Sam Byram: an injury-prone full-back signed for under a million pounds after underachieving at West Ham.
This was an opinion shared by a few City fans when we signed the former Leeds youngster. Byram, a player who has played in both right-back and left-back admirably this season, has blown that perception out of the water but has been somewhat of an unsung hero as the likes of Teemu Pukki, Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia take the headlines.
So, I thought I would write a piece on Byram’s career so far and just how well he has performed for City this season.
The Thurrock born full-back was just 19 when he broke into the Leeds team regularly in the 2012-13 season. In his first championship game of that season, he won praise for marshalling England international and future Norwich winger Matt Jarvis as Leeds beat promotion favourites Wolves 1-0.
Two days after his league debut, Byram was given a new three-year deal, just three months after signing his first professional contract with the club; a sign of how much faith the club had in him. He went on to play 44 of the 46 Championship games that season, scoring four times and assisting five, missing only the final two games of the season through a hip injury.
At the end of the season, the academy prospect won Leeds’ Player of the Year Award, Young Player of the Year Award, Player’s Player of the Year Award and the Supporters Club Player of the Year Award.
The 2013-14 season was a tricky one for the fans’ favourite and he missed the first seven games of the campaign with the same hip injury which ended his debut season. With various other injuries and niggles, Byram was only able to play 27 games, slightly slowing down his progression.
Despite a stalled second season, Premier League clubs were interested in Byram, with Southampton offering £4.5 million for his services. He was asked to play a winger role for parts of the 2014-15 season due to a change of tactics and had another good season, playing 39 games scoring three and assisting three times.
In the 2015-16 season, he again played mostly as a winger, occasionally moving to full-back and was again being touted with a Premier League move thanks to his performances, especially in December 2016 where he scored three times and assisted once as Leeds only lost once in the month.
In January 2016, a move to England’s top league materialised for Byram as he joined West Ham United for a reported fee of £3.7 million. Sam played four times for the Hammers that season, all at right-back, including in a 2-2 draw at Carrow Road where Alex Neil’s side frustratingly blew a two-goal lead. A mixture of suspension and injury again ruled him out for the rest of the campaign.
West Ham qualified for Europa League Qualifiers for the 2016/17 season in which Byram showed his versatility, playing at left-back and right-back as his team were surprisingly knocked out of the competition.
The former Leeds man then featured in his team’s first four games before a hamstring injury ruled him out of the next 14 Premier League games. He still played 18 times for the Hammers that season but injuries were again a problem and hinted at a career that was beginning to decline from its early heady heights.
A combination of a thigh muscle strain and an ankle injury meant the 2017/18 season was a massively frustrating one for Byram, and he only played five Premier League games, three EFL Cup games and two FA Cup games.
After losing his starting place, West Ham loaned Byram out to Nottingham Forest in the hope he could regain his form through consistent playing time. But he played just 75 minutes against Birmingham City before suffering a horrible knee injury that would rule him out for the majority of the campaign and he only played a total of six Championship games all season. Although injured, many Forest fans wanted their club to sign Byram after seeing the talent he possessed when playing in five of the last six games of the season.
In the summer of 2019, in the search of a back-up right-back for breakthrough academy prospect Max Aarons, Stewart Webber came calling and purchased him for the modest fee of £750k.
City’s number 3 didn’t make his first City league start until a home game against Premier League Champions Manchester City, where injuries to several key men forced Daniel Farke’s hand. But Byram, along with his teammates, were immense in a historic 3-2 victory.
England international and, at the time, Premier League leading goal scorer Raheem Sterling was extremely well marshalled with Sam showing his maturity and experience by positioning himself well so he didn’t need to lunge into challenges against the tricky winger, as well as regularly showing Sterling onto his weaker left foot.
In the next game, the whole team struggled and succumbed to a grim 2-0 defeat to Burnley and with the return of Aarons, Byram was benched for five of the next six games. We didn’t see him again until he started at left-back against Everton where he massively impressed as City picked up a huge three points, winning 2-0.
In fact, Sam impressed so much he started nine of the next ten games ahead of highly-rated Northern Ireland international Jamal Lewis.
I personally believe that Byram has been the signing of the season for City and the cost of £750k has proved an absolute bargain for a player who looks perfectly adept at this level, whether it’s right-back or left. At 6ft, he offers much-needed height and although he has missed some big chances in games he has demonstrated a brilliant balance between his attacking and defending.
Byram’s positional play is also something that needs to be lauded as, for a player not blessed with blistering pace, he’s rarely caught out in a 1 vs 1 situation and will only decide to slide into a challenge if he feels he’s in the correct position to do so.
The final point I want to make is how big an influence he can be on all of our talented young players, in particular, Jamal Lewis and Max Aarons. Sam had the world at his feet at the age of 19-22, playing regularly in the Championship and was being touted with big-money moves, much like our young players currently.
But through no fault of his own, Byram fell out of popularity not long after his move to a West Ham, so it should act as a perfect reminder to our youngsters to pick when you move and who you move to very carefully.
I feel Sam Byram’s Norwich City prospects look extremely bright as long as he stays injury-free, and if what I expect to happen does happen in the summer I would be more than happy to see him as the club’s leading right back next season.