I can just see Tom Ince standing on his desk reciting the poetry of Walt Whitman as Baird walks out, proud of a job well done:
‘O Captain! my Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting’
Or perhaps not.
Because Baird must go down as one of our most unsuccessful skippers of all time. (I believe it is eight league starts with only two wins.) There can’t be many that have suffered as an embarrassing time as him; losing his place to Cyrus Christie, having an Academy graduate preferred in the holding midfield role, remonstrating with supporters on the touchline and generally looking completely out of his depth.
Ironically, his most memorable moment may in fact be when he was knocked unconscious defending a cross in our first victory of the season at Preston. He’d been an ever present up until that point – in our first six games without a win.
Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not making a personal attack on Baird, he has been praised for his professional attitude and is well respected by Fulham supporters in particular, but why on earth was he made captain in the first place?
For me this was Clement’s first mistake. Surely your captain must be the first name on the team sheet; your go to guy in times of trouble? He has to inspire others in the team to follow him and be respected in his decision making. None of these were qualities I ever noticed in Baird.
As a new manager I can understand the need for wanting ‘one of your own men’ as captain. But if Clement wanted to show his authority to the existing staff then surely Shackell would have been a more obvious candidate? There’s no scenario I can think of, barring injury, where he wouldn’t have been first choice. Here is a man who has experience of being promoted from the Championship, playing in the Premier League and also knows his way around the club from his previous spell here. What you might call a no-brainer.
But, no, Clement plumped for Baird, a man whose preferred position is either right back or holding midfield. Now a captain playing in holding midfield is fine, but as Derby fans, we know that Thorne will play in that role when he is fit. So Baird was obviously considered first choice at right back – not the easiest place from which to communicate.
It’s of no surprise to me that when I think of great Rams captains I think of centre halves and central midfield players – McFarland, Wright, Hindmarch and, my personal favourite, Van der Laan. Although perhaps not the most gifted, Robin Van der Laan would have run through a brick wall if asked – dragging the rest of the team through with him. The promotion season with him in charge was littered with games where we went behind and came back to win, showing true character.
When Baird was dropped it meant that the captain’s armband was passed around like a tin of Quality Street on Christmas Day. In hindsight, the beginning of the end for Clement.
Wassall made a good decision in stripping Baird of the job and giving it to Keogh. He may have his detractors, but Keogh is a warrior; he never gives in and will demand the same of every player on the pitch.
If and when he leaves there may well be a few of the players standing on their desks reciting poetry, but as for giving Baird the captaincy in the first place, I can think of no rhyme or reason.