The last and only time Manchester United paid in excess of £30m for a defender (add-ons included), the Red Devils bagged themselves one hell of a player in the shape of Rio Ferdinand. No pressure on Eric Bailly’s young shoulders then, who should imminently become United’s next £30m-plus defensive signing.
The 22-year-old Ivorian is finalising a switch from Villarreal after a phenomenally assured breakthrough campaign for the Yellow Submarine and is set to spearhead Jose Mourinho’s first recruitment spree as United manager.
This is some honour given Zlatan Ibrahimovic had been the name earmarked to kick-start the new era, but with Bailly’s price tag, a hefty weight of expectation will follow.
In this respect, Red Devils fans may well be very pleasantly surprised. Here are five Bailly attributes that should have Old Trafford’s faithful purring like a moggy locked in a cream factory next season.
Being the best part of 6ft 2” Bailly is not a towering defender, but that should compliment his likely partner Chris Smalling who fits that description more. However the Ivorian is much speedier across the deck than the England international and perhaps comparable to Kurt Zouma, whom Mourinho signed at Chelsea, for his agility. His acceleration is more drag car than standard hatchback too.
Even at the top level few centre-halves regularly roll out the step-over or indeed the Cruyff turn (RIP). Footage of Bailly in action laughs in the face of the lumbering centre-back stereotype though. He glides past opponents with the consummate ease of a winger and rather than dallying on the ball, most manoeuvres seem to be pulled off at speed.
Although Bailly is being billed as a centre-half, which is probably the exact position Mourinho has in mind, Villarreal often deployed their man at right-back during 2015/16. With the attributes described above, it’s hardly surprising that he can slot in well on the flank.
Said footage also shows how well the Ivory Coast international reads the game, especially in central areas where he can often be seen cutting off through balls and stepping out with the ball. Bailly boast the highest amount of clearances and blocks per match among his Villarreal peers last term. This anticipatory intelligence is what really sets apart the very top defenders in the world from the rest, in a similar way to strikers at the opposite end of the pitch. Ferdinand, the hugely decorated United man Bailly will hope to emulate, was renowned for this in his Old Trafford heyday.
Blessed with an athlete’s physique, tenacious tackling and muscling his way in front of opponents seem to be Baily’s bread and butter. Clues suggest Bailly will not struggle with the physical hurly burly of the Premier League, rather he will revel in it.
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.