“For me, looking at Sam, I remember Gareth Bale coming onto the scene and looking like something similar.
“I do think Sam has got that sort of ability to go on and become that type of player. From our point of view, he is a tremendous young talent.”
They were the words of Leeds United’s first team coach and development boss Neil Redfearn, a man better positioned than many to make an informed assessment of Sam Byram, Leeds’ versatile right-back. Redfearn had played a key role in developing Byram from the signing of his first professional deal last May to an integral member of Leeds’ squad and such as been the progress of the 20 year old, Redfearn’s disapproval of his omission from last season’s PFA Championship Team Of The Year may be seen as valid.
“To be honest – and I am biased as well – I don’t see that there’s a better right-back in the division.” he said.
Byram’s elevation from youth team prospect to a first-team regular at Elland Road has surpassed many expectations in terms of time-scale. Born in Essex, Byram moved up north at a young age, joining the City Schools Team before moving to Leeds United as a teenager. The Whites allowed him to complete his secondary education before signing him to scholar terms in the summer of 2010. Despite playing as a scholar, he “dropped down” a year to play in the under 16s in order to aid his development, later moving back up to his under-18 age group in 2011-12. Byram’s under-18 side finished second to Newcastle in their divisional league, the young full-back playing a predominant role and earning his full contract the following summer.
Manager Neil Warnock bought into Byram’s potential immediately and included him throughout the pre-season of 2012-13, seeing enough to hand him the squad number of 25 ahead of the new season. He made his full-debut in a 4-0 League Cup victory over Shrewsbury Town and then regained his place for a 1-0 win over Wolverhampton Wanderers the following week. Impressing with a fine defensive job on highly-rated winger Matt Jarvis, Byram was rewarded with a 3 year contract extension, just 2 months after signing his initial deal.
He scored his first professional goal in the second round of the League Cup with a superb solo goal in a 3-0 win over Oxford, cementing himself in Warnock’s side with some assured defensive displays and appearing comfortable on the ball regardless of where his manager fielded him. After scoring his first league goal in a draw away at Bolton and reaching his 35th appearance in late-January, Byram signed yet another contract, this time extending his stay at Elland Road until 2016. It was a move designed to fend off interest from Liverpool and Everton in the then 19 year old and, as an official club statement read, “to reward Sam for his contribution in the first-team this season”.
The young right-back would go on to score two more goals and make a total of 53 appearances, 44 coming in the league with only goalkeeper Paddy Kenny playing more than the young full-back. His superb form was universally recognised by Leeds fans who voted him as the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Player of the Year and he became a rare bright-spot in an otherwise dull campaign for Leeds which involved the uncertainty of a new takeover and a change of manager.
With interest in Byram intensifying over the summer, with West Brom, Cardiff and Manchester City casting an eye on the 20 year old, the versatile player loyally committed his future to Leeds over the off-season, claiming that he was “really happy” at the Yorkshire club and looking forward to playing under new coach Brian McDermott. It would come as welcome news for Leeds fans who had watched him previously pick up a series of individual awards including the club’s Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year, Player’s Player of the Year Award and also the Supporter’s Club Player of the Year.
If that wasn’t enough for the youngster to celebrate, he was also rewarded with a call-up to Peter Taylor’s England under-20 squad for the World Cup in Turkey, though he withdrew with a hip injury that has ruled him out of Leeds’ pre-season in this current campaign. Though Byram has returned this September, playing in the League Cup defeat to Newcastle and making a further two league appearances as he eases himself back into a new-look first-team under McDermott.
Strengths, Style and Weaknesses
Byram can play on the right side of both defence and midfield as versatile utility man. Playing usually as a right-back, the 20 year old possesses the pace and energy to steam forward and join attacks, using his vision and technique to deliver good crosses into the box. Since Byram has played so well at right back, it has allowed Lee Peltier to play a naturally more central defensive role.
A significant aspect of Byram’s game is his willingness to improve and the scrutiny he places himself under, receiving coverage for his desire to closely analyse his errors. Against Cardiff, the ball came across the box and I just misjudged it while trying to clear it down the line. I hooked it back into the edge of the area, and [Craig] Bellamy took a shot that deflected to another player who struck into the bottom corner. Then I gave a penalty away at Barnsley” he said. He is known at the club for his constant viewing of videos of his performances, going over them with McDermott and Redfearn, who is now the assistant manager, as he strives to improve his game. He shows his maturity by learning from his mistakes.
In the 53 games he played, he showed great discipline as playing mostly in defence, he only picked up 6 yellow cards and no reds. Byram has good pace, to keep up with his opponent and also beat him in attack. It allows the youngster to be a useful resource going forward as the modern game demands, also fitting into McDermott’s adventurous style of play. His surprisingly superior strength helps him challenge for the ball and break free from defenders, allowing him to both pressure opponents off the ball and to also beat them as he roams forward.
His intelligent positioning is also an evident feature of his game, both defensively and in attack, assuring McDermott as he gives him licence to leave his full-back spot. Inside and around the box, Byram is clever in movement and is constantly in search of space, often finding it despite tight marking in the final-third That skill allows him to pin his opposition full-back and take him on with a patented step-over and a dip of the shoulder.
Though he is a regular menace when joining the attack, appearing full of confidence as he bears down on goal, Byram can lack aggression when on the back foot. He does tend to be tame at times, as shown by his dearth of bookings, though it does translate to some attackers that he can be something of a soft-touch, with some strikers drifting out to the left to isolate the young right-back.
Not only have Everton and Manchester City been linked with bids of £8-£10 million for the services of the young Englishman, Newcastle United have also made their interest known, watching him in this campaign as he continues his recovery from the hip injury.
Leeds are said to value Byram at £6 million, though that figure is extremely low for a player who has a bright future ahead and has already attracted figures in the region of £8 million. He is also contracted to 2016, and with the player saying personally that he is happy at Elland Road, he is likely to remain in the famous white shirt for the foreseeable future.