We knew this was coming, even if we didn't want to believe it: Sam Byram has left the building.
Last week, the report was Everton: a £4m transfer fee and Byram would head to Liverpool to play for the Toffeemen. At that point, West Ham United reportedly got nervous and realized Byram wouldn't be available come summer, so they made a play as well. The "undisclosed" transfer fee has been rumored around the £3.7 million mark (though Cellino said it was less), and the four year deal Byram signed will keep him in London for quite a while should he perform up to the standards we all expect he will.
If you have the stomach, you can watch his first interview for the Hammers here.
More than losing your average everyday starter, this transfer saga has significantly impacted the LUFC fanbase. Is it an indictment on Cellino specifically? On Leeds United as a whole for the last decade or more? It's certainly a kick to the gut to see a player come up through your academy and move on right before he hits his stride. No matter how Cellino tried to frame it, Byram had love for this club and the fanbase has love for him. A few tweets from Leeds fans...
@Radebe_Leeds never going again until we spend properly and assemble a team that's exciting and challenging in the top half. Not this shit.— Adam Barnes (@AdamPB) January 20, 2016
So now he's gone, and the team will take the transfer fee and put it to good use, right? That's how a functioning Championship squad has to operate: selling players who want to play in the big-time while treading water in the middle of the second division? In the States, we have the minor leagues as our second division, where players go to hone their skills before jumping up to play in the majors, and that's what Leeds United is, yes? A minor league club?
No... but you'd be hard-pressed to say differently after watching the ownership of this club over the last few years.
As player after player moves on to play for Premier League teams, the Whites are left behind with a struggling youth system that produces an occasional bright spot... like Sam Byram. For a team to make that push for promotion, to be considered "major league" by anyone, ever, it has to hold on to players like this, sell them on the team's vision for the future, and supplement the first team squad with purchases in these transfer windows.
There was hope in December that Steve Evans would keep them in the hunt, that the undefeated streak would convince Cellino to buy rather than sell in January. That hope, and the hope in this season, has now officially died.
However, it can be resurrected.
Cellino could use the transfer fee to buy a player or two that Evans thinks he can convince to stay. The team can hold on to young talents like Byram (Cook, Mowatt, Erwin, Coyle) and make a new core. They can consider this season a wash and plan on moving big over the summer.
Leeds is still a draw, the White Rose a symbol of pride for many fans/players throughout England and beyond... but it won't be forever. Something has to change with how this club approaches young talent, approaches spending money, or the fans will not be filling Elland Road on Saturdays (or Mondays and Thursdays). God knows SkyTV gives fans plenty of opportunities to watch the team at home for free rather than attend in person and line Cellino's pockets for his middle-of-the-table efforts.
Let's maintain hope that things turn around, but let's be honest: the day we sold Sam Byram was the darkest day in recent memory for the Leeds United faithful.
What do you think? Will Cellino make changes and present a vision for the future? Will he continue wasting our support? Will he have to leave before we turn things around? Vote in the poll, let us know in the comments. Thanks for reading and supporting us on Twitter and Facebook as well. #MOT, through it all.