This Saturday evening, at around 5pm UK time, a story broke in the Spanish media that Eric Bertrand Bailly could be José Mourinho’s first signing for Manchester United. Soon after, Guillem Balague, the UK correspondent for AS, followed up this story with his own stating that the deal could be finalised within the next few hours for a possible fee of 40 million euros, including variables.
The big question on social media after the rise of the story was: ‘who is Eric Bailly?’ Bailly is a 22 year old centre-back from Ivory Coast, who currently plays for Villarreal. The Ivorian is known mostly for his physical attributes, such as strength and uncommon speed for a central defender. Most would agree saying that the Castellón based side have had one of their most successful seasons in recent years, and this is no surprise to those who follow Spanish football, considering the talented players that proved their worth this season: Bruno Soriano, Denis Suárez, Cedric Bakambu, Víctor Ruiz, Mateo Pablo Musacchio and of course, Eric Bailly.
Life got serious not so long ago for Eric; only last season he made his way into Espanyol’s first team, and after playing just four league games for the Catalunya based side, Villarreal signed the young defender in the Winter Transfer Window for a total of 5,7 million euros. The whole idea of signing Eric was to replace Gabriel Paulista, who signed for Arsenal in that same transfer window. Shortly after his signing, Villarreal’s main defender, Mateo Pablo Musacchio returned from a long term injury, which had kept him out for most of the season. At the time, this meant that Eric’s game time was rather reduced. But coming towards the end of the season, the Argentinian defender had what can only be considered as a freak accident when he suffered a luxation in his right ankle, which kept him on the side-lines for over 5 months. Bailly managed to prove his worth with the few games he had towards the end of last season, with a standout performance against local rivals Valencia.
It was this season that really gave a true image of what this centre back is capable of. Despite having very strong competition in both Víctor Ruiz and Musacchio (later on in the season), he managed to play in a total of 35 games, in which he scored one goal, picked up 12 yellow cards and one red card. Eric managed to make stellar performances against Real Madrid, Atlético Madrid and Barcelona. Despite being a raw talent, the young Ivorian has proven to have many unique attributes as a centre back, and as a full back, despite it not being his best position. This being said, all young central defenders are bound to make mistakes, like his slip vs Atletico Madrid, which ended up costing his side the game at the end of his first senior season. His sending off at the start of this season versus Celta de Vigo was also a demonstration of his lack of first team experience, where he swung an arm at the Chilean Pablo Hernández. As a summary of his year with “The Yellow Submarine”, it can be said that he has more than proven his capabilities and at the age of twenty-two, the future looks bright for Eric, but is he worth the quoted figure? In today’s age, considering his potential I would say yes, but only time will tell.
To sum up the calibre of player Bailly is, look at the facts: he formed a big role in managing to qualify Villarreal for Champions League football next year, playing in a league with the likes of giants like Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid, the current Europa League Champions Sevilla, the big money spenders Valencia and other quality sides such as Athletic Bilbao and Celta de Vigo.
Not a bad season for any twenty-two year old I would say.