Eric Bailly joined Manchester United from Villarreal in the summer of 2016 and quickly made a name for himself at Old Trafford.
Bailly’s quality as an aspiring footballer was spotted by Spanish outfit 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 enabling him to play.
Once his papers 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. He went on to become a regular in Espanyol’s first team before his powerful displays in the heart of defence earned him a move to Villarreal in January 2015.
The 6ft 1in defender’s first big move came during the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations, in which he netted his spot-kick in the final penalty shoot-out as Ivory Coast beat Ghana to claim their second title.
After a slow start at Villarreal, he made himself a mainstay in the club’s defence the following season. His tough tackling and no-nonsense approach helped the Yellow Submarine finish fourth in La Liga and reach the Europa League semi-finals.
Bailly secured a move to Old Trafford ahead of the 2016/17 campaign and his versatility proved crucial, as he made 38 appearances across all competitions and featured at both centre-back and right-back.
Although he missed the Europa League final through suspension, he did play the full 90 minutes at Wembley as United overcame Southampton to win the League Cup.
Bailly’s trademark tough tackling has made him a fan favourite in Manchester, but his impressive ball-playing ability and anticipation skills have taken his game to the next level.
Injury meant the defender had a very stop-start campaign in 2017/18, but when available Bailly was as dependable as ever and even managed to notch his first United goal in a 4-0 win at Swansea.
Although he continued to impress when on the pitch, a combination of injuries, a suspension following his red card against Bournemouth in December, and the form of Chris Smalling and Victor Lindelof restricted Bailly to 18 appearances in all competitions in 2018/19.
Unfortunately, a knee injury sustained against Chelsea at the end of April brought a premature end to his campaign and also ruled him out of the Africa Cup of Nations with his country.
After returning to action in pre-season, Eric suffered a further blow when he injured his knee again during the International Champions Cup win over Tottenham in July 2019. He underwent an operation and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed he would be out for four to five months.
Eric returned seven months later against the same opposition, in an impressive 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge, during which he was one of the outstanding performers. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 lockdown stalled his promising run of form, but he played a full part in the delayed close to 2019/20, helping United to a third-place Premier League finish and the semi-finals of the Europa League.
After making his 100th appearance for the club against Milan in March, he signed a new contract with the Reds in April 2021 and started in the Europa League final defeat to Villarreal the following month.