Since arriving at Manchester United in 2016, Eric Bailly has endeared himself to a fanbase that have been craving a commanding, powerful centre-back reminiscent of former captain and club legend, Nemanja Vidic.
When he made his competitive debut for the Red Devils in a 2-1 Community Shield win against Leicester City at the start of the 2016/2017 season, claiming the Man of the Match award, United finally looked to have found the Serbian’s successor.
He won another Man of the Match award a week later as United effectively dispatched Bournemouth 3-1 in their Premier league opener.
He has since been a source of stability at the back when used by Mourinho, and has arguably established himself as United’s best central defender.
Last season, during an injury lay-off, his replacements didn’t always demonstrate assurance in possession, and Bailly has quickly been restored to the starting XI this term.
However, while the Ivorian impressed during the Red Devils’ opening victory over Leicester City, he endured a day to forget last weekend as United were dispatched 3-2 by Brighton & Hove Albion.
The Ivorian’s approach to defending on that day could be summed up as impetuous and unfocused.
It’s hard just to blame Bailly during what was a bad day at the office all round for Mourinho’s side.
United’s loss comes amidst criticism of the Portuguese manager’s conservative approach to games and a would-be power tussle between he and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Red Devils players have had to dismiss suggestions of a rift between squad and coach, while a disappointing transfer window still hangs heavy over the club.
Worryingly for Bailly, particularly in light of Mourinho’s recent claims about being short of defensive quality—as well as particular criticism of the centre-back’s leadership skills—make the future uncertain for the West African.
He may not see it this way, but Mourinho certainly deserves criticism for the state of United’s defence—particularly considering the money that’s been poured into fixing it—and Bailly’s sub-par showing against Brighton will only fuel the concerns.
Mourinho’s United lack an identity, and look haphazard whenever they’re under pressure.
The ensuing chaos this brings is a major factor when it comes to performance, as it slowly chips away at players’ confidence.
Perhaps this is one of the reasons was Bailly was so uncharacteristically off the pace against Brighton.
Things may get worse before they get better.
The propensity for club legends to weigh in with criticism in the media only adds to the furore around Mourinho’s tenure, and will only serve to exacerbate the problems at the club.
Bailly, as a Mourinho man who’s been criticised by the Special One, may find himself at a career crossroads sooner rather than later if United cannot arrest their slide and get back on track.
He has the quality to prove to his manager and fans alike that he is still capable of the performances that have seen him become a fan favourite.
If he cannot, then he risks becoming another high-profile casualty of Mourinho’s era.