It was like a “Where’s Waldo” book, only it wasn’t nearly as fun. Where is the right back at West Ham? For a couple years, the only true right back on the roster was Arsenal loanee Carl Jenkinson. After the board decided to not pay the price that Arsenal asked for Jenkinson, there has been a revolving door of centre backs (James Tomkins), wingers (Michail Antonio), defensive midfielders (Cheikhou Kouyaté and Havard Nordtveit) and others (Alvaro Arbeloa) that have been supposed to fill the giant gaping hole at right back. Last year, when Sam Byram arrived from Leeds, fans hoped that he would come in and play like an Aaron Cresswell on the right, an offensive force that would help keep opposing defenses honest and provide enough defensive cover to not leave the centrebacks isolated.
Byram played only four times for the Hammers after his move from Leeds United during the January transfer window of the 2015-16 season, due in part to missing over a month with an injury, and it looked like he would start the season as the potential first-choice right back after he started the season playing in all four of the club’s Europa League qualifying matches. He started the first league game at the London Stadium for West Ham, a 1-0 win against AFC Bournemouth, but he was injured after only seven minutes against Middlesbrough on October 1st, 2016, and was out until January 2017, missing over three months of action, which saw the Hammers struggle, often playing Nordtveit out of position or playing three centrebacks with Kouyaté playing in the backline.
Strangely, though, even once Byram came back to fitness, he still did not seem to get a run in the first team. After West Ham was mauled by Manchester City, Byram was cast to the bench, watching Kouyaté get a run in the side as the first choice right back. Despite Kouyaté not being able to hit the broad side of a barn with a cross and giving some questionable defensive performances as a make-shift right back, he was still preferred to Byram playing at his natural position. Byram was even rumored to be on the move in the summer, with a potential loan move in the works.
GOAL Bournemouth 2-2 West Ham (83 mins). Andre Ayew slots in from Sam Byram's cut back to level for the Hammers' #BOUWHU— Premier League (@premierleague) March 11, 2017
Byram did appear a few times as a substitute during his spell sitting on the bench, most memorably providing a nice cut-back pass to provide an assist on an André Ayew goal against Bournemouth in a losing effort.
Against Swansea City last Saturday, however, Sam Byram put in a man of the match performance, providing service to the forwards from the right back spot, while playing a good defensive game, helping the team hold onto a clean sheet in a do-or-die game. His stop against Gylfi Sigurdsson late in the game helped to preserve the critical win for the Hammers. His MOTM performance in a must-win game surely overshadows some shaky performances earlier in the season.
Kouyate: “There was big pressure because we needed to win. Swansea had one chance late on, but Sam Byram was there to save the team.” pic.twitter.com/uFxZYXlCsh— West Ham News (@WHUFC_News) April 8, 2017
In short, Sam Byram has finally found the form that had generated attention from Everton while he was a player at Leeds and why he was named the PFA Fans’ player of the month for The Championship in December of 2015, the month before he moved to West Ham. While Byram has battled injury in his short career in East London, a run in the first team has done wonders for his confidence and his performances reflect his ability and potential that was never in doubt.
Sam Byram, only 23 years old, is one of the young stars of the current West Ham team, and he needs to start the rest of the season to cement his place in the first team, and help to prevent the club from turning itself into the East London Retirement Home for Right Backs, as the Hammers have been linked with former Arsenal player Bacary Sagna, Manchester City star Pablo Zabaleta, and most recently, Ex-Hammer, and former Chelsea and Liverpool star, Glen Johnson. All of those players are out of contract in the summer and all of them are over 30 and have had the best days of their careers behind them. Sam Byram has made Bilić’s choice easy after his performance against Swansea, hopefully Bilić keeps playing him so that the board doesn't sell him or bury him on the depth chart by bringing in an older “star” that will only turn out like Alvaro Arbeloa’s time in East London: short, sour, and doomed to failure.