STEVE Evans has backed Sam Byram to become an instant first team regular at Everton – and only wishes the right back could have been granted his Premier League dreams at Leeds United.
But the head coach is keen to stress Byram’s transfer was still a long way off completion with the Glaswegian fully intending to field the 22-year-old against Sheffield Wednesday today.
Byram looks destined for the blue half of Merseyside with Leeds having accepted Everton’s offer of £3.7m for a player who had refused United’s offer of a new contract with his current deal up in the summer.
West Ham United and Newcastle United are also thought to be interested in gaining the defender’s signature with Evans admitting of “considerable interest from the Barclays Premier League” and United’s head coach has no doubt Byram will make the grade at the highest level of English football.
That experience will likely come with the Toffees where Evans expects Byram to walk straight into the side, backed by complimentary comments from his boss at Elland Road.
Evans spoke glowingly about Byram in Friday morning’s Thorp Arch press conference, praising the player’s temperament and revealing he would have no qualms starting the full back at Hillsborough today should his switch to Everton not be completed.
The head coach says the youngster will leave with Leeds United’s blessing, but also a strong sense of what might have been.
Asked what sort of send off he would give the defender, Evans said: “I’ll give him a big hug and a big kiss. He’s been fantastic for me.
“He’s the same as the rest of these youngsters, he’s the most humble young man and if we were challenging now for the Premier League do I think Sam would want to go? No I don’t.
“But he wants to play in the Premier League and I think every young player in football anywhere in the world should aspire to play in the best league they possibly can at the highest level.
“If that means that he goes and plays in the Premier League now then we will wish him every, every success and I’m sure our supporters will join us on that although added to that is a real tinge of sadness when you see such a gifted young man walk out of the dressing room.
“He’s been our best player for six weeks. He’s a gifted young man and in the event that he goes and plays in the Premier League then he will become a regular in the Premier League. He is very gifted both on and off the pitch with the way he conducts himself.”
Asked if Byram would leave with any regrets, Evans said: “I think any player that leaves Leeds United will drive out of Thorp Arch with a tinge of regret anyway because this club is a giant.
“It’s all hypothetical but if Leeds United are in the Premier League are you going to Everton? No way.
“But Everton have made fantastic progress, firstly under David Moyes and secondly and more importantly under Roberto (Martinez).
“What he has put together is young players rather than older players, there’s a different strategy there David versus Roberto and you look at some of the success of that but Sam could play in Everton’s team tomorrow, no doubt.”
Everton travel to Chelsea today but Evans was still expecting Byram to be training at Thorp Arch yesterday.
The head coach knows a move to Everton is likely imminent but Evans was keen to stress that Byram’s Elland Road departure could take time.
As such, the Glaswegian sees no reason why Byram won’t be donning the Whites shirt for today’s lunch-time derby at Sheffield Wednesday.
Evans reasoned: “If nothing is concluded then obviously I seek instruction from the owner to see whether we can include him in our team because that would be an ideal scenario for me as the head coach.”
Yet Evans is now facing up to losing one of his best players – but one who the 53-year-old says has conducted himself in exemplary fashion during what could have been a highly unsettling time.
Evans revealed: “I think when I came in he had all the speculation around him about his contract and his no contract and I deliberately took him out for a week or two and had daily chats with him and different things.
“I very quickly saw a young man become focused again and some of his performances have been simply outstanding and made him a real contender for the best player in the Championship in the last six weeks. If he’s not the leading one he’ll certainly be in the leading group.”
Asked if his departure had always been ‘inevitable’ Evans reasoned: “Sam’s representatives made it clear that signing a new contract was not an option and of course the football club had the security of a tribunal system which is fair and balanced so I think the fee was already going to be a significant fee.
“But on the other side of the coin, if someone doesn’t want to play for you and they want to go to new pastures then you have to make that happen rather than keep unhappy players. That’s never been a strategy of mine and it will never be.”