The Ivorian centre-back will be plying his trade at Old Trafford next season. Paul Wilkes provides the lowdown on the man who was originally Gabriel's replacement at El Madrigal...
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- Date of birth: April 12, 1994
- Place of birth: Bingerville, Ivory Coast
- Height: 6ft 1in
- Position: Centre-back
- Current club: Villarreal (47 apps, 1 goal)
- International: Ivory Coast (14 apps, 0 goals)
It's five years since Eric Bailly first arrived in Spain, but it’s only now that he’s making an impact in La Liga. As part of Champions League-chasing Villarreal’s backline, the physically imposing centre-half is making up for lost time after a forced delay to life at Espanyol.
Upon arriving at Cornella-El Prat in December 2011, the Ivorian had to wait 10 months before receiving his work permit. It then took another 10 months for him to make his competitive debut for los Periquitos' B team in the Seguna Division B, helping them to an 8th-place finish in Spain’s third tier.
Bailly has put his ponderous start firmly behind him in the last couple of years, though. In January 2015, he featured in every game as Ivory Coast won the Africa Cup of Nations for the second time in their history, and signed for Villarreal in the same month.
Bailly became Gabriel's replacement when the Brazilian left for Arsenal, then a horrific injury suffered by Mateo Musacchio gave him his opportunity to become Victor Ruiz’s regular partner at the back much sooner than anticipated.
Why you need to know him
Bailly's ascent shows no signs of slowing, with the 22-year-old having now put pen to paper at Manchester United.
He started the first seven league matches of 2015/16 campaign as Villarreal conceded just four goals, but a dismissal for two yellow cards in the following game with Celta Vigo threatened to derail his progress.
He still impressed when called upon, though, with a sublime showing on the right-hand side of the defence against Real Madrid a particular highlight
"The sending off is absolutely absurd, and of course preventable, and completely indicative of the final result," lamented manager Marcelino. "It's something we have to improve, when for two consecutive two times an error is reiterated and we lose while playing in numerical inferiority."
The coach didn't hold the misdemeanour against the youngster, however, and he responded immediately with a goal and man-of-the-match display against Dinamo Minsk in the Europa League just four days later. Villarreal then kept a clean sheet against Las Palmas without the suspended Bailly, who was then immediately restored to the lineup for the subsequent victory over Sevilla.
For the next three months, Bailly was rotated in and out of the side as the returning Musacchio stepped up his recovery. He still impressed when called upon, though, with a sublime showing against Real Madrid a particular highlight.
He's adept at using his body to shield the ball away from danger and his speed ensures he can make powerful recovery tackles when required
Bailly is strong, quick and good in the air, which makes him perfectly equipped for the demands of the Premier League. He is adept at using his body to shield the ball away from danger, and his speed ensures he can make powerful recovery tackles when required.
His positioning is solid and he averages 2.4 interceptions per game, while he’s also demonstrated a degree of versatility by performing well at right-back and left-back this term.
He’s not quite the accurate passer you might expect a player Jose Mourinho has designs on to be, although his on-the-ball attributes are improving with every game and his relative inexperience means he can be moulded by any future manager with particular stylistic beliefs.
He lacks discipline at times, which has seen him receive 11 cautions in all competitions this season, and his decision-making is not always as consistent as his manager would like
Bailly is still extremely raw and prone to making errors due to his limited top-flight experience. He lacks discipline at times, which has seen him receive 12 cautions in all competitions this season, and his decision-making is not always as consistent as his manager would like.
He’ll certainly need to improve his passing out from the back, too, with Bailly generally looking to play a simple ball to his centre-back partner.
The learning curve is steep, but Bailly has the raw ingredients to improve with the right guidance.
"We analysed the market and looked for a player with a specific profile, similar to that of Gabriel Paulista, since we are looking for a complement to the other defenders," Marcelino said when Bailly joined the Yellow Submarine.
Then-Ivory Coast coach Herve Renard explained after including him in his 2015 Africa Cup of Nations squad: “In regards to Bailly, we followed him for some time. My deputy Philippe Beaumel went to see him in a game where the score was unfavourable for them, but he still had a good performance. I think he is a good player and if he can shake up the hierarchy, it will be good for us.”
Did you know...
Bailly was spotted by Espanyol’s Emilio Montagut after taking part in a youth tournament organised by Spanish company Promoesport. The competition wasn’t even in his home nation, with neighbouring country Burkina Faso hosting the event.
What happens next?
Bailly had been heavily linked with Manchester City; Spanish daily Marca recently reported that he was watched by scouts from the Premier League side in Villarreal’s Europa League clash with Sparta Prague.
But as with Gabriel, Villarreal have been happy to sell having received an offer of around £30m for the defender. What's next will be tough for the young stopper, who'll be tasked with helping to strengthen a backline that's been in need of proper reinforcement for some time. This is the deep end.