the Jamaican.