Eric Bailly appeared set to be the future of the Manchester United defence for a decade to come after his established himself at Old Trafford during an excellent maiden campaign.
However, for all he achieved during the 2016-17 season, he was unable to build on that success last term, and now his future looks uncertain.
It remains to be seen whether reported clear-the-air talks with Jose Mourinho will lead to an increased role within the side this term, or whether another European heavyweight will see a potential opportunity in the out-of-favour defender.
The story of last season
Bailly’s maiden campaign in England was surely all that he was hoping for and more. The defender made 25 appearances in the Premier League — holding his own against the division’s best attackers — and also won the League Cup.
Continentally, he featured 11 times during United’s run to the Europa League title, and surely will have been hoping to build on that success last term.
Unfortunately, however, last year was a step back — and his worst since he made just 10 appearances for Villarreal in the 2014-15 season
The defender was absent between November and February with an ankle injury, and found himself behind Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in the pecking order upon his return.
The 24-year-old was overlooked for the FA Cup semi-final, and two years on from his arrival at Old Trafford, his standing at the club appears lower than ever.
What could happen this window?
Halfway into his first contract with United, Bailly still has time to turn things around, to build on his early success and to be a success with the Red Devils.
In principle, he offers more than either Smalling or Jones, and should have the quality to reclaim a starting spot in Jose Mourinho’s selection.
However, worryingly, reports have begun to emerge of discontent between player and manager.
Bailly reportedly insisted on clear-the-air talks with Mourinho in order to understand the coach’s plans for him during the 2018-19 season, while the Special One is believed to be unhappy with the West African’s conditioning.
According to the Manchester Evening News , Mourinho believes Bailly to be too brittle, and with the Metro reporting that United need to sell one player in order to bring in a new central defender, could the Ivorian be cut loose?
If United continue their pursuit of Toby Alderweireld, Harry Maguire or Leonardo Bonucci, could Bailly be offered as a makeweight?
What to expect next season
There’s certainly an element of mystery about Bailly’s declining fortunes at Old Trafford, with the centre-back’s fall in the pecking order not completely easy to explain.
Certainly, Mourinho’s suggestion that he overlooked the defender towards the season’s end in order to prioritise players who were heading to the World Cup, doesn’t completely ring true.
The fact Bailly has headed to the United States on tour with United — unlike Marcos Rojo, for example — suggests he still has a future at Old Trafford, and he certainly has the quality to realise his early potential.
However, depending on the exact nature of Mourinho’s discontent with the player, the defender’s future will be uncertain until the window closes — don’t be surprised if he’s offered away as part of a player exchange.