Eric Bailly has completed his transfer to Old Trafford from Villarreal, the Spanish club where the Ivory Coast international enjoyed a meteoric rise after making his La Liga debut in October 2014. The stage is now set for the 22-year-old defender to ascend under the guidance of new manager Jose Mourinho, adding further chapters to his increasingly remarkable story.
Bailly was born in Bingerville, Ivory Coast, also home to Manchester City striker Wilfried Bony, and his quality as an aspiring footballer was spotted by Spanish side Espanyol during a youth tournament held in Burkina Faso. He was signed by the Catalan club in December 2011 and joined their youth system at 17, but it was 10 months before he received a work permit that would enable him to play.
Once his papers had arrived, he became a regular in the Espanyol B team, playing under the name of Eric Bertrand, until deciding to use his mother’s surname, Bailly, instead. Having caught the eye of first-team boss Sergio Gonzalez, Eric sampled his first taste of professional football during a 2-0 La Liga win over Real Sociedad before registering his first start in a 1-1 draw with Villarreal, who quickly showed just how impressed they were by the young defender they had faced.
In January 2015, Bailly moved to Villarreal for a reported fee of £4.4million as a replacement for the Arsenal-bound defender Gabriel Paulista. It was claimed that Espanyol did not want to sell their rough diamond, but essentially had no other choice due to the club’s financial problems at that time.
Bailly’s first big transfer was completed during the 2015 African Cup of Nations in Morocco, where he made six appearances as The Elephants reached the final and drew 0-0 with Ghana. That led to a dramatic penalty shootout and Bailly bravely stepped up in the ninth round of penalties to score his spot-kick. After two more Ivorian goals, his ecstatic team-mates were crowned champions of Africa.
PROGRESS AT ESTADIO EL MADRIGAL
Although his start at Villarreal was slow, making 12 appearances as he competed with centre-backs Mateo Musacchio, Victor Ruiz and Daniele Bonera from January to May, he became a regular starter throughout 2015/16. This was his breakout season as he started 25 La Liga games in a team that conceded only 35 goals, as the Yellow Submarine finished fourth to qualify for the Champions League.
Bailly also featured heavily in Villarreal’s Europa League campaign and made seven appearances, including one against Liverpool in the semi-final. Injury ruled him out of the decisive second leg at Anfield when Jurgen Klopp’s Merseysiders secured progress to the final.
Following his transfer to United, the future appears to be bright for Bailly as he bids to impress new manager Jose Mourinho. A role at centre-back looks most likely, but the Ivorian can also play at right-back and his versatility could prove to be crucial. Either way, exciting times are ahead.