Seemingly from absolutely nowhere, Eric Bailly has materialised and been snapped up by Jose Mourinho.
To most British football fans, the name won’t ring any bells and is probably not one that the Manchester United fans were expecting this summer.
Villarreal’s central defensive ace is Mourinho’s first signing as Man United manager, with the 22-year-old costing the Red Devils about £30m on a four year deal.
He has played 40 times in La Liga, the first five of which were for Espanyol before he joined Villarreal for £4.4m in January 2015. Bailly is a full Ivory Coast international and played in every game as the African side won the Cup of Nations just weeks after his El Madrigal switch.
Mourinho sees the new signing as a raw talent and said: “Eric has the potential to become one of the best around. We look forward to working with him to help nurture that raw talent and fulfil his potential. Eric is at the right club to continue his development.”
Bailly’s reputation has soared this season, which saw him play a key role as Villarreal sealed Champions League qualification, and it’s no surprise to see him make a big-money move this summer.
His prime asset is his extremely impressive physical presence, with his powerful aerial ability complimenting his pace and strength in the tackle.
The brave and determined youngster has less than 50 league games under his belt, though, so United fans should perhaps not expect him to immediately become a key starter.
He can sometimes concede possession in dangerous areas and doesn’t always show composure under pressure, but Bailly possesses all the physical tools necessary to succeed and the rest should come with more experience.
The Ivory Coast player has now become the club’s most expensive defender after Rio Ferdinand’s £29.1m move in 2002 and just like Mourinho, Bailly believes he is in the right place to take his career to the next level in a far more competitive league.
He said: “When United were mentioned I didn’t have to think twice. To play football at the highest level is all I have ever wanted to do. I want to progress to be the best I can be and I believe working with Jose Mourinho will help me develop in the right way and at the right club.”
The young defender was the key man in a Villarreal defence that kept 17 clean sheets in La Liga last season to secure fourth place as best of the rest behind champions Barcelona and Champions League finalists Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid.
Bailly’s displays in the big games will have particularly impressed Mourinho, who has his scouts trawling around the Spanish leagues in search of rough diamonds in need of polishing.
There have been some terrific displays by the young defender throughout the season and one of those showed his versatility as he was deployed at right back to mark Cristiano Ronaldo and then Gareth Bale out the game despite nursing a dislocated shoulder for much of the second-half as Villarreal won the game 1-0.
It was also no coincidence that he was absent as Villarreal’s hopes of reaching a first ever European final crumbled as Liverpool ran riot in the second-leg of their Europa League semi-final last month.
Bailly’s rise has been meteoric after a slow start to his career. As an African with no international experience he had to wait nearly a year for his work permit at Espanyol when arriving in Spain as a 17-year-old.
His star is in the ascendency again as Manchester United could make him a household name and certainly an even better player.