Leon Bailey is the latest exciting talent that we can all look forward to seeing in action in the Premier League, with the Jamaican international having just sealed a transfer to Aston Villa. Getting to know the winger a bit better ahead of his move, we spoke with him about the huge role his family play in his life, the responsibility that comes with fame, and the importance of maintaining individuality.

On so many levels, Leon Bailey is a player who embodies what it is to be a contemporary player. He sets trends, he’s hugely likeable, creative, resilient and incredibly hard working. Having caught attention and embraced the opportunity the game has given him, this is a man who is setting the scene alight whilst striking all the right notes.

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How would you describe the feeling football gives you and what's it like for you when you play? 

The beautiful game, I think was designed for me and I was born to play football. When I'm on the pitch the only thing I really love more than football is my family. When I'm on the pitch I'm a totally different person, I have a different feeling, nothing else matters, I just want to go out there and do it because I know what I'm doing it for. I love the joy from playing football. 

How much of you playing football is actually about freedom? For you is it more of a sense of paradise? 

Football gave me a way out to basically be able to help my family, help my community. It's a wonderful feeling to know that I've had a platform which has done tremendous things for me and helped a lot of younger people as well. To inspire them and most definitely give me a way out, to basically do a lot of good stuff for my family. 

Do you see football as escapism at all? 

It was definitely a way out for me, no doubt about that, it was everything that I dreamt of. We have been working very hard since I was young to accomplish that goal and I have accomplished it to become a professional. It was definitely a way out, especially being a Jamaican, it's a significant thing. I'm very grateful that I am able to have that platform and basically motivate the younger ones and of course help my family, which is very important. 

I can see family is a big thing for you. Obviously it comes with a lot of pressure as you rise through the ranks. How have you managed to handle that and that kind of pressure?

We have been handling pressure since we were very young. Since the first day we moved from Jamaica, to Austria, from Austria to Belgium and then from Belgium to Germany. It all comes with a lot of pressure because you have to adapt to everything. From the food to the culture, the climate, everything. Those things come with a a lot of pressure because everything is new for you, so you have to basically adapt as fast as possible.

So when I became a professional it was easier for me because I adapted to so many different things and being so young. It was easier for me to cope with the situation and so far it's been going great. I think I've been really pushing myself to continue on the same path.

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The beautiful game, I think was designed for me and I was born to play football. When I'm on the pitch the only thing I really love more than football is my family."

You must have learnt many lessons along the way. What have been the most valuable lessons that you have learned?

Growing up in Jamaica and going out with my dad we have learned so many lessons outside of football as well. Because these are lessons that you learn forever. There's this one saying that my dad always says, it goes "Give a man a fish and you will feed him for a day. Teach a man how to fish and you will feed him for a lifetime." So these are the lessons that we learn. We learn how to cook, from when we are very young, to wash, iron our clothes. These are life lessons that we knew were going to be important for us.

Everything wasn't just about football, there's so many different things that come with the game of football, to be able to cope with the game, to be able to cope with different people across the world. So there were many lessons that I learned outside of football which really curved me into the person I am today, to give such performance on the pitch every time I'm out there.

The more success you have on the pitch the more your fame grows off of it. What have you made of the attention that comes with the game?

It's quite tough sometimes honestly. Fame comes with a lot of responsibility. You have to make sure everything you do you do professionally because you have a lot of responsibility for the younger generation. Especially because they want to be like you or they look up to you. You have to be grounded, you have to stay humble as much as possible. Because a lot of people with fame it goes to their head and they change who they are as a person. You have a lot of younger kids who look up to them and they are not setting the level they need to set for these kids to want to be like them.

You are someone who is not afraid to express themselves on and off the pitch. How important is individuality to you?

For me expressing myself is something that I was born with as well. That's just who I am as a person, I knew that since I was very young. I always thought about how to do it in the right manner as well. I always thought when to express it and when not to express it. When to stand your ground, when to stay low key and stay humble. Respect your elders and the proper way of life. But when it comes to expressing myself I will never be afraid because I think everybody owns the right to express themselves whenever they want. So on the pitch I show the same energy as I do off the pitch.

It's so powerful for an audience to see character and individuality as it says to the world, it's OK to be whoever you want to be. What do you think about that also?

Honestly I think that whoever you want to be, you just have to remain focused and carry out what you know is right to be able to accomplish that. I think that being a role model it comes with a lot, so most of the time you have to hold your ground, work hard and everything else will come by itself. That's how I think about it. For the most part you have to stick to what you know and work hard for it.

Where did that flair and sense of personality come from for you?

That came from within me. I've always had my family around, family is very important to me. They have always motivated me, always been there for me. You can always turn around to your family, so whenever I know I'm going onto a pitch that's when all my flair comes out. I have a lot of responsibility, people I need to take care of, I have my country to make proud. So all of these things I think about when I go onto a pitch, all of these things bring up the flair within me. It makes me go 110 percent all of the time.

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You have kind of given us a bit of the backstory to it. Could you go a bit more in depth about the role models, personalities and family you had around you when you grew up and what impact that had?

Well my dad has obviously made the biggest sacrifice, I believe, because there were times when he left his job just to coach us. When we first travelled to Austria I remember he was cleaning toilets just so we could have food on the table. On top of that sometimes he wouldn't eat, just to make sure we are OK and he would still be there coaching us as well. So this is a big sacrifice he took. He believed in us before anybody else did and when I think about my brother's we have been through it all together, we know what struggle is, we know what a hard life is.

I have always said it before my brother's now, some of them are not my blood. Blood doesn't make you family but we are brother's because we have been through a lot. My mum hadn't seen me for five years – this is sacrifice. I was only 13 years old. For five years she didn't see me. I came back when I was 16/17 to Jamaica and she still had to stay strong. To believe in what we were doing, believe in my dream. So basically stay strong for us that was a sacrifice.

I didn't see my little sister for five years. There’s a lot of people, but they have always been there. We talk everyday, they have motivated us through the good and the bad times. They have all played their part in so many different ways. That's why for me family is important because at the end of the day they are all you got.

I love the way you are heavily family orientated that's such a big thing. Could you give us an insight into the culture that raised you and what was it like being a kid in your household where you grew up?

I grew up in Jamaica until I was 12 years old. Jamaica is a place where you have lots of fun. The culture is so amazing, the people are so calm, relaxed, always having fun and this is the person I am because of my culture. So when I'm in a different country that's everything that I have to adapt to. But I never change who I am because I live my culture so much.

Growing up in Jamaica is some of the best times for me though. My household where I grew up was in three different areas. I came from the ghetto. I lived in the ghetto for some time, but I was also in the upper class as well. I was used to both sides. I knew what life was like in the ghetto and upper class. For me those are also things that shaped me to be humble because I know what a lot of people don't have.

My family, my brothers, they always ensure that we stay grounded because they also know that it's hard out there, we have seen it so you should know it. My household always had a lot of laughter. I grew up with a lot of brother's, that are not my blood, but we played football together. It was the best time.

Jamaica is a place that means so much to you. How would you describe the country and your love for it?

My love for Jamaica is indescribable to be honest. That's also one of the reasons I chose to play for Jamaica. That's where all my family members are, I'm 100 percent Jamaican, not mixed, 100 percent Jamaican. I know the culture like the back of my hand and nothing makes me more happy than seeing our country strive and be where it needs to be.

Even if I can help that a little bit that would be such a great thing, not even for me, but for the kids who have dreams of making it out and want to be somebody. Hopefully they can have a better life, maybe football can be their way out as well. If it's not football maybe it can be something else. But I just want to help in so many ways where they see that anything is possible.

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Fame comes with a lot of responsibility. You have to make sure everything you do you do professionally because you have a lot of responsibility for the younger generation."

It must be incredible then to play for the national team. What is that like emotionally? What is it like for your family also that you represent Jamaica at the highest level?

It is very emotional. It was very emotional for me when I had the first game for Jamaica, in my hometown and the stadium was full, I was very emotional. I knew everybody wanted me to come and play for Jamaica and that was the first time, since I was a professional, I had my close friends, all my family members actually watching me on a pitch.

So for me it means a lot. It was very emotional for me and for them because some of them haven't got the opportunity to come to Europe and see a game. For me and for them it was very emotional. They know what the dream is and are helping in any way they can accomplish that. For myself and for the country.

Away from football, or at least off the pitch, who do you have a lot of respect and love for?

My family, my son, my girlfriend. I just had my son, so you have to make sure that they are number one. I have to make sure that I raise him in a way that he understands people can turn their backs on you, but your family will never do that.

Your wardrobe is something you are passionate about. What about the fashion industry as a whole? Is that something you would like to learn about?

As I get older I learn about it. I wouldn't say I want to learn more about it, it just comes naturally. I'm more focused on just playing football and living my life whatever comes with the fashion. The main focus is doing what I do best on the pitch. But of course I like fashion.

You are part of a generation of players redefining the game in such a good way. The likes of Jadon Sancho, as a close friend. What is it about your character and someone like him that gels you together so well?

He is half yardie, half Jamaican, he has been my friend for so many years now. We hang out together a lot. I brought him to Jamaica for the first time too. We have shared a lot of memories together and been on vacation together. That's what made us so close and also we play against each other a lot and live close to each other. Sancho is an amazing player, he's very young and talented, really talented. He has a lot of ability to become one of the best players in the world and I can see him going all out for that.

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With you guys being labelled the generation of “game changers” what do you think your generation will do for football? How will you change it in your opinion?

Football always comes with hard work. We are bringing something to the game that was already there, but we are doing it when we are still very young. Probably in a couple more years we are going to be more advanced than the past.

You have so many young players who are just killing it, 17, 18 years old. I started playing professionally when I was 18. Jadon Sancho is just 20 years old and is having an amazing season. He has done tremendous stuff. How many 20 year olds can we look back on and say, from this generation to that generation, are doing what these young kids are doing at the moment. Haaland is just 20 years old, Florian, who is playing for my team (Bayer Leverkusen) he is just 17 years old and scored 6 goals already, it's just amazing.

I think that's how we are changing the game. I think in a couple of years we will be more advanced than the players who were playing in the past years. We are some steps higher than their creativity back then. The game of football has advanced in so many ways since then and now. That helps us to carry out what we know we can do.

What footballers did you watch as a kid and did you support a team?

As a kid growing up I supported a few Premier League teams. In Jamaica the Premier League is the league to watch. Everybody is more drawn to the Premier League. I supported a few teams when I was young growing up. My idol back then was Ronaldinho, a very flair player. He was supposed to accomplish more than he actually did because he was one of the best. The things he did on the pitch was just a joy to watch him. That's what I bring to the game. When people pay their hard working money to come to the stadium, they want to see a little excitement and fun, so I give them that type of entertainment, that flair. If you can bring that and have confidence to do it then it's not a bad thing in my opinion.

You are now in a position as an established player. How has your position, the growth of your profile and elements changed your life?

It has in so many different ways. It taught me how to be a better person, it taught me how to stay grounded, it taught me to never look down on anyone. Never think you are better than someone because of the position you are in. You never know in life what can happen and who can surpass you in such a short time because this is the world we live in. I've experienced that. It's taught me to stay grounded, respect for everybody and just work hard.

How has it changed your family's life also?

They are able to live comfortably, they are able to not worry about things financially. I’m able to make sure they will never have to live that life they were living before.

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With the highs come the lows. Was there ever a moment that you thought you might not make it as a professional?

Never. My dad had always motivated us and showed us that we are going to be one of the best players in the world. We have always had that flair within us, that phoenix, the motto is never die and never give up. I always had that within me so I always knew something was going to come from it because we were so dedicated. We believed in it since we were so young.

What did you have that others didn't that made you succeed? Only a small number of people get to that level you are playing at now...

I couldn't tell what I have and what other people don't have, I can only tell you what I have: I have that determination, fight, never give up spirit, willingness to go all out to never respect your opponent when playing. It doesn't matter who they are just dominate, that's who I am.

Yesterday before a game, I'm not even going to lie, in my hotel I was watching videos of Patrick Kluivert’s son Shane Kluivert. I was just watching these little kids and they were really aggressive when making their actions. I learn even from little kids, I do watch everything. I keep a close eye on a lot of things in case I need to do certain things in that situation. Honestly, yesterday, I felt like I was very flairy in the game. I was taking on defenders, aggressive, this is what I was doing a couple of hours before the game. Watching these kids.

Looking forward, what do you want to most achieve throughout your career?

I want to be one of the best players in the world. I want to be a role model for my country, for younger kids who want to be like me and I want to be able to help people. These are the things I really look forward to in the future that I want to achieve.

Is there anything away from football, I know you said role model, but is there anything more specific?

When I say help people I mean people who are in difficult times. To accomplish something but they don't have any help. Maybe I needed to elaborate a bit more on it but help people who are not in the position to be helped.

What is utopia for you?

To accomplish all those goals I spoke about, it's quite simple. Achieve everything that I wanted to achieve. Once I achieve those I will be the happiest person. Helping people who are in need, being one of the best players in the world. If I can achieve all those things I'm the happiest person in the world.

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Photography by Johannes Höhn

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