City report card: Bargain buy Byram can be a key player if he recovers full fitness
Sam Byram hasn’t had much luck on the injury front so far in his career, ensuring everyone inside Carrow Road could feel the pain as he clutched his hamstring back in February.
The £750,000 paid to West Ham last summer was looking more of a bargain as each Premier League game went by but 27 minutes into Norwich City’s home clash with eventual champions Liverpool his season was over.
Byram had signed knowing that Max Aarons and Jamal Lewis were in possession of the starting full-back roles following the Canaries’ title triumph in the Championship so focused on his fitness during the early stages of the season.
The Leeds academy product had seen his previous season on loan at Nottingham Forest restricted to just six Championship appearances after suffering a knee injury early in the campaign, so was used sparingly during pre-season.
A brief cameo at the end of City’s comfortable 3-1 home win over Newcastle was followed by a very forgettable full debut, playing 86 minutes of an embarrassing 1-0 defeat away to League Two side Crawley Town in the League Cup second round.
His chance arrived after Aarons hurt his ankle making a goal-line clearance for the England Under-21s during the September international break, which meant Byram was straight in at the Premier League deep end.
He had prior experience of course, having made 27 appearances in the top flight for West Ham during his injury-hit stint, but this time he was marking England star Raheem Sterling as defending champions Manchester City came to Norfolk. We all know what happened next.
The recent arrival endeared himself to the Carrow Road faithful with a tenacious and disciplined shift, playing his part in a wonderful team effort which defied an injury crisis to earn a famous 3-2 victory and a full-time roar not heard in these parts many times before.
Yet after Daniel Farke’s team were brought back down to earth with a bump by a 2-0 defeat at Burnley the following weekend, a fit-again Aarons was restored at right-back for a trip to Crystal Palace.
It would be in the less familiar position of left-back where Byram’s career with Norwich would truly get up and running, as Jamal Lewis missed out on the trip to Everton in November, being chosen ahead of Philip Heise.
“I’m happy to be on the pitch and to help the team win,” said a beaming Byram after a 2-0 win at Goodison Park, when he should have scored with a headed chance as well. “I’ve been practising a lot with my left foot, with Jamal being out with a niggle I needed to be ready.
“I’ve been practising in my spare time and I feel like I’m getting better and more naturally two-sided, so I feel comfortable.”
He was looking increasingly assured on the left and brought defensive strength as he was replaced by Lewis for just one of the next 14 games, as Farke rotated for a second game in three days just after Christmas.
The 26-year-old played a major part in the defining December which City will forever look back on as their big chance missed. Draws with Arsenal, Leicester, Tottenham and Crystal Palace all should have earned more points, while leads were also allowed to slip during home defeats to Sheffield United and Wolves.
If they could just build on those encouraging signs...
Then came that narrow 1-0 defeat to leaders Liverpool in February, when Jurgen Klopp’s men were given an almighty scare. Byram limped off with his hamstring injury in the 27th minute and Christoph Zimmermann’s season was also ended by a hamstring problem after that narrow loss.
As the Premier League geared up to return from its three-month suspension in June however, there were hopes that both could return alongside skipper Grant Hanley to bolster a late push for survival.
The only one of the three who did manage to return was Zimmermann though, with the damage already done and relegation imminent. Byram had been ruled out after surgery on his hamstring had run into complications, with a reaction to an inserted screw causing a cyst.
Farke said ahead of the final game of the campaign that he was “carefully optimistic” about the full-back being back in contention ahead of the new season in the Championship and that further surgery wouldn’t be needed.
With both Aarons and Lewis reportedly being pursued by a host of top-flight clubs, the Canaries will be desperately hoping that Byram can return to full fitness in time for pre-season, to continue proving that he was a bargain buy.