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Eric Bailly poses with the Europa League trophy on an aeroplane

Five reasons why Eric Bailly is a cult hero

Today marks the 24th birthday of our lovable, tough-tackling centre-back Eric Bailly! We could go on all day about his phenomenal talents and unique charm, but here are five reasons why the Ivorian is such a cult hero at United…

For United fans, the benchmark for any central defender that joins the club in the modern era is the much-loved partnership between Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Due to his very evident bravery and courage, Eric is frequently compared to our former Serbian hardman Vidic, rather than Rio, but the great news is that his style combines the best of that legendary pairing in one amazing package. His team-mates might have taken to nicknaming him ‘the Beast’, but Bailly’s poise and imaginative skill on the ball make him so much more than a traditional tough-as-old-boots defender. Just ask Mohamed Salah, who was deceived by an audacious Bailly roulette-spin during Liverpool’s 2-1 defeat here in March!
Some of the very best professionals in football history have frozen beneath the imposing stands of Old Trafford and their glitzy lights. Back in 1984, even Diego Maradona was rendered powerless before the cacophonous noise created by 58,000 baying Reds, when his Barcelona side were knocked out of the Cup Winners’ Cup at the quarter-final stage. Even some United players have said that Old Trafford can be a ‘daunting’ place when things are not going so well. Thankfully, the glare and the glamour do not appear to have fazed Eric once since his arrival. Despite playing just 40 top-flight games before moving here – for Espanyol and Villareal in La Liga– he’s responded to the challenge with glorious ease. More than that, he looks like he’s relishing every minute on the pitch.
We’ve already alluded to our no.3’s ability on the ball, and that fantastic Zidane-esque piece of skill against Liverpool, but Bailly doesn’t need a ball at his feet to enrapture the watching millions. His eccentric charm is often the delight of social media, and his unconventional repertoire includes sky-high warm-up jumps during the national anthems at the 2017 League Cup final, nicking one of Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s crutches during the celebrations that followed the Europa League final, and a range of joyous slides after goals and victories. If you follow any of the team’s Instagram or Twitter accounts, you’ll also be well aware that, like Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard et al, he’s quite fond of a good dance!
But make no mistake: Bailly might be great fun to watch, but hands up if you’d like to play against him? The Ivory Coast international clearly loves playing football but, ultimately, he’s a defender, and he’s not one for messing around when it comes to marking territory or making tackles. Eric made his United debut in the 2016 Community Shield against Leicester City and, to the glee of Reds everywhere, Bailly matched Jamie Vardy – who’d scored 24 league goals the preceding season – for pace, desire and strength in a captivating 90-minute duel. He’s one of those players who doesn’t just win the ball, but puts his whole soul and being into the act, making sure the opponent knows just how easily he’s accomplished his task. That infectious energy and enthusiasm gets both the crowd and his team-mates going. Against Liverpool, some of his challenges drew cheers so loud you could have mistaken them for goals! 

Bailly's brilliant United debutVideo

Incredibly, despite the composure, and the ease with which he’s taken to life in M16, Bailly still has his best years ahead of him. Sir Alex Ferguson wrote in 2013 that players’ best years are between the age of 24 and 28 so, providing Eric can stay fit, we have one hell of a defender on our hands; one that could be a mainstay of the United team for much of the next decade. 
Happy birthday, Eric, and long may you grace the United back four!

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