How do you quantify the success of Sam Byram’s season? with the appearances of a player who might not have been recognised in his own street a year ago or by the number of clubs who would pay what Leeds United want for their 19-year-old right-back?
The interest in Byram is the product of his football and, as such, the standard of his performances in the past nine months can be found in the transfer rumour mill. He has been watched more than once by West Bromwich Albion’s Steve Clarke and heavily linked with Manchester City, the richest club in town.
More recently, Byram was the subject of an inquiry by Cardiff City whose planning for the Premier League is apparently under way. The YEP has been told that Cardiff were informed of – and most likely scared off by – an asking price of £8m, a valuation which tells its own story. There is no disguising the shining light in United’s laboured season.
In the poll for the Yorkshire Evening Post’s Player of the Year award, voting for which opens today, the teenage defender will not fail to feature prominently. The prize, sponsored by Jackson Trophies of Crossgates, usually gravitates towards established pros – Ross McCormack last season, Max Gradel before him and Patrick Kisnorbo in 2010 – but Byram might break the mould. Fifty games into a demanding year, there is still no sign of him hitting the wall.
This is the player who, in the eyes of his former manager, had no meaningful role to play in 2012-13. Fresh from signing Lee Peltier in the most expensive transfer of the summer, Neil Warnock was asked after a pre-season friendly at Burton Albion whether Byram’s rapid emergence would continue in the season ahead. “No, I don’t think so,” Warnock replied, with Peltier pencilled in at right-back. On the contrary, Byram is the only ever-present player in United’s squad and has been for many weeks.
The crux of his game is defensive nous coupled with the fitness, intelligence and skill to attack the flanks on the overlap. He has the attributes of a wing-back and physical strength belying his age. Class, composure, potential and English blood – the traits that clubs in this country pay big money for.
But his is not the only claim to this season’s player-of-the-year award. Where United would be without the goals of Luciano Becchio is another matter altogether. The striker has long since departed Elland Road – sold to Norwich City in January – but his strikerate was worth more to Leeds in the short term than Steve Morison and £200,000.
With 16 league goals, Becchio accounts for a third of all those scored by United in the Championship. They have averaged less than one a game without him and no other player has scored more than four league goals.
Others too have contributed in a year of limited progress. Tom Lees, another product of United’s academy, received his first call-up to the England under-21 squad in September and has gradually established himself. It is likely that the centre-back will be chosen for the European under-21 Championships in Israel this summer, his last opportunity to represent England at under-21 level.
In parts, this season has tried Lees. He was involved in the brawl which followed England’s qualifying play-off against Serbia in Krusevac and was threatened with criminal charges by Serbian police. Those charges never materialised.
Lees also suffered a tear in the retina of one eye the following week and was the victim of unrestrained criticism from Warnock after receiving a red card in Leeds’ 3-0 defeat at Ipswich Town last month. In what many saw as an excessive attack on one of United’s more consistent footballers, Warnock said he could “kill him”.
Elsewhere in the voting, consideration might be given to Paddy Kenny, a goalkeeper whose involvement has been under-appreciated from the outset. It has not been a perfect term for Kenny but he has earned his wage with agile shot-stopping behind a weak and ever-changing defence, a defence who hold the sixth worst record in the Championship. Like several keepers before him, Kenny has found that operating as the last line at Elland Road is a fairly thankless task.
It might be fair, also, to reflect that Leeds would have been worse off were it not for El-Hadji Diouf in the first half of the season and Peltier in the second. But it is precisely because of such patchy form that Byram’s 50-game consistency makes such an impression, both at this club and others.
To vote for your Leeds United Player of the Year 2012-13, email your choice to firstname.lastname@example.org by midday on Saturday, April 20.
Alternatively, you can send your vote on a postcard to: Leeds United Player of the Year 2012-13, Sports Desk, Yorkshire Evening Post, No 1 Leeds, 26 Whitehall Road, Leeds, LS12 1BE. One vote per person will be accepted.
For a full and comprehensive range of corporate and sporting trophies, visit the Jackson Trophies website at: www.jacksontrophies.com