Wolves 2, Leeds United 3
Sam Byram is already a very good footballer as well as a tolerably wealthy young man. These twin attributes should see him able to set himself up for life by the time those distant days of his mid-thirties are upon him. Given ordinary luck, he will then be able to look back upon a long and successful career with the security of a good few million in his Post Office Savings Account. All of which means that the contract decision he is now in the process of making is unlikely to have major long-term financial implications. What Byram really needs to consider is where best to spend the next few, still formative, years of his football education. And, despite the lure of fatter contracts elsewhere, it may well be that those long-term interests will be best served by remaining at Elland Road for the immediate future at least.
The wisdom of this could be illustrated by considering the differing fates of those who have previously struck out along the path to fame, fortune and some Premier League giant’s reserve side, as opposed to the more cautious types who stuck with their club of origin until a degree of maturity grew about them. There’s no hard and fast rule here, and no real need to name names. But let’s do so anyway – take the example of our own Gary Speed, who stayed with Leeds and built a firm foundation for a lengthy career that now sees him venerated as a legend, a status that owes little if anything to his tragic early death. Speed enjoyed the fruits of success at several other top-flight clubs after putting in the years at Leeds, not incidentally picking up a Title-winner’s medal while he was here. His mark on the game was made indelibly before he secured a move to his boyhood heroes Everton.
Consider also the case of Aaron Lennon, a teen speed machine at Leeds who was sold early to Spurs when the Ridsdale house of cards came tumbling down. It was crisis time at Leeds, and Lennon’s move to London was inevitable – but if he’d had the chance to follow Gary Speed’s example, might he not have made slightly more of an impression later on in his career? There is the air of potential not quite fulfilled about Lennon – and who knows what a few more years in his formative environment might have done for him? No matter, you might say – he’s still loaded and made for life. But, even today, football is not all about money. Byram will wind up extremely wealthy whatever path he takes, barring some unforeseen misfortune. Short term financial gain should, perhaps, take second place to his prospects of securing for himself a place in football history.
This was really the theme of United manager Steve Evans‘ post-match remarks after United’s 3-2 success at Wolves, in which Byram returned to the starting line-up and scored twice. If the lad wants to stay and play for a club and manager that appreciates him, earning “decent money”, then he’ll have a chance of being part of whatever Evans and Leeds can achieve over the next few years. “We’re trying to build something here”, says Evans – and as we all know, if you build something at Leeds United, then the world sits up and takes notice.
Byram’s choice is not really about money at all – it’s about how best to ensure the game will remember him after his playing days are over. Terrific prospect though he is, it’s quite possible that Leeds could be the biggest club Byram ever plays for. Where else might he end up? Norwich, like Jonny Howson? Hull, like Rob Snodgrass?
For all but the very best, the only way from Elland Road is down, whatever the league tables might temporarily say. And it will be a few years yet before we can say with any certainty whether Byram is out of that very top drawer. If he is, then he might have his choice of big clubs in his mid-twenties, at home or abroad. The sky could be the limit. And if he’s not – well, then, he might be ushered out of Leeds United anyway. Better, surely, to stay with an indisputably massive football institution while he can, buckle down and learn the rest of his trade – and see where the journey takes both himself and the club. Byram has the luxury of time and an enviable situation. He must be sure not to fritter either away.
This blog is on record as stating more than once that Sam Byram is not indispensable as far as Leeds and their battle to achieve top-flight status are concerned. I stand by that. If the club can get decent money for Sam – and reinvest it – then the loss of one precocious talent need not prevent the club returning to its natural level. And even if he were to go for a song – the club is still bigger than any one talent. Leeds will be back anyway, sooner or later.
It is probably fair to argue, as this article has set out to do, that Byram needs Leeds more than Leeds United needs Sam Byram – certainly at this point in his development. A few years on, the shoe might very well be on the other foot. Who knows? But, for the time being, Sam’s best bet could be to put pen to paper, get on with his work – and do his best to reward the fans who have supported him so well and with such pride thus far in his fledgling career.
Do yourself a favour, Sam. Put your own best interests first. Stay at Leeds United, stay true to your roots – and help restore a true giant of the game back to its proper place. Deep down, mere considerations of pounds and pence notwithstanding, you must know it makes sense.