Sam Byram insisted today that staying at Elland Road and taking the club to the Premier League was his “number one goal” as he prepared to put the seal on an outstanding individual season.
The 19-year-old prospect – named last night as the YEP’s player of the year for 2012-13 – said he expected be part of United’s squad next season amid mounting speculation about summer bids for him from Premier League clubs.
Byram’s impeccable form in his first year as a professional has attracted serious interest in his signature but the right-back claimed he was “really happy” at Leeds and expressed a desire to work under new manager Brian McDermott beyond the end of this term.
McDermott took charge of United two weeks ago and has already stressed the importance of retaining Byram, saying he would “absolutely, 100 per cent, expect Sam to be playing for us next season.”
Byram told the YEP: “I’d love to see the club get back into the Premier League and be here when it happens. That’s where the club belongs.
“You can see by the amount of fans who turn up that it’s a Premier League club. It (getting Leeds back to the Premier League) is one of my number one goals.
“It’s nice to hear that Premier League clubs are interested in me, just because it shows that I’m doing a good job here, but personally I’ve really enjoyed playing at Elland Road. The best way to learn is by playing games and the new manager’s been unbelievably encouraging with me. I like his style of play and I’m really happy.”
Byram has been watched on two occasions by West Bromwich Albion manager Steve Clarke and Cardiff City – newly-promoted to the Premier League – inquired about him as they closed in on the Championship title.
The Welsh club are understood to have been quoted a valuation of £8million.
Manchester City – a team who could finance a fee of that size comfortably – have also been heavily linked with him, while rumours of interest from Everton are also persisting. United made an attempt to ward off bids in January by extending Byram’s contract until 2016.
McDermott said: “He’ll get better and he’ll improve at Leeds, there’s no doubt about that.
“He’s a Leeds boy – the fans love him, the staff love him, the players love him.”
Byram is the only ever-present player in United’s squad with two matches of the season to play and his form won him the YEP’s player of the year award with almost 99 per cent of the vote.
He is the youngest-ever winner of a prize which was claimed by Ross McCormack last year and has previously gone to Patrick Kisnorbo, Max Gradel, Robert Snodgrass, and David Prutton.
He made his debut on the first day of the campaign and is currently on a run of 42 successive league starts.
Only goalkeeper Paddy Kenny has made as many league appearances as Byram this term.
Byram said: “I’m dead pleased and really proud. Overall it’s been a good season for me.”