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Player Profile: Eric Bailly – The rise from an exciting prospect to United’s Mr. Reliable

In a summer transfer window that was notoriously recognised through the stellar star signings of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, it was perhaps the lesser-recognised recruit in Eric Bailly that turned out to be the pick of the bunch with regards to Mourinho’s acquisitions. The 23-year-old has certainly become a fan favourite at Old Trafford through his modern style of play that sees the defender operate with an aggressive mentality when defending, but also possessing real composure when on the ball. Bailly has certainly impressed in United’s rather depleted defence and certainly offers assurance whenever he is on the team sheet. So how did the Ivorian make such an impressive rise in the game at such a young age?

Youthful days in the city of Barcelona

It seems crazy to think that just three seasons ago Eric Bailly was only just making his senior debut, in the second tier of Spanish football for Espanyol B. The Ivorian joined the Espanyol youth academy at the age of just 17 and became an important member of the team just a year later, making 21 league appearances and was soon turning ahead heads from coaches within the senior team.

In fact on the back of such impressive displays in just his debut season, Bailly was soon promoted to the first team squad and would later find himself involved in Ivory Coast’s squad for the 2015 African Cup of Nations. Although still only being a raw product, Bailly was soon attracting attention from teams across Europe with Barcelona, United and Liverpool all reportedly keeping close tabs on the centre-half. The teenager was certainly showcasing his incredible defensive ability but most noticeably his maturity, the Ivorian even made an appearance in his nation’s African Cup winning campaign. A prospect like this that possesses a mixture of both forceful defending but yet such composure on the ball don’t come along all too often.

A quick move down the coast

As mentioned, Bailly was certainly turning heads from numerous teams but it was, in fact, Villarreal that quickly snapped him up for a bargain price of £4m in the January transfer window and soon became an important member of their side. United fans can actually ironically thank Arsenal for Bailly’s quick rise to fame as the defender was brought in on quicker notice than expected, due to Gabriel Paulista’s departure for the Gunners from the Spanish side.

Despite not being all that experienced, Bailly was trusted in Villarreal’s first team and the small gamble certainly paid off. The Ivorian, in fact, showed glimpses of his quality similar to as we have seen at United as with his powerful and agile system of defending, Bailly became a rock at the back in a successful campaign for The Yellow Submarine. After qualifying for the Champions League and also just falling short in the Europa League (semi-finalists), Villarreal certainly exceeded expectations and Eric Bailly certainly provided as one of their stars.

Flourishing as a Red Devil

After establishing himself as a solid and promising talent in Spain, Eric Bailly soon became the first signing of newly appointment boss Jose Mourinho at Old Trafford. The £30 million capture of Bailly has in hindsight been perhaps the bargain of the season, but of course, at the time he did arrive as a rather unrecognisable name for many fans in England. The 22-year-old’s arrival was met with optimism from the Old Trafford faithful but the young defender certainly did not need any time to settle down. The transition from Spanish football to the Premier League can certainly be a tricky one, particularly for a raw talent such as himself, but Bailly took to the move like a duck to water and it seems United have found a defender that holds all the right the tools to potentially become a club great.

Despite having suffered a couple of injuries this season, Bailly has for many fans established himself as the team’s most reliable defender and is certainly one of the first names on the teamsheet when fit. In a season where Mourinho has openly been critical of certain defenders in the squad, Bailly has certainly offered as a breath of fresh air for the manager, as each week Bailly looks to develop his game even further and extensively looms more and more comfortable with every game he plays. With his style of dynamic defending and pure desire for the club, some may even draw parallels to Nemanja Vidic when analysing Bailly’s performances.

Having played a pivotal role in United’s Europa League success in which he was named in the competition’s squad of the season, Bailly really has been an excellent and much-needed acquisition to United’s backline. Fans are certainly already excited to see how the Ivorian fares next season with the proposition of a potential partnership alongside Lindelof now becoming a reality. At the age of just 23, United certainly have a talent on their hands in which under the guidance of Jose Mourinho, could one day transform into one of the world’s elite.

Written by Joshua Gmerek-Iftakhar

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