Amidst the euphoria of a sixth successive win under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and the emergence of Victor Lindelof as the rock in United’s defence, one man who has become a bit of an afterthought is Eric Bailly.
Bailly has had a stop-start two and a half years at Manchester United so far. Despite his enormous potential, badly-timed injuries and bad run of form have stagnated his progress under Mourinho and Solskjaer. However, with all the criticism the defender is on the receiving end of, it is easy to forget that he is still only 24.
Eric Bailly: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back
The Mourinho Era
The Ivorian was a Jose Mourinho signing and was touted to be the solution to United’s perennial central defence woes.
Bailly started the first nine Premier League games of the Portuguese manager’s first season as United boss but an injury and a dismal display in a 4-0 humiliation at Chelsea saw him make no start in the next ten games. His mid-season injury problems ended up being a minor blip in what was a fantastic first season at United though.
Eric Bailly was one of the stars of United’s victorious Europa League campaign in 2016/17. Though he tragically missed out on the final due to suspension, he would finish the Premier League season strongly, starting 13 of the last 15 games. By the end, he was the undisputed number one centre-back at the club.
Though United’s domestic performances became more consistent in Mourinho’s second season, Bailly’s injury troubles returned and this time with a vengeance as the player managed only 13 league games all season. He also played the full 90 minutes in that fateful match in March 2018 against Sevilla at Old Trafford as United crashed out of the Champions League.
The Era of Positivity and a Lack of Self-Discipline
It is unreal how a simple change in mentality and mood around a club can bring a change on the pitch as well.
Bailly started United’s first two games of the season in August under Jose Mourinho but a horrendous showing in the second of the two, a defeat at lowly Brighton, saw the Ivorian dropped by the now-former United boss until the visit of Arsenal to Old Trafford in early December. Between the Brighton and Arsenal games, the defender appeared on the bench thrice while was dropped altogether from the matchday squad on five occasions.
The last straw for Jose Mourinho and seemingly Eric Bailly as well came in the 3-1 defeat to the old enemy at Anfield which saw the manager get the sack. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer came in with a renewed feeling of hope around the club. However, the new sense of optimism did not help the Ivorian defender attain a starting berth in the new manager’s first eleven. When he did get a chance however, starting the third game against Bournemouth, the former Villareal man spectacularly blew it by putting in a true Jekyll-and-Hyde performance, putting in a fantastic, goal-saving tackle seconds before receiving a straight red for a rash lunge.
At 24, there is no doubt the defender could still have a long and successful career at United, alongside Victor Lindelof. However, he would need to weed out the erratic part of his game and become a more consistent, 7/10 every game, performer.