The Hard Tackle takes a look at Eric Bailly’s current situation at Manchester United and whether his sale could make sense for the Red Devils this summer.
Manchester United’s season so far can be deemed as somewhat successful as the club has gained new heights in the attacking unit, thanks to the ever-influential duo of Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes.
However, the Red Devils are still facing major issues in the defensive department that has struggled with a lack of consistency throughout the course of the campaign.
And if recent reports from The Sun are to be believed, Manchester United are set to face another setback as key defender Eric Bailly is contemplating on rejecting a 12-month contract extension he is due to sign next week.
It is believed that the defender has grown frustrated due to his lack of game-time. He was, in fact, linked with an exit from Old Trafford. And his frustrations with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has grown over time, especially following his omission from the squad in the second leg affair against AC Milan in the UEFA Europa League.
The defender is also furious over claims that he is an injury-prone centre-back – one who always “breaks down” in training, leading him to consider a swift from Old Trafford in the upcoming summer transfer window.
Here, at The Hard Tackle, we will take a deep dive into Bailly’s current situation at Manchester United and assess whether it would be the right decision on the club’s part to cash in on him this summer.
Eric Bailly’s importance in the Manchester United setup
Despite featuring in just 100 competitive matches for Manchester United since joining the club in 2016, Eric Bailly is a vital part of the club’s defensive unit for multiple reasons.
The Ivorian, for one, brings that variety in the middle of the park with his robust style of play. Indeed, his no-nonsense style of defending is ideally suited in more defence-oriented tactics, making him a perfect operator when dealing with teams with higher ceiling including the likes of Manchester City and Liverpool.
Standing at 1.87m, Bailly is quite dominant in the air. And although statistics are sort of irrelevant due to his lack of regular game-time over the years, the defender has notably won over two headed duels per 90 minutes while averaging almost four clearances and 1.3 shots blocked.
It is indicative of Bailly’s defensive prowess that makes it difficult for the opposition to get past him. It is also fair to consider the defender’s ability to read the game, having averaged over two interceptions per 90 in three of his five Premier League seasons (although he had played only four matches in 2019/20).
Aside from the defensive actions, it is Bailly’s unwavering attitude and aggression that makes him such an intimidating presence for the opposing attackers. As such, the 26-year-old has been quite unlucky with his lack of opportunities in the first-team, especially considering the fact Solskjaer has preferred someone like Victor Lindelof instead.
The potential downsides of Bailly’s prolonged stay at the club
There is no one questioning the defensive prowess of Eric Bailly, as well as the leadership, strength and experience he brings to the table for Manchester United, at the heart of the four-man backline. However, at one point, it would be rather ignorant of the Red Devils if they look over his poor fitness record over the years.
During his ongoing five-year spell at the club, the 26-year-old has suffered from many long spells on the sidelines, including an ankle injury in 2017 that kept him out for 100 days.
He also went through a knee surgery that kept him out for almost the whole of 2019/20, with the defender ending up making just four appearances in the Premier League.
This season, Bailly has mainly struggled with a lack of game-time. But he was out for almost one and a half month with a muscle problem while a few knocks here and there kept him out for a total of two months during the course of the 2020/21 campaign so far.
While the former Villarreal centre-back certainly makes a case for being more consistent than Lindelof, he is prone to making those odd errors that often cost his team points. It has been prevalent during the course of his career at Manchester United, coinciding with the club’s ongoing woes in the defensive unit.
Bailly’s relationship with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seems to have taken a major hit this season, and understandably so, as one may argue that the Manchester United boss has been too harsh on the centre-back, in regards to his team selection, often favouring Lindelof.
Nevertheless, with Bailly seemingly keen on leaving Old Trafford, it appears cashing in on him in the summer seems like the best option for the Red Devils. The defender’s current contract at the club already expires at the end of next season, meaning they will either have to sell him for a cut-price at the start of next year or let him leave the club for free, which isn’t exactly feasible given the current financial climate.
Speaking of which, Manchester United have already been linked with a move for a multitude of top-class centre-backs throughout Europe, including the “mentality monster” that is Kalidou Koulibaly.
While the Napoli star is undoubtedly a proven individual, he is likely to attract a sizable price-tag, which is where the potential sale of Bailly could make sense. With the Ivorian still having a contract until 2022, the Red Devils might be able to fetch a sizeable fee, giving them a financial boost in their pursuit of priority targets in the summer.