HAVING played 190 games for Leeds United and 73 for Middlesbrough, former striker Ian Baird will have divided loyalties at Elland Road today.
Yet there’s no hiding that extra affinity with Leeds United who have given Baird a new lease of life as a pundit for BBC Radio Leeds.
Now the former marksman is only praying for a season of Whites stability that can ultimately put the club he loves best back in the Premier League.
Baird, 50, enjoyed two spells at Leeds United – between 1985 and 1987 and 1988 and 1990. Those stints were sandwiched by a season at Portsmouth with the Rotherham-born player’s second spell at United followed by a move to Middlesbrough where he enjoyed a productive 18 months between January 1990 and July 1991.
Spells at Hearts, Bristol City, Plymouth and Brighton followed before Baird entered into management which itself featured roles at Havant & Waterlooville, Eastleigh and even the Hong Kong national side.
Yet the former goal-getter says his two stints at Elland Road take some topping with the Yorkshireman admitting the club he is now commentating on will always hold a special place in his heart.
“My allegiance really will always lie with Leeds and they will always have that,” Baird told the YEP.
“I had five years there and I enjoyed every minute of it.
“I always root for Middlesbrough to do well but I certainly always like to see Leeds do well, that’s for sure.
“An ideal result for me would be a draw but I would love to see Leeds get a win because the worst thing that Leeds United want is another season of instability, another season of controversy, another season of ‘sack the manager’ or of a new board coming in. I’d like to see Leeds get a positive result.”
Baird was unable to witness a positive result in his first punditry outing this season, that 2-0 defeat at Millwall last weekend.
But this week’s mass haul of signings will have been music to the ears of Baird who felt United’s front three were quite simply second best in London.
“Millwall’s front three was better than Leeds’ front three,” said Baird simply of last Saturday’s loss.
“There was better movement, there was better pace, there was better options but I said on Saturday let’s not all get too despondent because it’s only one game.”
Seven days later, the captures of striker Billy Sharp plus centre-backs Liam Cooper and Giuseppe Bellusci have given United fans a spring in their step.
Baird would now like to see club president Massimo Cellino bring in a creative midfielder.
Assessing United’s centre midfield options, Baird reasoned: “Obviously Bianchi was suspended for the Millwall game but I like Rodolph Austin’s desire and I like the way he works as hard as he possibly can.
“From what I saw of Luke Murphy he looks decent but what I don’t see in the midfield at Leeds is somebody who can unlock the door – somebody who can play that killer pass, somebody who can really, really hurt teams and maybe score a goal from midfield. I think they need to improve in there.
“But everybody has got to get behind the team and I think you’ve also got to give David Hockaday as much support as you possibly can. I think we will have a better idea after 10 games or so as to what sort of season this is going to be.”
From his BBC Radio Leeds vantage point, Baird will be well-positioned to draw judgement after that 10-game marker which will be brought up when the Whites host Reading on Wednesday, October 1.
Baird says he is savouring his new role with the microphone – almost two years on from being dismissed after five years in charge of Conference South side Eastleigh.
A return to management seems unlikely with punditry and scaffolding now taking up his time.
“I managed in the Conference South for eight years but I’ve had enough of that,” said no-nonsense Baird. “I’m very much enjoying working for Radio Leeds and business wise I have got a scaffold company so that keeps me busy.”
Not that he doesn’t miss playing the beautiful game – 17 years on from his last outing for Brighton in December 1997. Baird’s career took in 543 games and 143 goals but the popular former player says his playing days have long gone – even last weekend when the United call for something extra up front looked desperate.
Sharp’s arrival and the coming of age of midweek cup hero Souleymane Doukara should see the end of United’s striker troubles which is just as well in the eyes of Baird, who is under no illusions that he wouldn’t be able to help the cause.
Baird beamed: “I loved it last Saturday going to the Leeds game – the first game of the season, a sell-out crowd and against Millwall where there was a bit of an edge. I’d have loved to have been playing but unfortunately I wasn’t and I’m just really, really enjoying watching Leeds at the moment.”
Asked if Leeds could have done with himself up front at Millwall, Baird laughed: “Definitely not and the fans wouldn’t want me now. I’ve got WD-40 on my legs.”