John Eustace may have stayed for just two seasons in his second spell at Derby County between 2013 and 2015 but the impact of the experienced midfielder’s absence merely highlighted just how important he was at Pride Park.
Indeed, when Eustace suffered a serious knee injury midway through the 2014/15 season, former manager Steve McClaren was in no mood to play down the situation.
“It is a big blow,” he stated, as reported by the Derby Telegraph. And so it proved. Robbed of the then 35-year-old’s controlling influence in the centre of the park, The Rams collapsed in the second half of the season and missed out on the play-offs altogether.
Just for context, he had been on the losing side just once in 14 appearances prior to his injury. And, after he was released the following summer, Derby missed his leadership and experience throughout the short-lived reign of Paul Clement.
Therefore, perhaps Derby should keep this in mind when deciding whether or not to offer out-of-contract Chris Baird, who coincidentally is exactly the same age as Eustace was when the club let him go, a one-year extension.
The versatile veteran filled in admirably when regular right-back Cyrus Christie was injured earlier in the season and, despite the Republic of Ireland international returning sooner than expected, Baird has started 25 of Derby’s last 28 league games including each of the last eight.
New manager Gary Rowett will want to reshape the squad in his image in the summer but he would do well to keep Baird involved. His consistency on the pitch, and valuable experience behind the scenes, means he sets a superb benchmark for the club’s younger players.
If Eustace’s exit taught Derby anything, it’s that players who have been there and done it all are simply irreplaceable. That reason alone should convince Derby to keep Baird around a little longer.