Becoming a professional footballer is not merely a case of having the talent to play the game.
Every academy has capable kids within it but some players who you expect to go far ultimately don’t make it. They soon find out that there’s more to this job than the ability in your feet.
You need ability, of course, but there are other factors too: self-confidence, the right physical attributes and – perhaps most importantly – a coach who will give you a chance.
Without those things, your prospects are slim.
Managers have seen time and again that what a kid does in a youth team game on a Saturday morning isn’t necessarily what he’ll do when you throw him in at the deep end. Some youngsters can’t cope with the expectation of a crowd of 25,000 and that’s nothing to be ashamed of.
The atmosphere at a ground like Elland Road is hardly water off a duck’s back.
So to say I’ve been impressed by Sam Byram, Leeds United’s emerging right-back, would be an understatement and I’m delighted to see that we’ve tied him down to a lengthy contract this week.
I heard quite a bit about him and his performances for the under-18s last season but I can’t pretend that I expected him to burst on to the scene like he has.
Like Aidy White, Tom Lees and a number of others who’ve come through the academy, he ticks every box – he’s technically gifted, without a doubt, and he’s a tall, strong lad at the age of 18. You can tell that he believes in himself and it’s pretty obvious that his manager believes in him too.
It was a gamble by Neil Warnock to play Sam against Wolves but he saw what all of us did during pre-season so the risk was calculated.
I don’t expect for one minute that Neil will play him in 46 games this season for an experienced manager like him will be mindful of protecting Byram at the times when he needs saving from himself.
I know what it’s like when you’re wet behind the ears – you want to play all the time and you think you’re capable of doing what players with 10 years of Football League experience do week in, week out.
Byram will get there, you can see that already, but Neil will be monitoring him all the time, checking his fitness, watching his mood and looking for signs of burn-out. He’ll be handled with care.
Personally, I just think it’s great to see another local product coming through the academy and into the first team.
Developing youngsters is part of the ethos of this club going back many years and for all the tough times it’s had recently, the system here continues to produce promising youngsters.
Every other youngster at Thorp Arch should be looking at Sam’s progress and drawing encouragement from it.
It’s not like he’s been knocking on the door for years on end. Last season he was an under-18 player with a good reputation but no massive profile.
It just goes to show that you never know what’s around the corner.
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