When Gabriel Paulista went to Arsenal in late January 2015 it was noted that the challenge for Villarreal would be to replace the Brazilian. Maintaining the good work done under Coach Marcelino since their return to La Liga would be no easy task. El Submarino Amarillo’s response was to sign an Ivorian centre-back by the name of Eric Bailly.
Bought from Espanyol for just €5.7m, a day after Gabriel’s departure, Bailly’s first six months consisted in settling at the club, making just 11 appearances.
However, his first full season at Villarreal has allowed him to show his vast talent. Partnering mostly with the ever reliable Victor Ruiz, he's contributed to a robust defence which conceded 35 goals in the League this season and kept 15 clean sheets. Collectively, Bailly operates well as part of a defensive system that concedes less than a goal per game in the top flight.
Individually, he's capable to deal against imposing strikers, as Bailly uses his physicality and pace to counter any attackers looking to give him the slip. Moreover, Bailly has acquitted himself well against the League’s top teams, helping to grow his reputation. Against Real Madrid at Estadio El Madrigal he nullified Cristiano Ronaldo as Los Merengues were defeated 1-0.
His importance was shown in the Europa League semi-final against Liverpool. In the first leg Villarreal kept a clean sheet as they won 1-0. In the second leg at Anfield, they crumbled without the injured Bailly lost 3-0.
Despite his vast potential, Bailly has shown his rawness, in only his second full season in Spain. Discipline has been a concern at times. In his Europa League debut for Villarreal in March 2015 he was sent off against Sevilla. Moreover, this season he racked up nine yellow cards in 25 League appearances, five coming in the first eight games.
Importantly, the Ivorian cleaned up his discipline issues in the latter end of this season, though his slight indiscretions show how much of a rough diamond he truly is. Manchester United’s strong interest shows their belief in him especially as they are willing to pay upwards of €30m.
Bailly’s physicality and quickness is well suited to the intense demands of the Premier League and should ex-defender Rio Ferdinand accept a role at Manchester United he could help chisel the rough parts of the 22-year-old’s game to the point he could truly shine as a player.
Bailly’s departure would hurt Villarreal, as he's grown markedly under Marcelino’s guidance. However, the Yellow Submarine shall endure, no doubt putting the proceeds of the transfer, should it go ahead, to good use. Bailly, a new exciting chapter begins in the Premier League.