When Eric Bailly joined Manchester United in 2016 from Villarreal for £30million, the Ivory Coast international wasted little time in making an impression.
Handpicked by Jose Mourinho to be one of the Portuguese’s first signings, Bailly impressed fans with a playing style somewhat reminiscent of ex-United skipper Nemanja Matic.
In his debut campaign, Bailly made 38 appearances in all competitions as United secured Community Shield, League Cup and Europa League triumphs.
However, in the last two seasons, he has made just 35 appearances and looked a shadow of the player that shone in his first campaign.
Certainly, injury and a loss of confidence have played their part, but Bailly now finds himself as fourth choice centre-back, behind Victor Lindelof, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.
He has played 90 minutes just four times under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, and hasn’t featured since the 3-1 win over Paris Saint-Germain – where, having started at right-back, he was hooked after just 36 minutes, after being at fault for the PSG equaliser.
Now, with less than 18 months left on his deal and United chiefs looking to strengthen at the back, Bailly’s future is far from certain, with a parting of ways looking likely for the 24-year-old when the transfer window reopens.
And, according to the Sun, Bailly is set to be handed an unlikely escape route this summer, with a return to Spain with Real Madrid.
It’s claimed that sources close to Bailly are aware United are ready to move on defensive targets and that they believe Bernabeu chiefs have the Ivorian on a list of ‘first-tier’ targets this summer.
Zinedine Zidane has returned to Madrid and will have greater power than during his first spell, in terms of who arrives and who leaves the Spanish capital.
One of the his first tasks is persuading World Cup winner Raphael Varane to stay put, amid interest in the France international and suggestions that he is keen on a new challenge.
If Zidane is successful in doing so – and Madrid have already made clear that they have no interest in selling Varane – then chances of a move for Bailly would seem extremely slight, regardless of the thoughts of the player’s camp.
The club already have skipper Sergio Ramos as Varane’s defensive partner, plus Spain international Nacho as an able deputy.
Los Blancos have also announced the arrival of Porto’s Eder Militao this summer too, meaning there is already plenty of depth in defence, with other areas looking in far greater need of strengthening.