Fulham manager Martin Jol is delighted with Chris Baird’s adaptation from defence to midfield and sees potential longevity in his successful transition.
The Northern Irishman has spent the majority of his playing career in the back line, having featured at both right-back and centre-back but at times struggled to hold down a first-team place at Craven Cottage under previous managers Roy Hodgson and Mark Hughes – and even under Jol himself.
Due to the summer sales of midfield stalwarts Danny Murphy, Mousa Dembele and Dickson Etuhu, however, and the injury to Mahamadou Diarra, the 30 year-old has taken the opportunity and blossomed in his new position.
“This is a new role for Chris,” Jol told reporters. “I explained to him that we needed a new identity in midfield and that he could help. He certainly did that.
“He is a good football player and had a good education at Southampton. Last year he played right-back and centre-back and I’m very pleased that he’s so versatile and that he could do that job for us.
“He’s important to us. He’s getting fitter and fitter. He is playing for the national team in midfield now too which is good and they got a good result against Portugal.
“He is probably on top of his game and that was exactly what we needed.”
The former Tottenham manager also expressed his side’s desire to play the beautiful game and how Baird has adopted this football philosophy in his new-found role within his passing style.
He added: “My midfield must be good because I need to get the ball to my quality players. Sometimes you see that it was probably a bit better last year, no mention of names, but that is a matter of practising, exercising, but we have to play the ball forward.
“We have to be confident to link up. That is what we want and as soon as we don’t do that we start to drop our style and drop our quality.
“I’m happy that Chris understands that and he wants to play.”
“My midfield must be good because I need to get the ball to my quality players. We have to be confident”
The former Ajax boss also hailed the influence of Baird’s early development at St Mary’s Stadium, insisting: “It’s about education. When I came [to Fulham], they said he was a defensive full-back and then, six months later, someone told me he was a midfield player. Then they said he was probably a typical centre-back and then you get this split identity.
“I feel that Chris wants to play. Southampton helped him because over the last two decades they’ve had a very good education. I’m very pleased that a rigid defender can be a very creative midfield player as well.
“He played in midfield for Hodgson as well, once or twice. That gave me a little bit of hope that he could do that for me as well. He did that.”