Eric Bailly has impressed for Manchester United..

Eric Bailly's incredible rise started just four years ago

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Eric Bailly has only been a Manchester United player for a matter of months but is already looking integral to their Premier League title hopes.

The centre-back has won the man of the match award in three of his first four starts for the Red Devils, already seeming to justify Jose Mourinho's decision to spend £30million on him.

But storming his way past Chris Smalling and into United's starting XI is just one of a number of remarkable achievements for a man whose rise from sub-Saharan Africa seems reads like a zero-to-hero movie.

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Indeed, Bailly's natural athleticism appears to have supercharged his ascent to the upper echelons of the game. Considering he is still only 22-years-old, there is no telling how much further he could go. If he continues on the same trajectory, he's heading for legendary status.

According to the Daily Mail, Bailly had not even played an 11-a-side match four years ago yet now finds himself on the cusp of starting in the biggest Manchester derby for years.

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David Comamala, who runs a scouting project in Africa called Promoesport, was one of the men behind the discovery.

He said: "We first saw Eric in 2009 in Abidjan. He was playing in this small club with barely any infrastructure. The fields were pitches only by name and conditions were really poor. It was barely a team. The coach was just a guy from the area who had a few training tops and a ball. No proper goals, just a square or a muddy ground."

With barely any tactical training to speak of, it was Juventus who first came calling but they later discovered they had filled their non-EU player allowance and pulled out. That allowed Espanyol to complete a £14,500 deal.

FC Barcelona v RCD Espanyol - La Liga


After making his way through the youth ranks, Bailly was invited to train with the first team in the summer of 2014 and quickly became the thorn in every striker's side.

The reserve-team coach Sergio Gonzalez said: "He has amazing qualities. He started training with the first team and became hard to ignore. No strikers wanted to be against him. They’d ask me to go against someone else. He’s on top of you, intense, breathing down your neck, nicking in."

FC Barcelona v RCD Espanyol - La Liga

Up against Messi

Then came his introduction to the first team. In only his third senior appearance, the youngster was charged with the task of marking Barcelona's Lionel Messi. Despite his incredible lack of experience, he did just that for 45 minutes.

Gonzalez continued: "He played at Barcelona in his third start. We were 1-0 up at half-time and he had played Messi out of the game. We lost but that was when I knew he was seriously special.

"Remember, he’d had no tactical training in Africa — he was incredibly raw. He needed to learn when to step out, how to manage a defensive line, play offside, all those things."

FC Barcelona v RCD Espanyol - La Liga

Up against Ronaldo

A move to Villarreal beckoned. They had just sold Gabriel Paulista to Arsenal and were in need of a replacement. They quickly discovered that Bailly was in fact even better than the Brazilian. The moment struck when Villarreal boss Marcelino asked him to play at right-back against none other than Cristiano Ronaldo.

"We played Real Madrid last season and had injury problems," said Marcelino. "I put him at right back against Cristiano Ronaldo and we won 1-0. My thinking was he’s fast over short distances, brave, mature and without any knowledge of the position, he marked Ronaldo out of the game. Amazing.

"He has everything. Speed, agility, co-ordination, technical talent, decision-making, he can scrap, he can fight, he heads, he passes, he whacks it when he needs to. He will be one of the best five defenders in the world. No doubt."

Real Madrid CF v Villarreal CF - La Liga

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Wayne Rooney
Manchester United
Eric Bailly
Premier League
Ryan Giggs
Cristiano Ronaldo
Lionel Messi

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