By Rob Atkinson
It's a slightly worrying time for Leeds fans - otherwise known as "summertime" - the months when the "For Sale" signs start appearing above the heads of our latest prized asset. The boy wonder in question this time is Sam Byram, and the usual loud denials and pledges of allegiance are to be heard already. Brian McDermott is "almost certain" that Byram will be at Elland Road next season. The player himself has hinted he'd like to stay. An ominous silence is noticeable from the direction of the owners.
I've written elsewhere that it might not be the end of the world if Byram did end up following the footsteps of Delph and other richly-promising youngsters, away from LS11 to fulfill their undeniable potential elsewhere. Historical precedent appears to favour the likelihood of this happening: we don't have to go much further back to the loss of Aaron Lennon for a paltry million - what might he have added to the game plan of successive United bosses in the years since?
Now we hear that Reece Wabara, an extremely promising Man City starlet capable of operating in a variety of roles, is tipped for a loan move to Leeds this summer. Quite apart from that little frisson of pleasure that goes with any link to players from such an elevated environment, this rumour should be seen in the context of Byram's future, both over the short-term and perhaps slightly further ahead. Are City throwing us a crumb from their bountiful table in order to pave the way for them to pick our ripest and juiciest plum? Or are we far-sighted enough to want to add a player of Wabara's potential and quality, in order to free up the even more sumptuous skills of Byram to operate further forward, possibly as a wide midfielder?
Whatever happens this summer, and fairly or unfairly, the ability or otherwise of United to hang on to Byram will be seen as the acid test of the still-quite-new owners' ability to run the club along ambitious lines. The retention of star players has never been a strong point; even during our last period of relative success in the nineties, when we had a team to compete with the very best - we couldn't hang on to an unhappy Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. So if Leeds DO manage to keep young Sam on the payroll, then we could perhaps say that sends out the right kind of optimistic message to pave the way for a real challenge for promotion
It may be of course that City are playing a long game of their own. A club with their virtually unlimited resources can buy just about anyone they like, Financial Fair Play rules permitting, naturally. But maybe the advent of those rules are persuading the Premier League high-rollers to look at more creative ways of ensuring a flow of incoming talent. The loan of a top-class youngster, and maybe a few million chucked our way and a loan-back option to sweeten the unpalatable pill - and City could well have secured themselves an option on a player who is likely (really highly likely) to be a major performer at the highest level and quite soon at that.
If Wabara does end up at Elland Road for next season, I'll applaud United's ambition, as far as it goes. And if Byram is either sold or mortgaged, I won't be screaming abuse from the rooftops - as long as the deal is done with the best interests of the club at heart, and especially if - in his own heart of hearts - Sam wants to ply his trade further up the food chain. It's going to be an interesting summer, and maybe a pivotal one in the history of our great club. Whatever juggling act goes on, let's hope that we don't drop too many clangers this time.
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