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Chris Baird is one of those players that has been a victim of his own success, to a degree. He is able to play left back, right back or defensive midfield to an equal level, and has provided cover at centre back in the past too. This has meant, despite his 66 caps for Northern Ireland, the new Derby County signing has never really nailed down a place in any one position.
Partially this is because the equal level he plays each position is not quite good enough to make him first choice there, but also because he is the first one to get moved to cover for injuries. Oddly this has led to him spending most of his career, after leaving Ballymena United as a youngster to join Southampton, in the top two divisions of English football but only once having a transfer fee paid for him, when he left Southampton to join Fulham.
As a left back, he is a decent defensive left back, but is a little lacking in pace, without quite having the positional sense to truly negate that weakness. Also he is right footed, which lessens his effectiveness on the left, particularly going forward, which is a weakness of his game anyway. He offers very little in the form of attacking while at left back.
The only real difference between his performance at right and left back is that he looks more comfortable on that side being right footed, and a little less exposed to attackers. He is still of little use in the attacking third, his crossing is poor on either foot and he does not have the pace to charge up and down the flank for 90 minutes.
When playing as a defensive midfielder he is sound defensively overall, being decent in the air, able to tackle and knowing when to jockey a player rather than make a challenge, but still suspect positionally. He is always looking to stay goal side of players, when sometimes a midfielder needs to be the other side blocking passing lanes and cutting down the options for advancing opposition players.
He plays the defensive midfield role very like a full back, in that respect. Baird's passing range is extremely limited, he is not going to spot the right pass and then play it. Baird will just break up the play, or at least attempt to, then play the simple ball, as his ability on the ball does not allow him much in the way of options.
In summary, Baird is a decent back up option for a Championship/bottom end Premier League team, at best. Even then, you would think it would be better for the team to use a specialist player from the club's academy in any of those positions, if possible. For me, he just highlights how limited the options are for Northern Ireland, that he has managed to get so many caps.
Yes he will do a decent job and give his all, it is good to see that hard work can still give a player a good career, no matter that their talent is not quite there. It does make me wonder about Derby's academy, if they can not produce a player of similar ability, requiring them to replace John Eustace with yet another older journeyman player to take the holding midfielder role.
Written by Tris Burke
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