José Mourinho is a liar. The manager’s absurd explanation for Eric Bailly’s extended absence from the team towards the end of the season was so blatantly false that it was hard to believe that Mourinho was not actually trying to insult the intelligence of the United fanbase. Even for a generation of Reds raised on a steady diet of Alex Ferguson media games, this was a lot to swallow. Mourinho actually expected us to believe that Bailly was out of team because Mourinho - famously known for his grace, ahem - had “space for a little bit of feeling,” and was intentionally prioritizing the players with a chance of going to the World Cup.
What might Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial have made of that one, then? No, Bailly was left out because of some perceived grievance on the manager’s part. More than likely, Bailly had the temerity to be injured when Mourinho would have preferred that he not be.
Pressuring players to play through injury is a dangerous game, but it is familiar territory for Mourinho. The Portuguese is infamous for his lack of patience with injured players, and as good as Bailly is, he is starting to earn that dreaded qualifier: when fit. The Ivorian is clearly the best prospect in a stable of unacceptable center back options, but this was another season marked by untimely and not insignificant injuries. He may be the least of United’s problems in defense, but an inability to stay on the pitch may well mean that he cannot be relied on long-term either. BM
There seems to be a near-unanimous verdict among Manchester United supporters that Eric Bailly — when fit — is the best centre-back in the squad. That, for reasons that remain unclear, is an opinion that Mourinho doesn’t seem to share. Injury problems only go so far in explaining the Ivorian’s lack of game-time this season.
Of course, Bailly’s game isn’t flawless, and it’s easy to imagine Mourinho being concerned by his oft-excitable positional play. But the signs we saw in his debut season at Old Trafford were hugely exciting: here was a man who had the Vidić-esque capability of dominating opposition attackers, matching strength in the tackle with impressive pace across the ground.
He’s still only 24, and needs to be playing regular football if he’s to establish himself among the world’s best young defenders. It would be a huge shame if he’s to leave United with his potential untapped. JS
A season of three ‘if’s.
If Eric Bailly’s injuries are problematic, to the point that he cannot be relied upon, then Jose Mourinho is entirely justified in leaving him out. He’s good, and looks to have the potential to be great, but he’s not good enough that United absolutely have to pick him and hope his legs hold out.
If, on the other hand, Bailly’s injuries aren’t that bad, and Jose Mourinho is indulging in some more of this weird macho posturing that he so adores and everybody else finds so utterly tedious ... well, wouldn’t that just be utterly tedious?
Finally, if United do pick up Tony Alderweireld or some other senior central defender this summer, then Bailly is definitely favourite to slot alongside him, develop, and eventually take over as the senior defender. Assuming, that is, his legs and Mourinho’s caprice don’t cock everything up. AT
Verdict: Keep, and stop being weird with him