For a young man still learning his trade after graduating from one of football’s finest academy setups at Leeds United, hot prospect Sam Byram now looks to have a tempting choice in front of him; he could be fighting relegation with either Sunderland or West Ham United this coming season.
Of course it might also be that Byram will prefer to continue his development at Elland Road, where great changes are afoot with a new head coach promising fast, aggressive, attacking football. This is surely just the kind of menu to have a pacy young wing-back, effective all the way up and down the right flank, licking his lips and champing at the bit – if I may be permitted to mix my metaphors. But the lure of the Premier League has seen United shorn of many a promising young talent before; our Sam would be in illustrious company if he decided his future would be best spent elsewhere.
This blog’s opinion, for what it is worth, is that any deal for Byram should be sanctioned only if the benefits to the club are absolutely irresistible. From that point of view, the rumours suggesting that Sunderland might be prepared to offer their richly-talented forward Connor Wickham and a cash adjustment not unadjacent to £6 million would have any discerning Leeds fan urging the club to snatch the Mackems’ hands off. Life, Leeds United, the Universe & Everything has given its opinion on a couple of previous occasions that a nominal right-back (albeit with attacking ability) as sumptuously talented as Byram is a distinct luxury in the Championship. A player like Wickham and a cool six mill besides would provide a wealth of options in terms of building a team that could challenge at the top end of this league. If Sunderland are that keen to capture Byram, then it’d be extremely tempting to roll out the welcome carpet when they come a-calling – and make sure they get the worse of any bargain. This is something that Massimo Cellino notably has form for, with last season’s brutal mugging of Fulham over Ross McCormack being the obvious example of seeing coming a club with more cash than sense.
From Byram’s point of view, though, it’s hard to accept that he couldn’t do better than clubs likely to be scrapping away at the foot of the Premier League. Names of much greater pedigree than Sunderland or the Hammers have also been whispered as possible destinations – Liverpool, maybe, or even Manchester City. Again, Cellino would be expected to drive a hard bargain, if Byram were to be winkled out of our clutches – and at least we’d have the admittedly dubious satisfaction of seeing yet another Leeds old boy strutting his stuff at the top end of the top league.
It’s always difficult, contemplating the loss of a home-grown star – thankfully, there is no sign of the supply drying up, and this is likely to have to provide one of our club’s main income streams until that glorious time rolls around when we, too, dine at the top table in the swanky restaurant that is the Premier League. Things will be different then – or so we must hope. Leeds would be looking to storm the top flight for the third successive time, following promotion in the early sixties and late eighties and the subsequent swaggering domination of the game enjoyed by those two great sides.
Whether it’s feasible to expect a hat-trick of such achievements must be open to the gravest doubt, given the radically different landscape of football now as opposed to then. But it’s in the nature of Leeds to gatecrash cosy, elitist parties and make their presence felt. Those previous two promotion outfits have surely written that into the club’s DNA – and now, as then, we have the same promising knack of producing our own, sparkling talent.
Perhaps Sam Byram will be leaving this summer – or perhaps he will pen a new deal and stay. Either way, whatever happens has to be for the good of the club, and in the longer term at that – no short-sighted squinting at the immediate future should get in the way of a focus on lofty ambitions beyond the next season or two. This blog hopes that the lad will stay, but is philosophically accepting of the possibility that he might well be seduced away.
And, whatever his destination, surely Leeds fans will wish him all the best – especially if any deal done helps United lay the foundation for a brighter future. That, much more than the future of any individual player, is what matters above all to anyone with the interests of Leeds United at heart.