Tag Archives: Sam Byram

Sam Byram Should Put Himself First; and Stay at Leeds United   –   by Rob Atkinson

Sam Byram: learning his trade at Leeds United

Sam Byram: learning his trade at Leeds United

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. 

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Leeds Wizard Botaka In At the Riverside Deep End?   –   by Rob Atkinson

New Leeds United man Jordan Botaka: debut today?

The same ground and the same fixture that saw the introduction to English football of Middlesbrough‘s Brazilian star Juninho could today witness the debut of another mercurial talent. Almost twenty years after the Boro star made his bow, heralding a new era on Teesside, Leeds United‘s exciting new signing Jordan Botaka might just be about to unleash his own brand of magic on the Championship – in the most challenging of circumstances. 

Two decades back, Juninho stepped out against Leeds to introduce himself to an adoring Riverside Stadium. This lunchtime, Congo international Botaka is in line for a first United appearance, backed by the Whites’ travelling army and scrutinised by the critical eye of Sky Sports live coverage. The key to the tricky wide man’s first outing is the mindset of off-colour prodigy Sam Byram, United’s defender-turned-winger, who is currently the subject of much speculation and debate – not to mention the withering attack launched on him this week by Leeds’s outspoken owner Massimo Cellino.

Byram, such a hot prospect only two years ago, has reportedly turned down a new deal at Elland Road. His form over the last eighteen months has been patchy as he’s made a troubled comeback from injury. Now it would appear that his heart and soul may be elsewhere as transfer speculation has him linked with some of England’s major clubs, as well as Sunderland. In circumstances like that, his inclusion against a rampant Boro would be a risky business for United coach Uwe Rösler. It’ll have to be all hands at the pumps for Leeds at the Riverside today, just to avoid being swamped. 

And yet this has been traditionally a happy hunting ground for United since that memorable occasion of Juninho’s first game in England. A one-all draw on that occasion was distinctly respectable, but in the intervening period there have been rich pickings here for the Yorkshire giants. Only last season, the Whites turned up, struck early through Alex Mowatt, and held on grimly in the face of a Smoggies onslaught to depart triumphant. 

A win today would be in the face of similarly daunting odds. Boro are on a roll, win after win making them stand-out performers in the depressed environment of football’s far north-east. Middlesbrough will be confident of beating a Leeds side conceivably unsettled by Cellino’s latest outburst – and this alone could make the case for the benching of Byram. Gaetano Berardi is doing a fine job at right-back, and Botaka could be the wing presence United have needed to bring out the very best of Chris Wood. The case for change is compelling – and if form is the deciding factor, Byram could hardly complain about being “rested”.

Twenty years back, Junino made his mark, but Leeds were the happier side as they salvaged a draw. Today could be the start of another player’s story as Jordan Botaka waits on the wing – and another draw would be another highly worthy result. 

Divide and Rule: Cellino Deliberately Pits Leeds Fans Against Sam Byram   –   by Rob Atkinson

Cellino - it's my way or the highway...

Cellino – it’s my way or the highway…

So, Massimo Cellino is all over the media, bemoaning a player’s ungrateful refusal of a new contract. We’ve heard it all before, haven’t we – though, thanks to a certain Adam Pearson, not so much lately. But now, with Pearson gone, the shackles seem to be off il Duce – and he’s giving vent to a familiar refrain as yet another quality wearer of the white shirt is eased (not-so-gently) through the Elland Road exit door.

It seems certain now that Sam Byram – coveted by clubs of far higher current status than our own beloved Leeds – will be taking himself off to one of those clubs before too many more moons have waxed and waned. On the wane beyond dispute has been Sam’s form this season. A footballer’s effectiveness is a fine-tuned thing, as highly-strung as a skittish thoroughbred, and something has certainly affected Byram this term. Whatever that might be – interest from the top flight, a benevolent offer from Cellino of a pay cut for a new contract, or perhaps a combination of the two – the situation will hardly be smoothed over by the owner’s unfortunate habit of tossing controversial comments, like live hand grenades, broadcast into the media scrum.

The difficulty for Leeds United is that, between Cellino’s ego and Byram’s youthful obduracy, the scope for further negotiation now seems narrow to non-existent. This being the case, we appear certain to see what will ultimately be a multi-million pound talent leaving United for what will amount to a song. There’s pride and principles on both sides, no doubt – but the economics of that outcome are just pure madness from an Elland Road point of view. 

Leeds are clearly preparing for a Sam-less future. At one point, the received wisdom was that a new winger or two would see Byram move back to a right-flank defensive role in which he previously excelled, all but snuffing out the potent threat of Gareth Bale one famous FA Cup afternoon at Elland Road, as Spurs were sent packing. But this past few days, it’s become more difficult to see a first team berth for a jaded Sam, with three quality wide attackers on the staff and in-favour full-back Gaetano Berardi signed up for another two years. The writing is clearly on the wall – but that bitter pill might be sweetened by some mega-club owner’s signature on a nice, fat cheque. Alas, it seems unlikely to happen thus – and the finger of blame for that really must point directly at Massimo Cellino.

It’s been a welcome change, until quite recently, to hear the golden sound of silence coming from the direction of erstwhile Motormouth Massimo. There’s been less angst and less anxiety with that sensible Mr. Pearson doing the talking. But, now that he’s run, or been pushed, off to the Far East and Hull FC’s inscrutable problems, it’s as if someone’s de-muzzled Massimo, and the familiar fusillade of soundbites has resumed, to no true Leeds fan’s delight or delectation. This past few days, we’ve heard the Italian’s views on Byram, Matt Child, Uwe Rösler and God knows what-all. It’s been the opposite situation to the relief you feel when you stop banging your head against the wall. Regrettably, it appears that the head-banging has resumed at Leeds – and we’re now shorn of that calming, restraining influence that made for a placid summer and early season. If Rösler’s ample forehead has acquired a few new worry lines, is it really any wonder?

Of course, it’s Cellino’s club and he’s a right to his say. But is it really too much to ask that such a gift for self-expression might be tempered by a bit of judgement and consideration here and there? Mouthing off in the media about Byram’s contract-renewal negotiations is hardly constructive. At best, it’s a breach of confidence. At worst, it’s a blatant attempt to set the club’s more gullible fans against one young man, who has a finite career to think of – and who might quite reasonably be casting a jaundiced eye on offers that may or may not amount to a pay cut. And this could so easily destabilise the whole club (after all, what player likes to see his team-mate’s contract linen being washed in public?) – just because of one man’s ego and the current lack of any third party restraint. 

This blog is on record as saying that Sam Byram is dispensable – albeit with regret – but only if the price is right and if that money is reinvested in the squad. It seems likely that the squad will continue to be improved, but that such improvement will probably not be funded by a healthy return on the talents of an outgoing Sam Byram. And that’s not just a great pity – it’s undeniable evidence of mismanagement – ego before economics – at the very top of the club.

The best outcome now would appear to be persuading young Sam that joining Sunderland in January would be a good move, in the hope of landing winger Will Buckley on a permanent – together with maybe Liam Bridcutt, who could definitely do an “older head” defensive midfield job – with a few million pounds and a healthy sell-on clause into the bargain. At least, that way, honour might just be satisfied. The tricky bit would be getting Byram to clamber aboard a visibly sinking ship, and hoping that the Mackems conveniently forget they could have the lad for relatively little next summer – if they avoid the drop.

It’s all a bit of a mess, quite frankly, and unhappily reminiscent of previous periods when Cellino has rampaged around Elland Road, mouthing off at (and about) all and sundry, with nobody to say him nay. For the good of Leeds United, Uwe Rösler – and all of us – it’s fervently to be hoped that those difficult days have not returned for good. 

Byram Is a Realisable Asset, NOT a Leeds United Necessity – by Rob Atkinson

Boy Wonder Byram

Boy Wonder Byram

Everywhere you look within the Leeds United blogosphere at the moment, people are gnashing their teeth, tearing their hair, rending their clothes and exhibiting other biblical signs of anguish and angst – and all over one slip of a lad. Sam Byram was an unknown to 99% of the support three short years ago. Then he had a dream pre-season, started off the Championship campaign in the first team – and stayed there, producing displays of a maturity and confidence far in excess of his tender years.

Naturally, being Leeds, this seeming success story is a double-edged sword. The presence of a boy wonder in the first team (otherwise known in LS11 as “the shop window”) more usually produces feelings of rampant insecurity among the Leeds faithful, rather than the warm glow that should accompany the sight of a youthful prodigy in the famous white shirt. We know our place in today’s scheme of things, and it is very much that of “feeder club”. Each successive hero has played his way into our hearts, prospered briefly in front of our adoring eyes and then departed for pastures greener, or more likely Canary yellow, with no sign of any adequate replacement.

It’s happened with Beckford, Howson, Snoddy, Becchio and Uncle Tom Cobleigh and all.  Local hero status is no protection from the Lure of Elsewhere. Howson supposedly had Leeds tattooed on his heart, but it seems to have been erased easily enough, and our last sight of him was as he wheeled away after scoring a winner against us. Byram could so easliy have followed the well-trodden path out of Elland Road a year ago; Southampton, awash with Liverpudlian money from their fire sale of last summer, were rebuffed after an offer of £4.5 million or so for Byram – but there are now rumours that more serious suitors might be willing almost to double that sum.

Sam is quite possibly the jewel in the crown of the Leeds Academy production line. Despite an injury-affected and form-blighted last year or so, he really is that good. It’s natural then that worries over his short-term future should be particularly unwelcome at a time when a maverick owner and the latest in a long and dismal line of “head coaches” are supposed to be building for the club’s eventual re-admission to the Promised Land of the Premier League. But really – should we be worrying at all?

We need to take a long, hard look at what is necessary to get us out of this division in the desired, upwards, direction. That list will include strikers who know where the goal is (Chris Wood?) and are proficient at sticking the ball therein; midfielders and wingers – all very much according to the prescription of our former gaffer Dr. McDermott, who had seen this treatment work wonders at Reading. We also need tough, all-action ball winners who are preferably not in the superannuated class (Tom Adeyemi??), and a solid defence who will be mean enough at the back to make sure that increased productivity up front results in a net force taking us a lot higher up the league.  What we probably don’t actually need, and won’t until it’s time to start plotting our approach to the top flight, is a potentially world-class performer on the right flank. It’s superfluous to our current requirements; we’re casting pearls before swine.

It would be OK, of course, if Sam did stick around.  It might even be better for the lad himself – too many fledgling superstars have gone up a level and struggled to stay afloat, look how Fabian Delph initially struggled at Villa.  He’s only now beginning to look the player that seemed likely to be evolving under the guidance of Gary McAllister – and he may be about to disappear into the black hole that is the fringes of City’s 1st team squad.  Byram might well benefit from another season at least of learning his trade at Leeds, or so the conventional wisdom goes. 

Looking at things realistically though – if there WAS an offer of £8 million for the youthful and richly promising Sam, and if that £8 million were to be made (don’t laugh, now) available for the construction of a team that would challenge strongly this season – might not that be a good option for Leeds? It’s the kind of money that, as was said about the fortune we mugged Fulham out of for McCormack, could easily fund the four or five quality additions that we realistically need to propel us into the very top echelons of the Championship. Whether such investment would actually be made is, of course, another matter entirely – but that still doesn’t make the case for hanging onto a valuable, possibly wantaway player. Once promoted, it’s a different ball game, but in the here and now the priority is actually getting there, and a lavishly-gifted Byram in a team consisting otherwise largely of uninspiring plodders doesn’t look like being enough to realise the dream.

A lot will depend on the attitude of the lad himself, and historically no sentimental feelings of attachment to the club that has nurtured their talent have persuaded previous uncut diamonds to hang around and be polished at Elland Road. So if Sam wanted to go to a Premier League club, would we, could we, should we, stand in his way?  My view is that you don’t sacrifice a lad’s ambition and desire to mix it with the best, on the altar of narrow club interests – such a policy is liable to blow up in your face, leaving you with a disaffected and depreciating asset on your hands. No, if Byram does want out – especially as his current deal is fast running down – we’re better off gritting our teeth, securing the very best deal for Leeds United – don’t forget that sell-on clause, Massimo! – and getting on with reinvesting the loot in a team that will do the job at this level. We can leave worries about how we cope in the Premier League for such time as it becomes a live issue, rather than the distant prospect it is right now.

We need to cast off that “Feeder club” image as the mortally humiliating insult it is. We Are Leeds, after all. But in order for that to happen, we may need to embrace the unwelcome label in the shorter term, and speculate to accumulate. And at least these days we seem of a mind to drive a very hard bargain, unlike previous years when the attitude has been disgustingly meek and humble as we accepted pittances for valued assets. If the departure of Sam were to provide the funds to finish the job, then that sad loss will turn out to have been a worthy sacrifice.

The ugly truth of the matter is that a stubborn desire to keep a luxury we can’t afford, and frankly don’t really need in our current situation, could turn out to be the ultimate example of short-termism, to the detriment of our longer-term prospects of life at the top.

Sam Byram Presented With Bewildering Choice of Relegation Battles – by Rob Atkinson

Byram - spoilt for choice?

Byram – spoilt for choice?

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. 

Sky TV’s Jeremy Langdon “In Therapy” After Leeds Thrash Wasteful Fulham – by Rob Atkinson

A despondent Jeremy Langdon of Sky Sports - bless him.

A despondent Jeremy Langdon of Sky Sports – bless him.

The look on his face would have brought a tear to a glass eye; that deep and worsening misery, as things went from bad to worse for Fulham, was writ large in every line of his suffering face – his doleful expression enough to curdle milk. Who?? I hear you ask. Ross McCormack, maybe, or Matt Smith? Both would have hoped for a happier time of it against their erstwhile employers. Having striven with might and main to succeed and justify the transfer fees Leeds had extorted out of the Cottagers, the striking pair fired a succession of blanks between them, Mr. McContract eventually limping off with a suspected knee injury. Doubtless he’ll have been reflecting that this was not the Fulham he’d fallen in love with at that first, romantic meeting between greedy turncoat striker and pink, pretty, blushing new payslip.

But no – despite the horrendous evening that both of these former United hitmen undoubtedly endured, the man who cut the saddest and most tragic figure of all was surely the Sky Sports News live match reporter, Jeremy Langdon. He looked as though he’d lost a bob, found sixpence and been bereaved of his closest friends and family, all while nursing a severe case of strangulated piles. Poor, despairing man. We must surely be big enough in victory to send him all the very best of wishes for his eventual recovery, as he heads for the restorative therapy of counselling, medication and electrodes. The increasingly glum and despondent look on Langdon’s face offered up little hope of him ever smiling again. It had been a truly dreadful night for anyone without Leeds in their blood.

But, for the rest of us – those with the sequence LUFC repeating itself ad infinitum throughout our sporting DNA – tonight was a small miracle as well as a huge celebration. For a start, we won. And not only did we win – we well won, 3-0 away at a club that was taking both the mick and several liberties not too long back. And not only that – we absolutely scored, from a corner, yet – and new hero Sol Bamba got off the mark as a Leeds scorer with that second breakthrough. With Sam Byram having got matters off to a satisfactory start with a powerful header in the dying minutes of the first half, and Mirco Antenucci rubbing the Fulham’s noses in it with a scuffed finish late on – and a sending off for home defender Kostas Stafylidis  – all it would then have taken was a Steve Morison goal to have us pinching ourselves to wake from what would assuredly have been one of those – ahem – “special” dreams. Noctis mirabilis? Abso-bloody-lutely.

If anything can add that extra bit of piquant charm to a 3-0 win away from home, it’s the undeniable fact that the scoreline hardly tells the full story. Fulham could and should have had a hatful themselves but, sure enough, the old firm of McCormack & Smith, “Howlers, we make ’em”, were on the kind of form to make us all send up prayers of thanks that we ever managed to offload them. Poor old Ross had the ball in the net at one point, but brilliantly managed to be offside in the process, much to his amusing anguish. And there has to be some feeling that he actually sustained the injury which eventually saw him subbed, in violently protesting to the ref after Stafylidis saw red. 

Fellow flop Matt Smith must be suspected in some quarters of still being on the Elland Road payroll, such was the sublime insouciance with which he spurned several gift-wrapped, gilt-edged golden chances. Our shot-stopper par excellence, Marco Silvestri should also be accorded a massive chunk of credit; for when any Fulham shirt did threaten to get one on target, there was Signor Marco, proud and defiant, thwarting them like a good’un. It was lovely, deeply satisfactory stuff.

Leeds coach Neil Redfearn commented afterwards that Leeds could have won by a massive 6-0, such was our dominance late on – but, really, it could just as easily have been 6-6 and a tie breaker. Thoughts of a 6-0 win for Leeds would, in any event, have brought with them fears for the grieving Sky reporter Langdon’s very existence.

It’s tempting to say – if only it had mattered more, or counted for something. The play-offs, after all, remain a distant and seemingly unattainable Holy Grail – we’d need a miracle of Steve Morison hat-trick proportions to get anywhere near that particular Promised Land. But the evening may not have been utterly without meaning; Fulham will now be looking nervously over their shoulders at the relegation dogfight just a few points behind them. If Wigan can rally; if McCormack’s injury rules him out; and if Fulham themselves succumb to trapdoor nerves – then this season might, after all, have a riotously funny, Schadenfreude ending of maliciously comic satisfaction. You just never know – but you can always pray for such a rewardingly humorous outcome.

In our comfortable and complacent mid-table security, it’s nice to have something devoutly to hope for in the unseemly battle beneath us. Apart from happier times for poor dear Jeremy Langdon, of course. Honestly. His tragic little face….

 

New Leeds Deal for Alex Mowatt a Sign of the Times for Resurgent United – by Rob Atkinson

Image

Young prospect Alex Mowatt: new long-term deal at Leeds United

The news that young Alex Mowatt has signed a contract extension with Leeds United, only eight months or so after turning professional, is another massively positive sign that this is a club that is going places.  Mowatt, 18, has seized his chance this season and has turned in a series of fine displays, nailing down for himself a regular first team spot well ahead of schedule. His is a classic example of the old saw “If you’re good enough, you’re old enough”, and Leeds have acted fast to tie the youngster to a deal that now extends until 2017.

Mowatt himself is enthusiastic about his situation at Leeds: “I’m really pleased to have signed,” he said. “I’ve been at the club since I was six and this is where I want to play my football.  This season has gone really, really well so far and I just want to keep working hard, keep improving, and play my part in helping Leeds United get where we want to be.”  As it seems certain that there would be no shortage of interested parties, Premier League clubs among them, if Mowatt were to fancy a change of scene, it’s vastly encouraging for United and the club’s fans that such a hot prospect has no qualms about committing himself for the long term.

As with Sam Byram and to a lesser extent Chris Dawson before him, Alex Mowatt has emerged from the shadows of junior and development squad football at Elland Road and has immediately looked like the real deal.  In looks and playing style, he has reminded many good judges of a young Gary Speed.  Ex-United skipper Brendan Ormsby has said of him: “He reminds me of Gary Speed with the way he moves and uses his left foot.  I like the look of him. Although it’s a silly thing to say, he looks like he can play!  At 18 years old, Alex looks like he has a good future ahead of him. He will be a very good player if he carries on this way.”

Looks-wise, Mowatt reminds me more of Lyndon Simmonds, a young lad who shone brightly for a short while nearly thirty years ago, but who then faded away, moving on to Swansea and then Rochdale.  Ormsby’s judgement commands respect though, and you can see what he means in terms of the similarities of paying style, based in both cases on a fabulous left foot.  But Speed’s are big shoes to fill, and the lad will doubtless prefer to be recognised as the first Alex Mowatt, rather than the next Gary Speed. As comparisons go, though, it’s not a bad or an unflattering one, is it?

Leeds United is a bit of a good news factory at the moment.  These things are strictly relative, of course, and after some of the bad times we’ve had over the past decade or so, the mere absence of calamity and disaster (and Ken) are ample justification for dancing in the streets.  But it does rather feel as though better times are on their way back to Elland Road.  The laughter and chat, audible behind Jason Pearce‘s post-match Radio Leeds interview after the Wigan victory, spoke of a good atmosphere around the squad and a bond between the players.  These are essential ingredients for a successful squad, and it seems that manager Brian McDermott is wisely nurturing a feeling of unity and positivity in a tight-knit group of players.  He’s been there and done it all before has Brian, and it would take a rich and foolish man to bet against him doing it again.  With bright young stars like Byram, Dawson and Mowatt once again rolling off the Elland Road production-line, his task will be easier than if he were just to rely on the transfer market. But if that, too, can be exploited to United’s benefit in the January window, then the club might just really be going places – and sooner rather than later.

All Change at Full Back for Leeds – Will We Finally Get Some Genuine Width? – by Rob Atkinson

Aidy White - Winging It in Left Back Berth

Aidy White – Winging It in Left Back Berth

Leeds United v Burnley (Elland Road) Saturday 21 September at 15:00

It seems certain that, in the absence of Steven Warnock through suspension and with Adam Drury still unavailable due to injury, Aidy White will finally get his long-awaited chance against Burnley to make an impression on this season – in the left-back slot where he has performed well enough to impress Brian McDermott in the U-21 side.  This comes a bare week or so after White seemed likely to depart on loan to Barnsley – but he made a laudable decision to stay and fight for his place.  On the other flank, it remains to be seen whether Lee Peltier, Tom Lees or maybe even Sam Byram will turn out at right-back.

A full back combination of White and Byram would offer pace and width to balance against an arguable lack of experience for an area of the team that normally requires an element of rugged know-how of the battle-hardened variety.  It’s probably unlikely that McDermott will opt to field both youngsters, but if he did then the team would at last have more potential for width going forward than it has offered all season, with the possibility of a wing-back approach as United seek to be more creative against the high-flying Lancastrians.

There is no doubt that Leeds need to carve out more in the way of chances if they are to make a real impact on this campaign.  Solid defence is all very well – only two conceded in the last three games.  But because we’ve scored only one in that time, a return of three points has seen the team drop away from the play-offs zone.  The options up front are likely to remain the same with Diouf, Poleon and Smith on the bench ready to enter the fray later on when the Burnley defence will have been – hopefully – softened up by the hard work of Noel Hunt and Luke Varney together with the elusiveness and skill of Ross McCormack.

It could be argued that United’s relative failure to create and convert chances owes as much to bad luck as it does to inadequate resources.  Sooner or later, Noel Hunt’s graft will pay off, Rudy Austin will bang one in from long range, Matt Smith  will adjust to a higher grade and be able to exploit his aerial power and ability.  A little width would help all this to come about, and attempts are surely going on behind the scenes to recruit people of enough quality in the loan market; the lack of any end product here up to now is – looking at it optimistically – a sign that some quality control is in operation and we’re not just going to sign anyone.  The exit on loan of Ryan Hall to Sheffield United would seem to set the bar a little above Hall’s own level where ability is concerned.

Burnley will present a stiff test, but Leeds will be looking to bounce back swiftly from a heart-breaking defeat on Wednesday night.  With home advantage, and an enforced change or two to freshen things up, expect United to emerge as narrow winners.

Norwich Fans Getting Cheekier – Time They Showed Some Respect

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Over the past couple of years, Leeds fans have had to grin and bear it as little Norwich – an unfashionable club from the back of beyond – have used the fact of their temporarily higher league status to pluck such gems as Snodgrass, Howson, Becchio and, erm, Bradley Johnson from the Elland Road payroll.  In truth, only the first two of those four departures were all that painful – the odd twinge caused by Luciano’s departure has been relieved by his zero contribution to Naaaarritch since he joined them – but that hasn’t stopped those loveable Ciddy fans from gloating and grinning and taking the mick.  Every time another transfer “coup” has been completed, there they’ve been, savouring the novelty of lording it over Mighty Leeds, crowing about us being their “feeder club” (no marks for originality there, lads) and generally cavorting all over the internet like the small-time wurzels they are.

Now, just as things seem to be looking up at Leeds, there has been a mischievous little article on the Norwich  “Vital Football” site, wondering with innocent glee whether our Boy Wonder, the one and only Sam Byram, might be the next to tread the path from LS11 to the backwoods obscurity of East Anglia.  The article appears to be based on nothing more than hubris; there is no suggestion that Byram – a lad surely aware of his potential career path – would choose to make such an oddly negative, sideways-at-best move.  It appears to be a case of a lazy hack with nothing better to write, trying to cater to the schoolboy excitement of Norwich fans still grappling with the unaccustomed chance to make fun of a much bigger club.

And where, after all, is the harm you might ask?  If this internet bravado helps the currently happy Ciddy fans forget their inglorious past, then good luck to them, right?  After all, prior to their recent double promotion success, their club was mainly famous for the tired and emotional display of Delia Smith when she unwisely seized the match-day mike after lavishly sampling the vino cabinet, and treated the stunned home crowd to a slurred and cringeworthy motivational speech:  “Wheeeere aaaare yoooouu?  Let’s be ‘aaaavviiiin’ yooooouuu!!!”   It was entertaining for everyone outside Carrow Road, but hardly a siren call to tempt a future England star who already has a first team berth in a far bigger club.

Pride, they say, goeth before a fall.  I have a funny feeling that the Chris Hughton magic may be a little harder to work this time around, and that Norwich may face a long and bitter, possibly fruitless, battle to retain their top-flight status.  And if they come tumbling down, Snodgrass,Jonny Howson, Becchio and all, wouldn’t it be poetically just if a Brian-inspired and Byram-powered Leeds hurtled in the opposite, upwards direction?  Who would be laughing then?

If Byram has any sense (and all the indications are that he has), he’ll stay where he is for at least one more season unless a truly irresistible offer comes along.  This would be from a proper Premier League club, one that can offer him the chance of playing at the highest level and possibly competing in Europe.  Failing that, he would do well to continue last season’s meteoric development, if he can, at Elland Road – possibly helping to elevate Leeds United back to where they belong at the same time.  It’s not an unrealistic prospect, all of a sudden.

If, this time next year, Leeds have gone up and Norwich have been relegated – might we not be reading transfer speculation of a return to Elland Road for Snodgrass and Howson?  Maybe, after all, we’d need the cover in midfield and on the wing.  And if we did read that speculation – would that be hubris, or taking the mick?  Not really.  It’d be more like the natural order reasserting itself, as it inevitably must at some point (the Norwich fans know this, deep down.)  Perhaps then, they can be excused their current cockiness – they’re just making hay while the sun shines and trying not to worry too much about what tomorrow will bring.

Tomorrow will come though, Norwich.  And then we’ll see who’s the feeder club for real.

Byram: City in Pole Position?

Super Sam

Super Sam

It’s a slightly worrying time for Leeds fans – otherwise known as “summertime” – the months when the “For Sale” signs start appearing above the heads of our latest prized asset.  The boy wonder in question this time is Sam Byram, and the usual loud denials and pledges of allegiance are to be heard already. Brian McDermott is “almost certain” that Byram will be at Elland Road next season.  The player himself has hinted he’d like to stay.  An ominous silence is noticeable from the direction of the owners.

I’ve written elsewhere  that it might not be the end of the world if Byram did end up following the footsteps of Delph and other richly-promising youngsters, away from LS11 to fulfill their undeniable potential elsewhere.  Historical precedent appears to favour the likelihood of this happening: we don’t have to go much further back to the loss of Aaron Lennon for a paltry million – what might he have added to the game plan of successive United bosses in the years since?

Reece Wabara

Reece Wabara

Now we hear that Reece Wabara, an extremely promising Man City starlet capable of operating in a variety of roles, is tipped for a loan move to Leeds this summer.  Quite apart from that little frisson of pleasure that goes with any link to players from such an elevated environment, this rumour should be seen in the context of Byram’s future, both over the short-term and perhaps slightly further ahead.  Are City throwing us a crumb from their bountiful table in order to pave the way for them to pick our ripest and juiciest plum?  Or are we far-sighted enough to want to add a player of Wabara’s potential and quality, in order to free up the even more sumptuous skills of Byram to operate further forward, possibly as a wide midfielder?

Whatever happens this summer, and fairly or unfairly, the ability or otherwise of United to hang on to Byram will be seen as the acid test of the still-quite-new owners’ ability to run the club along ambitious lines.  The retention of star players has never been a strong point; even during our last period of relative success in the nineties, when we had a team to compete with the very best – we couldn’t hang on to an unhappy Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.  So if Leeds DO manage to keep young Sam on the payroll, then we could perhaps say that sends out the right kind of optimistic message to pave the way for a real challenge for promotion next season.

It may be of course that City are playing a long game of their own.  A club with their virtually unlimited resources can buy just about anyone they like, Financial Fair Play rules permitting, naturally.  But maybe the advent of those rules are persuading the Premier League high-rollers to look at more creative ways of ensuring a flow of incoming talent.  The loan of a top-class youngster, and maybe a few million chucked our way and a loan-back option to sweeten the unpalatable pill – and City could well have secured themselves an option on a player who is likely (really highly likely) to be a major performer at the highest level and quite soon at that.

If Wabara does end up at Elland Road for next season, I’ll applaud United’s ambition, as far as it goes.  And if Byram is either sold or mortgaged, I won’t be screaming abuse from the rooftops – as long as the deal is done with the best interests of the club at heart, and especially if – in his own heart of hearts – Sam wants to ply his trade further up the food chain.  It’s going to be an interesting summer, and maybe a pivotal one in the history of our great club.  Whatever juggling act goes on, let’s hope that we don’t drop too many clangers this time.