Two summers ago, Jose Mourinho’s first order of business as the new Manchester United manager was sanctioning a deal for the then little-known centre-half, Eric Bailly. After what can only be described as a colossal debut season, the Ivory Coast centre-half saw his stock rise extremely rapidly.
Quick, tough in the tackle, aggressive and always being on the front-foot are key traits that often are the makings of any world-class centre-half. When you throw in Bailly’s underrated pace and excellent aerial ability, it became clear that the self-proclaimed Special One had discovered an absolute gem. That was until disaster struck.
They say second-season syndrome is more than myth. For Bailly, his curse became injuries. After picking up a knock while on international duty for his country, the centre-back never fully recovered. From 38 appearances one campaign to 18 the next. Should we be concerned? At this point, who knows, but here’s to hoping this is an anomaly rather than the norm. The next twelve months are vital.
It’s no surprise that, from that point forward, United began to concede goals at an increased rate. The hectic winter period, without their star defender, became their title-race downfall. Who knows what would have been if Bailly were fit.
In the former Villareal man’s absence, Mourinho had to rely on the inexperienced Victor Lindelof, an error-prone Phil Jones and the highly erratic Chris Smalling. Having one take to the pitch is bad enough, but when more than one of these guys are on the field at the same time, that spells bad news for the Old Trafford faithful.
Having watched him week-in-week-out for the better part of a year, there is more to Bailly than just his technical ability. Although not as vocal as some, he’s a real leader. If the defence needs organising, he’ll sort it. Need someone to baulk at a teammate? No problem, he’s your man. It’s a rare gift. That’s captain material.
Furthermore, there is this likeability about Bailly. Sometimes, players just rub fans up the wrong way. United’s #3 gives off the impression that he just enjoys playing the beautiful game. Watching him perform with a smile on his face is a breath of fresh air.
There is this theory that something has gone on between player and manager. If that’s true, there’s a major issue. Finding players with Bailly’s dedication and potential isn’t easy, replacing him, particularly so soon would be disastrous. You wouldn’t put it past Mourinho, though. He’s fallen out with players aplenty throughout his illustrious managerial career to date.
Rather than possibly having to replace Bailly, the focus should be on finding him a world-class partner. There are options out there. My first-choice would be Raphael Varane. Failing that, a move for Tottenham Hotspur’s Toby Alderweireld would a magnificent piece of business. We all know how tough it is to lure players away from Daniel Levy’s vice-like grip, mind.
Maybe Mourinho is to keep the faith with the aforementioned Lindelof. The one they call the Ice Man is having himself an excellent World Cup for his native Sweden. Whether he can replicate that on the domestic stage is an entirely different proposition, however.
At just twenty-four, the world is Bailly’s oyster. Thankfully, time is on his side. His best years are still to come. What’s absolutely vital is that he get’s a full pre-season under his belt. This will give him the best opportunity to return to his scintillating best. The fact that the Ivory Coast didn’t make the World Cup spells good news for the Red Devils, too…
United didn’t win any major trophies last term, while Bailly spent the majority of the season injured. Coincidence? I think not.