There isn’t much of a competitive nature for Manchester United to play for as the Premier League season comes to a close, but for Jose Mourinho, his job of squad rotation is just as difficult now thanks to the big tournament this upcoming summer.
One player who hasn’t featured much of late is defender Eric Bailly, despite the fact he has fully returned to fitness after a long-term ankle injury ruined much of his season. When asked about Bailly’s absence of late and whether he is indeed fit, Mourinho confirmed that the Ivorian is completely healthy, and hasn’t been left out of the squad for poor performance either. There’s another culprit: the World Cup.
Mourinho said that because Bailly is Manchester United’s only central defender whose country did not qualify for the 2018 World Cup in Russia this summer, he has given other defenders time to prove their worth to their own national teams. Sadly, that has left the 24-year-old with very few minutes, something that is an unfortunate side effect of Mourinho’s dedication to his players.
“Bailly is fine, no injury,” Mourinho told reporters at his pre-match press conference ahead of Manchester United’s match with Brighton & Hove Albion on Friday. “He is one of our five central defenders and honestly, my work is not about World Cups and preparing players for the World Cup or giving chances to players to do the World Cup, but he’s the only central defender whose country’s not in the World Cup. So, if I have to make a kind of more emotional, effective choice to try to help my players, he’s the one I am not going to help until the end of the season. Because, of course, Marcos Rojo, Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling, all of them are wishing to make the squad for the World Cup and Eric is not under that pressure.”
Mourinho continued to say that he wishes to be the best manager he can be, and that involves a positive relationship with his players. As the season winds down, he is attempting to build that relationship by affording each of them the opportunity to play for a World Cup spot, and unfortunately Bailly feels the effects of that through no fault of his own.
“I try to be a good team manager,” Mourinho said, “and that means being cold, being selfish, but I am not as bad as that and I still have space for a little bit of feelings. So, when I look to the other four central defenders fighting for a position in the World Cup, I’m giving less [time] to Eric.”
Since returning to fitness in mid-February from the ankle injury that robbed him of three months this season, Bailly has played in just two full Premier League matches, plus a third substitute appearance. He has made the bench as an unused substitute three other times and been left out of the squad completely on two occasions. With three Premier League matches remaining on the schedule this season, it remains to be seen whether Bailly can work his way back into the squad, or if the other defenders will ride it out the rest of the way hoping to make their way to Russia come the summer.