Eric Bailly: Hugely Talented and Endearing To One And All

Paul Pogba called him Manchester United’s funniest player last week, and he happens to be rather good at defending too. Having scored his first goal against Swansea City, things are looking ever rosier for Eric Bailly. It’s safe to say the Ivorian has taken to life in the Premier League rather well.

Bailly is a no-nonsense centre back who reads the game extremely well. Also fleet of foot and comfortable with the ball, he has a calm head under pressure: exactly what you need as a defender playing at Old Trafford. It’s no wonder he has already become a fan favourite, with the hard-as-nails (almost Nemanja Vidic or Jaap Stam-like) approach going down rather well indeed.

But there is another side to this man of steel. Last week, Bailly shared the below video on Instagram, which further endeared himself to United (and some opposing) fans. Teasing Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s return to Manchester – ahead of an official announcement which came on Thursday afternoon – he is shown to take a playful kick at the Swede in the dressing room at the AON Training Complex.

The behind-the-scenes video, captured at some point last season, offers an insight into the more humorous side of first-team life and supports Jose Mourinho’s many indications of a strong rapport between players.

Clearly, Bailly is as brave as a lion, and completely bonkers – jest or no jest.

He’s come a long way, too. In a recent interview with The Telegraph, it was shocking to find out just how far. Bailly was just a young teenager when he quit school to become the manager of a telephone box in Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast. Each day, he would empty out the box’s change, earning mere coins in the process, before going for trials with other hopefuls in the evenings and at weekends as he strove to leave his home country and become a professional footballer.

What’s even more remarkable – Bailly actually grew up as a striker and dreamed of becoming the next Didier Drogba, until he realised his attributes suited the centre-back role just as well. He studied Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos to model his game and by the age of 15 he played every game as part of a defensive backline. Both these things help explain his quick feet and mastery of potentially difficult situations. It’s a good job he is a quick learner.

Bailly’s rise to prominence is further astounding considering he had not played a competitive game of 11-a-side football until as recently as five years ago. Once he left home after a successful trial in a youth tournament in Burkina Faso, he spent four seasons with Espanyol, working his way through the ranks until he reached the first team. A move to Villarreal in 2015 and a largely brilliant season for El Submarino Amarillo was followed by his switch to United just one year later. And the rest is history.

As you learn ever more about Bailly, he becomes increasingly remarkable. Whether it’s the high standards he brings to the pitch, the hard work off it (as well as on) or the general comedic brilliance, we love having him around. Long may he stay.