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Northern Ireland's Baird joins Derby and aims for top flight

By Steven Beacom

Northern Ireland star Chris Baird has targeted an instant return to the Premier League after signing for Championship outfit Derby County.

The 33-year-old, having left West Bromwich Albion at the end of the season, has been snapped up by the Rams on a two-year deal, with the option of a further 12-month contract.

Baird is pleased to have sorted out his future so quickly and is relishing the prospect of playing under new Derby boss Paul Clement, formerly Carlo Ancelotti's assistant at Real Madrid.

Clement has been busy since taking over from Steve McClaren in his bid to guide Derby to the top flight with Baird becoming County's fifth summer signing following hot on the heels of Darren Bent, Alex Pearce, Scott Carson and Andreas Weimann.

Next season promises to be a big one for the Rasharkin native. He will be keen to make a positive impact for his latest club and of course he will be doing his utmost to help Northern Ireland qualify for the Euro 2016 finals.

Northern Ireland boss Michael O'Neill plays Baird as a holding midfielder. Whether Clement does the same remains to be seen because the former Southampton and Fulham ace is equally at home in defence.

Baird is just interested in getting game time, after spending long periods out of action last term with WBA.

"I'm delighted to be here and to be part of it," said Baird, who has won 72 caps.

"I'm really looking forward to the challenge ahead. The players that have been brought in to the club so far are top quality and that can only stand us in good stead for what lies ahead.

"I'm here to help and it is up to the manager if he plays me in the holding midfield role or anywhere across the back. I don't mind ... I just want to play football.

"Our aim will be to get into the Premier League. It's going to be a fantastic season. There are no doubts in my mind about that."

Derby boss Clement has talented youngsters at his disposal but clearly feels that experienced players like Baird can see the Rams over the promotion line, unlike in the past two campaigns, when first the club lost in the play-off final to QPR and last time fell away badly when they looked certain to go up.

On the latest arrival to iPro Stadium, Clement said: "We're very pleased to welcome a player of Chris Baird's experience to Derby County.

"He is an excellent professional and an important addition for us, both on the pitch and also in the dressing room.

"This is another extremely positive signing for us and we're very pleased with the business that we have conducted in the transfer market so far this summer."

While Baird's club boss is delighted to have the Northern Ireland man on board, his international manager O'Neill will be content too.

For some of his players, after last Saturday's scoreless draw with Romania in Group F, this has been a productive week with Gareth McAuley signing a contract extension to stay at West Brom and Jamie Ward, after being released by Derby, inching closer to a move to Nottingham Forest.

O'Neil would like to see all of his squad members playing on a regular basis at the start of the new season ahead of the crunch double header against the Faroe Islands and Hungary in September, which will effectively determine whether Northern Ireland qualify for next year's Euro finals in France automatically or if they must face a two legged play-off.

Defender Jonny Evans is set to leave Manchester United with a number of top flight clubs, including Everton, Aston Villa, Arsenal and Spurs, monitoring his situation.

Aaron Hughes and Paddy McCourt have both been released by Brighton and are on the search for new homes while the future of Shane Ferguson, loaned from Newcastle to Rangers last season, remains up in the air.

O'Neill's most influential player in the campaign to date, Kyle Lafferty, will soon have a meeting with Norwich boss Alex Neil to determine whether he stays with the Canaries, now in the Premier League, or move on.

The Northern Ireland boss has said he will do all he can for his players in relation to their club careers.

"I'm still keeping an eye on the lads and making sure their club situations are sorted out," said O'Neill.

"I've been actively doing that anyway behind the scenes and will continue to try and help them out any way I can."

Belfast Telegraph


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