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Manchester United: What does Eric Bailly’s new deal mean for Red Devils’ defence?


News of Eric Bailly’s new deal at Manchester United raised eyebrows in some quarters as it was only a matter of weeks ago that the suggestion was the unhappy Ivorian was ready to quit. 

There he was on Monday afternoon, pen in hand, signing a new contract to stay at Old Trafford through until 2024.

Bailly, 27, has struggled for game-time behind Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof and with talk of a summer arrival, his opportunities looked set to become even more remote. Even with this new deal, many feel he could still be the fourth option.

Eric Bailly was convinced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to commit his future to Manchester United

Eric Bailly was convinced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to commit his future to Manchester United

Solskjaer believes Bailly's speed and aggression will prove important to the United squad

Solskjaer believes Bailly’s speed and aggression will prove important to the United squad

Bailly is said to have received sufficient reassurances over his playing time and has agreed a new long-term deal at United, with the option of a further year. 

He arrived under Jose Mourinho from Villarreal but has seen himself fall down the pecking order under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, with form and fitness both contributing factors.

Nonetheless, he insists he had no hesitations over a new contract.

‘This decision is something I didn’t have to think about, I love this club and I love playing for Manchester United,’ he told the club’s official website following Monday’s announcement.

Bailly is believed to have been given assurances by the boss that he will get more game-time

Bailly is believed to have been given assurances by the boss that he will get more game-time 

‘I’m happy and so are my family, everything is good. Now the moment with my injury has passed and I’m fit and feel good, and that’s it. A new contract is like a new challenge and I’m ready for this.

‘That’s why I say the new contract shows the group has confidence in me – the coach, the staff and the players and, for me, that is very important. And that’s why I made this decision to stay at the club.

‘For me, it’s the dream to be here. Now it’s my fifth season and I hope to be here a long time.’

The question now is, what does it all mean for the future of United’s defence? Maguire wears the captain’s armband, Lindelof has the trust to partner the England international, Axel Tuanzebe is a highly-rated academy star and is there any life left in forgotten man Phil Jones? Sportsmail breaks down United’s options… 

HARRY MAGUIRE

Age: 28

Contract: Until 2025

In short: he’s going nowhere. 

Bailly’s new deal is no threat to Maguire and the future of United’s defence will be built around him, rather than leave him watching the construction with a hard hat from afar. 

Harry Maguire (centre) is United captain and he will be at the heart of the defence for years

 Harry Maguire (centre) is United captain and he will be at the heart of the defence for years

He’s in his prime for club and country at the age of 28 and it spoke volumes when Solskjaer was keen to give him the armband. On and off the pitch he has become a role model for a dressing room crying out for leadership.

The focus now seems to be to find a long-term partner for Maguire, hence talk of a summer move for one of Europe’s finest defenders.

Lindelof and Bailly will likely be able to audition for the full-time role but doubts remain over both.

RB Leipzig’s Dayot Upamecano was a target but he has since committed to joining Bayern Munich at the end of the season.

Raphael Varane, Pau Torres, Jules Kounde and Dan-Axel Zagadou have all been mooted as potential options with all four able to provide pace alongside Maguire, an area which is key to partner the ex-Hull City and Leicester defender.

Villarreal's Pau Torres (right) as mooted as a potential long-term partner for Maguire at United

Villarreal’s Pau Torres (right) as mooted as a potential long-term partner for Maguire at United

Losing Marcos Rojo in February in a permanent deal to Boca Juniors opened a spot in defensive options while Tuanzebe is out of contract next summer and nobody quite knows at Carrington what is left of Jones.

United cannot be left in a situation where one injury to Maguire could go on and derail their season. 

United have shipped 11 goals more in the league so far this season than champions-elect Manchester City and United have seen the impact a signing like Ruben Dias has had in fixing City’s issues defensively.

Maguire has provided a major presence but needs a long-term partner and so far it appears unclear if that man is – or isn’t – Lindelof. 

VICTOR LINDELOF

Age: 26

Contract: Until 2024

Unlike Maguire, Lindelof may have shuffled uneasily at news of Bailly’s long-term contract extension.

The Sweden international has successfully managed to establish himself as Maguire’s regular partner in central defence under Solskjaer but if Bailly has assurances over playing time, it would suggest he is far from established moving forward.

Lindelof made a slow start to life at United when he arrived in 2017 but has gone on to look much more comfortable in English football.

Victor Lindelof (right) has largely had trust of Solskjaer (left) to be Maguire's regular partner

Victor Lindelof (right) has largely had trust of Solskjaer (left) to be Maguire’s regular partner

He has made 40 appearances across all competitions this season, compared to Bailly’s 15, and would appear to have the edge but talk of a new partner for Maguire, even before Bailly’s extension, can’t have filled him with much optimism.

The Swede extended his own deal back in 2019 through until 2024 and Solskjaer was full of praise for him then.

‘He brings calmness on the pitch and I can see that he is determined to help this club and to be successful here,’ Solskjaer said.

‘I’m extremely happy that he has committed his future to Manchester United.’

The challenge has been laid down for Lindelof, go and prove you are as secure in the starting XI as Maguire.

AXEL TUANZEBE 

Age: 23

Contract: Until 2022

The big casualty, it seems.

It was Bailly and Tuanzebe that found themselves out of contract next summer and talks were struggling to progress for either to extend until Bailly was convinced this week.

Tuanzebe is highly-rated by supporters but it may mean little when it comes to his future at the club. 

Bailly has got assurances over playing time that have convinced him to stay but it is difficult to see Solskjaer extending the same promises to the 23-year-old given he has Maguire and Lindelof already top of the pecking order.

Axel Tuanzebe (left) played well against PSG but has found opportunities difficult to come by

Axel Tuanzebe (left) played well against PSG but has found opportunities difficult to come by

Tuanzebe is out of contract next summer and it may be a loan move next season that can allow him to stake his best case of regular minutes.

Since breaking into the first-team group the Academy starlet’s progress looks to have been stunted and despite an impressive performance away against Paris Saint-Germain in this season’s Champions League, he does not seem primed to break up Maguire and Lindelof.

If a new defender comes in he could find himself fifth choice and there is a growing sense that news of Bailly’s renewal comes worst for Tuanzebe, who may have hoped an exit for the Ivorian opened the door for a possible run at the first team.

He has made 15 appearances for United this season, just six of which came in the Premier League, and a split between Tuanzebe and United appears the most likely scenario from this position. 

PHIL JONES

Age: 29

Contract: Until 2023

Jones should have served as a warning to United when it came to mulling over whether to give Bailly a new deal.

Like Rojo, who has now departed, Jones showed little prior to being given a long-term extension, only to find it a false dawn with fitness an issue. 

These long-term deals for players that, deep down, they don’t really want makes them immovable objects in the transfer market because no team wants to match salary. 

Phil Jones is at United to 2023 and yet he remains miles away from playing in the first team

Phil Jones is at United to 2023 and yet he remains miles away from playing in the first team

Jones, who extended his deal in February 2019, is on United’s books until 2023 barring a miracle that someone actually wants to pay money to sign him.

He has sat out this season due to injury but was seen training for the first time in 2021 a couple of weeks ago.

Jones suffered a troubling knee injury in January 2020 and he has never fully got to grips with it since.

Solskjaer did bizarrely include the centre back in United’s Premier League and Europa League squads for this season but the chance of him ever getting a run out was remote to none.

Bailly was a chance for United to buck their own trend by offering ageing – and injury-prone players – lucrative contract extensions but they opted to give him one anyway despite Jones serving as a constant reminder at Carrington.

The Ivorian’s deal means nothing for Jones – he is already miles away from appearing in the first team again. United have no one to blame but themselves for another two years joined at the hip to Jones. 

Marcos Rojo (left) and Phil Jones (right) are examples of United extending contracts for players they don't actually want and many feel they have fallen on old habits by extending Bailly

Marcos Rojo (left) and Phil Jones (right) are examples of United extending contracts for players they don’t actually want and many feel they have fallen on old habits by extending Bailly

ERIC BAILLY 

Age: 27

Contract: Until 2024

All the arrows appeared to be pointing to the exit door and yet here we are, Bailly given assurances he can work his way back into contention.

But there is every reason to believe that Bailly could go into next season as fourth-choice option, Jones as the fifth, and United fans asking just why are the hierarchy extending these defenders?

United have shown an unwillingness to let players walk away for nothing after getting burned by Paul Pogba going to Juventus – only to need £89m to bring him back years later.

The issue with Bailly is his health. He’s battled Covid-19 recently but before that injuries have been a problem and have been a problem in his five years at the club.

One hundred games in five years should be a concern – Maguire has played more games for United than Bailly despite being there for half the time – but clearly the powers that be believe he still has something to offer.

When fit Bailly has shown glimpses of brilliance but the key word there is when and conditionals are becoming too frequent in defence of him. 

The challenge now is to repay the faith shown by this new deal. Fail to do so will once again take United down a road well travelled for defenders they keep paying and cannot shift. 

Bailly has played just 100 matches for United in his five years since joining from Villarreal

Bailly has played just 100 matches for United in his five years since joining from Villarreal



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