Eric Bailly was arguably Manchester United’s best player in the first two months of the season.
The Ivory Coast international made a mockery of his tender years by playing with unbelievable maturity and assurance in a completely new league.
He was tough, first to every tackle and stroked the ball around with nonchalance at times.
But a knee injury deprived Manchester United of his services just as he was blossoming. He was out for over a month and only lasted a week on his return before hurting his other knee.
A trip the African Cup of Nations followed – another inconvenience for Manchester United fans in a stop start season for their new signing – and he returned this week to resume his club career.
But no sooner did he return than he was taken off again. This time he was playing for Manchester United’s reserves against Everton and The Daily Mail reported:
There was a slight concern as he was substituted due to picking up a knock to his ankle in the second half.
Bailly took his place on the bench with his foot taped and watched the rest of the game but his problem was dismissed as nothing serious.
Nothing serious maybe. But these niggling injuries early in a career can weaken the body and cause further problems down the line.
TFF thinks that the knee is the big problem area for a footballer. Most other joints and limbs can cope with regular injuries but Bailly certainly doesn’t want to be in a position, at 22, where he is getting regular tweaks to his knees and ankles.
Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho demands that his players metaphorically run through walls for him. Earlier in the season he said of injuries to Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling:
“We have players with problems but we have on the pitch players with problems,”
“That’s what I mean.
“I know in other sports – at the highest level – how many times you play and you are not 100 per cent.
“I have a friend who is a big tennis player and he remembers more the times he played with pain than the times he played without any pain.
“To compete you have to go to the limits. It’s a cultural thing for some. That is not my culture.”
“Smalling doesn’t feel that he can play 100 per cent with his pain,”
“Shaw told me this morning that he wasn’t in the condition to play, so we had to build a defensive line.”
But if he wants Eric Bailly to become the world class leader which his potential suggests then he may have to manage this youngster carefully.