OH, FINALLY!: BAILLY BRINGS AFRICA TO UNITED

Watching their beloved club play would be so much more fun for African fans of Manchester United henceforth

By: Sammie Frimpong

For a club which prides itself as the most popular in the world — Africa being a huge chunk of that world — it had always been somewhat odd that Manchester United haven’t ever had a top footballer from these parts.

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Ivorian Eric Bailly is Red

Rivals Chelsea have had the likes of Didier Drogba, Michael Essien, John Obi Mikel and Samuel Eto’o Fils star; Arsenal have had a good number in the past, notably Kolo Toure, Emmanuels Eboue and Adebayor; Toure, Momo Sissoko and — forgive me, Lord — El Hadji Diouf have been in Liverpool’s colours; and United’s neighbours Manchester City have progressed in leaps and bounds since purchasing Ivorian genius Yaya Toure and could look forward to a future just a trophy-laden having Toure’s countryman Wilfried Bony and Nigerian starlet Kelechi Iheanacho in the other half of Manchester.

And United? Well, not much. In fact, in all 27 years of Sir Alex Ferguson’s golden reign, only four Africans — Quinton Fortune, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Manucho and Mame Biram Diouf — played for the Red Devils, none of them exactly an A-list footballer when they came to Old Trafford and eventually leaving United no better.

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Jose Mourinho loves working with African players

Fortune, in three Premier League-winning campaigns, never played enough games to collect a medal; he was only handed one as a token for his troubles on departing. Djemba-Djemba’s biggest impact in a United shirt was literally left on Sol Campbell’s leg versus Arsenal, while Manucho and Diouf left prematurely without really gaining a thorough comprehension of why Old Trafford is nicknamed the ‘Theatre of Dreams’. The last of those, Diouf, ended his United career in 2012, and since then — even two managers into the club’s post-Fergie existence — there’d been none.

It’s been a muted ache, an unfulfilled hope, that African fans of United suffer with each passing transfer window. Inwardly, as they cheer the Wayne Rooneys, Juan Matas and Anthony Martials, it tears them apart that those stars don’t include some of their own. In an era when nearly every serious Premier League/European club has harnessed the rich resources African footballers have to offer, United are so pitifully behind the the times.

But all that’s set to change — now. Now that United’s new manager, Jose Mourinho — a man who, perhaps more than most in his trade, appreciates the value of having one or two African talents on the bus — has made Ivorian defender Eric Bailly the first recruit in his tenure at the club. Bailly (who Ghanaians would likely recall as he who gave Black Stars forward Asamoah Gyan little joy in the 2015 Nations Cup final), 22, may not necessarily be the one African star United fans would have expected their club to part with £30m for but, hey, for a player who’s touted as the next defensive big thing out of the Dark Continent, it couldn’t be a bad start.

And if Mourinho’s record is worth anything — he’s worked with, among others, Essien, Drogba, Eto’o, Mikel, Adebayor, Benni McCarthy, Salomon Kalou and Sulley Muntari (twice, in some cases) — there could be more to follow.

“I am very happy to be here in Manchester,” Bailly beamed in his first official interview after his unveiling.

“It’s a real joyful moment for me. “It’s a dream come true for me.”

It could be for other African footballers, too, as United finally warm up to earning an already supposedly United-crazy continent’s love.

It’s long overdue, innit?

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