Jose Mourinho looked to have made a masterstroke in landing the signature of a certain Ivorian defender from Villarreal on the 8th of June, 2016. Not many teams were aware of the attributes that Eric Bailly possessed at just the age of 22 when he moved to Manchester United. The young player had a raw talent similar to that of Raphael Varane when he was brought in at the Bernabeu by Jose Mourinho when he was still the manager of Real Madrid. His pace above all else, convinced many that the defense of the new-look Manchester United team will not be easy to break down. It was all glitz and glamour for the Ivorian, but two years later, there are still issues at the back. Bailly has been in and out of the team because of one reason after another. In this piece, we explore what has happened to Bailly and why he has not yet achieved the expected success at Old Trafford.
"He also had a contusion which took his twenty-one days of training before going on his longest spell out of the side for a hundred days due to an ankle injury. In total, he missed 34 matches since joining the Manchester club. That's about a season spent on the treatment table." - Tinotenda Magiya, FirstTouch Africa
The African player went straight into the starting lineup in Mourinho's chosen eleven. He looked sharp, quick, calm and confident which made him a fan favorite in no time. Bailly looked the player that Manchester United longed for after losing Ferdinand and Vidic to old age. Mourinho's job was made easier at the back as he lifted the FA Community Shield, FA League Cup and the UEFA Europa League in his first season at the club. Bailly, alongside Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was one of the outstanding players in their quest to success. What a perfect way to start a career in England with arguably the biggest club in the world. What followed was something that no one could have guessed.
Eric Bailly, unfortunately, started picking up injuries in his second season at Manchester United. He suffered a knee injury in October 2016 which kept him out till December. He also had a contusion which took his twenty-one days of training before going on his longest spell out of the side for a hundred days due to an ankle injury. In total, he missed 34 matches since joining the Manchester club. That's about a season spent on the treatment table. This slowed down his development into a world class defender like all the youngsters nurtured by the Portuguese mentor. Think about the likes of Ricardo Carvalho, John Terry, Ramos, Varane, Walter Samuel, only to mention but just a few, he could have easily joined this company. With those 34 matches under his belt, the Ivorian centre back would have been on another level now.
When Mourinho identified him as a potential Manchester United defender, he knew he had the task to iron out inconsistencies out of Bailly's game. This still proves to be a difficult task even for the Special One because Bailly's performances have been unpredictable. One match, he plays like a world class defender; commanding the defence, instigating attacks with his defense-splitting pass and scoring goals on set pieces. The other, he looks uninterested in the development of play which frustrates his manager. Bailly has been demoted to the bench in the two most recent English Premier League games for Manchester United. The reason behind this is not quite clear but many allude that it is down to inconsistent performances. Bailly should work hard to come back stronger and cement his position in the starting lineup.
A few spots and wrinkles
Besides, Bailly has been culpable of some costly mistakes for Manchester United. This should not be a surprise considering his risky style of play which sees him holding the ball too much in search of open spaces for his teammates. Bailly has the confidence of holding the ball under pressure and releasing it when necessary but this has backfired on a couple of occasions. He usually covers it up with his amazing ability of intercepting passes but these errors are not easily forgotten among the Manchester United faithful. Perhaps one other growth areas for the Ivorian international would be the ability to balance passion and logic. Because he loves the game and the team so much, at times Bailly makes rush tackles even when they are not needed leading to dangerous set pieces and penalties for the opposition.
The sun has not set yet
There have been transfer rumours in recent weeks about the 24-year-old moving to the Emirates in Arsenal or their cross town rivals in Tottenham meaning he is still a prized asset in the game. Whether or not Bailly eventually moves, he still has enough time to work on his not-so strengths and become a world-class centre back. Perhaps having a more senior partner to mentor Bailly in a defensive pairing could help him a great deal. Look at Liverpool's Joe Gomez for instance, the 21-year-old is looking like a Kalidou Koulibaly only because the more experienced Virgil Van Dyk is there to compliment him. Confidence inevitably grows as well which is something Eric Bailly could really use at this point.