Ivory Coast international and Manchester United defender Eric Bailly has made a startling revelation in a new documentary entitled: ‘l’Elephant d’Afrique’, which is being shown on MUTV.

The rugged centre-back admits he did not play on a grass pitch until he was 15 years old due to the conditions in his home country, Ivory Coast, while civil war and unrest in the African nation also threatened to ruin his footballing dreams.

However, against the odds, the 24-year-old is representing the United badge after joining the club in 2016.

One of Bailly's best game while in Spain was versus Cristiano Ronaldo and Real | Republik of Macunia
One of Bailly’s best game while in Spain was versus Cristiano Ronaldo and Real | Republik of Macunia

For the first time, his story is told in-depth with exclusive access to Bailly’s home life, family and friends with the programme shot on location in Ivory Coast, Spain (where he played for Espanyol and Villarreal) and Manchester.

”Well, you know the situation in Ivory Coast, he explains in the documentary. “The pitches in our country are not great, but as we say, that’s what we know and are used to. For me, that was normality, because I didn’t see the difference.

Continuing he says:

“However, after having been in Europe, I realise now how hard it was for us back then and how hard it still is for those people still playing in Ivory Coast to express themselves on the pitches there.

”The first time I played on a grass pitch was actually on an artificial grass surface, a synthetic pitch. It was in Burkina Faso, and it was the first time I felt good and able to express myself on a good pitch. You can imagine that for me, playing for the first time on a synthetic pitch was a good thing, where I could express myself, given that, at the training centre I had come from, the pitch was sand, hard earth, red earth, all kinds of pitches. But there were lots of good experiences there all the same, and those are memories I will always keep in mind.”

Bailly admits the war in Ivory Coast had a profound effect on him and he only hopes such conflict can be avoided in the future.

No-one would wish such moments as these onto one’s country, or even onto the country of your worst enemy, he says.

It is something which changes everything. War isn’t just conflict between two people of three people, it affects the entire country, and it’s the entire country that loses during this affair. There are so many innocent people, people didn’t bring any of this war onto themselves, yet have paid a high price. So I hope that, by the grace of God, we shan’t see another war like that again.

“I realise now how hard it was for us back then and how hard it still is for those people still playing in Ivory Coast to express themselves on the pitches there.”

The imposing stopper is hoping to repay Manchester United supporters for their affection and continue to be an inspiration for those back in Africa, who watch his progress from afar and have their own aspirations and ambitions.

Bailly shared dressing room with superstars as Zlatan Ibrahimovic | YouTube
Bailly shared dressing room with superstars as Zlatan Ibrahimovic | YouTube

I want to be one of the most important players in the United team and to give the best of me, because the club has given me so much – it’s hard to describe, he adds. My goal is, therefore, to bring a smile to the faces of the fans who watch and support us.

Bailly is already looking forward to the future:

”For the future, my goal is to help those people who dream of being like us. If I can give an example, back home, in my home country, passing by, you might see a child of only four or five years old, who calls out to you by name.

With the situation being as it is back there, the economic difficulties that exist there, really that’s a great feeling. But at the same time, you might be thinking that you can do something for that person, and I say don’t hesitate. That’s someone who might be in a difficult time in their life just now and may have more such times in the future. So why not?

How dream Man Utd move happened

Bailly described the moment he signed for United in 2016 as one big happy time for both him and his family.

The defender explained how his move from Spanish side Villarreal to United came about three years ago.

I was with my mum in the lounge and I told her I was going to sign for United, Eric said. The family came and we talked and everyone was delighted. That day was one big happy time.

”Then I had to get on the flight to come and finalise all the arrangements in England. I had to undergo medical tests and sign here in Manchester.

He went on: When I was in the Ivory Coast training centre, we had a small staff, a different system from Europe but they taught us a lot and it was there I realised that with hard work I could make it.

“Why not become a professional player in Europe? I believed in myself and continued to grow, to pray and that’s how I became a professional player in Europe.”

Bailly, who has made 67 appearances for the Reds to date, quickly became a cult hero among United fans for his no-nonsense approach to defending.

It has been a meteoric rise from minding phone boxes for loose change in his native Ivory Coast to establishing himself as the defensive bedrock of the widely-followed Manchester United FC.

Bailly had not long entered his teenage years when he ended his studies to become the manager of a telephone box in Abidjan, the economic capital of Ivory Coast. Each day, he would empty out the change, earning a pittance in the process, before going for trials with other hopefuls as he pursued his dream of becoming a professional footballer.

In an interview granted in 2017, Bailly recalls:

“In Africa, there are people that live in much more difficult situations but, yes, as a child I started working.

“I’ve had luck with my father’s help but I also had to work. I had a program after training in the afternoon in which I would go in front of my house to do various things and the phone boxes was something I did to earn some money and to resolve some of my issues. I cannot always rely on my parents. They’ve always tried to help me, but I had to do something to be able to get what I wanted.”

Eric Bailly – l’Elephant d’Afrique’, the latest in Manchester United series of MUTV Originals, will be available on demand to MUTV subscribers from Thursday 24 January. Others in the series include ‘Jesse Lingard: Boy to FA Cup Hero’, ‘The Juan Show’, ‘El Diablo Rojo’ and ‘Valencia: Amazon to Old Trafford’.


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