Manchester United signs Eric Bailly from Villarreal

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Jose Mourinho’s first big transfer as boss of Manchester United is a center back.

Eric Bailly, 22, is joining the Premier League mainstays from Villarreal, and has signed a four-year deal. Terms were not released, but reports say the fee could rise as high as $44 million. That would make him United’s most expensive defensive signing ever, passing Rio Ferdinand.

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The 15-times capped Ivorian played in the nation’s Africa Cup of Nations win in 2015, and made 35 appearances for Villarreal last season. Bailly went 76 minutes in the Europa League semifinals’ 1-0 win over Liverpool, missing the 3-0 second leg loss with thigh problems.

Bailly calls joining the team a “dream come true”. As for Mourinho, here are his thoughts from ManUtd.com:

Mourinho said: “Eric is a young central defender with great natural talent. He has progressed well to date and has the potential to become one of the best around.

“We look forward to working with him to help nurture that raw talent and fulfil his potential. Eric is at the right club to continue his development.”

Bailly had the most 1v1 success of any defender on Villarreal, despite playing 800-plus minutes less than his two closest competitors, and played relatively error free ball. Given his young age and position, this could be a coup (even at the price) for United.