Sam Byram was not present at the meeting in December which put him in Massimo Cellino’s line of fire. It took place between Cellino and Byram’s agent, Colin Pomford, and ended with the Italian ordering Pomford out of Elland Road.
Leeds United’s owner was offering a contract which would have extended Byram’s term at Leeds while reducing a weekly wage which is understood to stand at around £12,000 a week. Pomford refused the deal immediately and Cellino ended their conversation soon after.
Those who worked with Cellino back then say his approach was not simply about targeting Byram. A former club employee said the “MO at the time” was to bring down the cost of United’s wage bill, specifically by trying to renegotiate deals handed out by previous owner Gulf Finance House. Luke Murphy altered his terms in July of this year, trading an extension of three seasons for a cut in his weekly wage. The following month, Steve Morison’s contract was severed and a wage of close to £17,000 a week was removed from the long list of outgoings
Byram’s existing three-year contract, a deal which expires next summer, was signed by him in January 2013 a month after GFH bought control of Leeds from Ken Bates. A club statement described it as “a reward for his contribution in the first team this season” and Byram went on to claim numerous player-of-the-year awards at the end of his first term as a professional. The pay rise came his way six months after the right-back had signed a different three-year deal.
Cellino knew after his meeting with Pomford last December – a juncture at which Leeds were in very uncertain waters – that the polarised positions of both camps would most likely lead to the situation they are now in: with Byram refusing to sign an extension and Cellino speaking pointedly about the impasse.
“Sam Byram is the one that maybe thinks Leeds is too small for him,” Cellino told Sky Sports on Tuesday. “He maybe thinks he deserves to be in a bigger team and a bigger club, and maybe he’s right.
“But when I hear that a player from Leeds, with his agent, that he thinks that Leeds is not big enough for him, that he wants something bigger, I felt really embarrassed.
“He didn’t sign the new contract and he won’t sign it anymore. He’s been offered a contract a few times, he didn’t want to sign and I am deeply offended.”
Talks were suspended while Cellino served a Football League ownership ban between January and May and Byram’s contract drifted into its final 12 months. Leeds negotiated an extension to Lewis Cook’s deal in that time but Cook was earning a considerably lower wage than Byram and received an increased salary as a result.
Sources at Elland Road have told the YEP that Cellino is open to offers for Byram during the recent transfer window, in part because the club had little expectation of finding common ground with Byram or his agent but also because of doubts about how well the 22-year-old would play with his future so unclear.
In the end the club received no offers of note. There was talk of a deal with Aston Villa which would have brought winger Andreas Weimann to Elland Road – Weimann subsequently joined Derby County – and Newcastle United scouted Byram during Leeds’ pre-season friendly against Everton. Assistant manager Ian Cathro and chief scout Graham Carr attended the game at Elland Road on August 1 but Newcastle did not submit a formal bid. By that stage, Leeds’ head coach Uwe Rosler was making no secret of the fact that Byram was a pivotal member of his squad.
In the final month of the summer window, as it became clear that Byram would remain at Elland Road beyond the FIFA deadline, fresh talks were initiated with the youngster’s camp.
Adam Pearson, United’s former executive director who resigned from his post last week, led the negotiations without success. Leeds suggested makeweights – a release clause being one – but discussions made no progress. Cellino’s comments on Tuesday made it clear that he expects Byram to leave the club, either in January or after his contract expires. United would be due compensation from any transfer next summer on account of Byram’s age.
With Morison gone and Murphy’s wage reduced, Byram is likely to be one of the higher earners at Elland Road. He is also one of the more prominent having started all but one of the club’s league games this season.
Rosler, however, admitted recently that the player’s form and mindset had been affected by “speculation”, saying: “I felt that with Sam, the rumours and continuous speculation didn’t help him. I spoke to him probably more than any other player one-to-one and we’re both happy that it (the transfer window) is done now.”
At right-back and on the right wing, the two positions where Byram has played, Leeds have done business in the past three days. Gaetano Berardi signed a two-year contract extension on Monday and Will Buckley is preparing to join on loan from Sunderland next week.
Cellino said that even if Byram relented and asked to commit to a new contract he would “prefer to sign someone else.”
“There is already a list and maybe something better than him,” Cellino said.
Byram’s agent has not responded to requests for comment.
Sam Byram’s explosion of form during pre-season in 2012 was so unexpected that after one appearance Leeds United manager Neil Warnock was forced to ask the media to remind him of Byram’s first name.
The academy full-back appeared from nowhere but by the end of that summer, his first as a professional, he was established as a regular in Warnock’s line-up. Having signed Lee Peltier from Leicester City for around £800,000, Warnock was not expecting Byram to make that impact.
The teenager received a new long-term deal before the ink on his initial professional contract was dry. The following January, with Gulf Finance House in the early stages of its tenure as owner, he received another three-year contract on an improved wage. That decision seems justified when, a few months later, Byram swept the board at the club’s player-of-the-year awards ceremony.
A debutant at the age of 18, Byram is now the leading appearance maker in the current Leeds squad having turned 22 last Wednesday. His outing at MK Dons on Saturday was his 128th and no other player at Elland Road is into three figures. Midfielders Luke Murphy and Alex Mowatt are just short of 80.