COMMENT By Editor Wayne Veysey
A difficult year for Sam Byram has just taken another turn for the worse.
Byram’s hopes of establishing himself in the West Ham first team will have taken a major hit by reports that the club have all but sealed the £10million signing of St Etienne right-back Kevin Malcuit.
Sky Sports claim the Premier League outfit “expect” to land the 25-year-old in the summer window after doing the groundwork on the transfer.
Thank goodness for that, will no doubt be the reaction of the majority of the West Ham faithful.
Such has been the club’s problems at right-back over the past two seasons that failure to adequately address the issue might lead to a riot in the East End.
Yet the increasingly likely arrival of Malcuit does not spell good news for Byram.
It has been a mighty difficult 14 months for the 23-year-old since his £3.75million transfer from Leeds in the January window of last year.
Beset by niggling injury problems – a hamstring problem sidelined him for nearly three months of this season – he has been unable to string a sequence of first-team appearances together.
Manager Slaven Bilic has been forced to turn to a series of emergency options on the right side of the defence, with Cheikhou Kouyate the latest square peg in a round hole in last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Watford.
Byram made three consecutive appearances last month but has been back on the sidelines for the last three games and was an unused substitute both against Watford and in the preceding 2-2 draw against West Brom.
Judging by the fact he has played in just 16 first-team matches in a year-and-a-bit and a new right-back is on the way, Bilic clearly doesn’t regard Byram as the answer.
Salvation for the 23-year-old could and should come from boyhood club Leeds.
Athletic full-backs who are proven in the Championship and are capable of making the leap to the top flight don’t grow on trees and Garry Monk’s side are likely to lose one this summer, when contract rebel Charlie Taylor is set to follow Byram to the Premier League.
Bryam plays on the opposite flank to left-back Taylor but he is a dual-purpose player, who can also play at right midfield, as he did in the first half of last season. He can even fill in at left-back, as he has on two occasions this season at West Ham.
Byram knows Leeds inside out from his 143 appearances for the club, has his best years ahead of him and there should be little resentment from his exit.
Luke Ayling has had an outstanding season at right-back, but will benefit from top-quality competition for his place next season, when the demands and expectations are likely to be considerably higher.
Whether or not Leeds reach the holy grail of the Premier League in May, they should swoop for Byram and push to re-sign a player who can still make it at the top.
It could be a great deal for all parties.