(Picture) Manchester United Defender Snapped At Airport Heading To AFCON

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Having only just returned from injury, the Manchester United centre back has left for Abu Dhabi to train with his national team-mates in preparation for the African Cup Of Nations in Gabon.

Manchester United boss Jose Mourinho has admitted his frustration at losing Eric Bailly to the Africa Cup of Nations earlier than he wanted.

Bailly returned to the United lineup in the 2-1 win over Middlesbrough, in what the Portuguese later revealed would be his final game before the tournament.

United had hoped that the Ivory Coast international – only recently back from a knee injury – would be available.

Mourinho will now have to bear with Phil Jones, Marcus Rojo , Daley Blind and Chris Smalling in the absence of Bailly. But the Ivorian provides a sense of brutal urgency and strength at the back line and that shall certainly be missed.

Manchester United fans would want their superstar back as soon as possible and the best case scenario for Manchester United, and worse for the Ivory Coast, is an unlikely group-stage exit for Bailly and his international teammates. But that seems unlikely.

However, if the shock of all shocks does occur and they do crash out at the first hurdle, their last match will be on January 24.

That would mean Bailly could feasibly return for the Premier League fixture at home to Hull on February 1, having missed only two games in the top flight and a couple of cup ties. Unfortunately, this seems a lot more plausible.

The bookies fancy the Ivory Coast to go all the way again, which would culminate in the final on February 5. That would mean Bailly missing a further two games, the Hull match and United’s trip to Leicester on the same day as the showpiece fixture in Gabon.

He would be back in Manchester for the Premier League clash against Watford on February 11, but Jose Mourinho may want to have a look at the centre-half in training before throwing him straight back in.

Ivory Coast head to Gabon as one of the tournament favourites and play their first match on January 16, against Togo.

The tournament kickstarts on 14th January and Bailly was pictured arriving in Abu Dhabi ahead of preparations.

Arnold Riley

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