Attacking midfielder, on loan from Swansea, good reviews from Swansea Twitter.
That’s about all that a lot of Pompey fans knew of George Byers following his unexpected announcement, immediately after Saturday’s 4-0 pummelling by Hull City.
Sure, he had lots of Championship appearances, but what can he do? Might his injury history hold him back? How will he improve our midfield, which is already loaded with attacking and defensive talent?
George Byers joined Watford at the age of 7, but only made one senior appearance (in January 2015 against Charlton) before his eventual release from Vicarage Road in June 2016.
In his announcement video with Pompey’s club media, he said there were many potential suitors, but Swansea’s Premier League status at the time meant that the South Wales outfit won the battle, and he has been at the Liberty Stadium ever since.
Having made 42 starts and 14 substitute appearances for the Swans since then, Byers is an established member of the squad.Embed from Getty Images
So why him go out on loan? There are two factors – his injury history, and a Swansea team pushing for promotion.
Byers has been out of action for the last year, with three months due to an ankle injury in early 2020 followed by substantial groin problems since, resulting in double groin surgery; his first appearance since then was against Stevenage in the FA Cup.
Swansea have been pushing on in his absence, sitting pretty in 2nd place in the Championship at present.
Clearly this is not a squad that needs to undergo massive changes and Steve Cooper has not been looking to make sweeping changes to his squad, only bringing in Jordan Morris from Seattle Sounders, Conor Hourihane from Aston Villa on loan and ‘keeper Ben Hamer permanently from Huddersfield.
Byers himself knew that getting into such a strong side would be difficult, telling HampshireLive:
“Coming back from injury my first ambitions were to get back into the Swansea team first and foremost, but with the team doing really well at the moment and up in second in the Championship, that was always going to be tough.”
Cooper has freely admitted that Byers needs game time, and that is why he was willing to let the Blues sign him.
So where does the new no. 16 fit into the existing Pompey set-up? Kenny Jackett believes that he is a ‘talented attacking midfield player’, suggesting that the PO4 boss – notching up his 200th game against Lincoln City on Tuesday – is looking to use Byers in the position just behind the striker previously occupied by Marcus Harness, and more recently Ryan Williams.
Byers told the BBC’s Andy Moon that he sees himself as a ‘number 8’, and ‘enjoys both sides of the game from midfield’.
Clearly, he is versatile, which could make breaking into the currently settled midfield of Tom Naylor, Andy Cannon and Ryan Williams slightly easier. Still, as Harvey White has found, this will be very difficult, and Byers will face a battle just to be the first pick behind the pair.
Luckily for Blues fans, Byers made no secret of his goals for the rest of the season at Fratton Park telling The News:
“It was the most appealing option. Staying in the Championship is a great thing, but did I want to be fighting in a relegation battle? Not particularly. Pompey are in a great position, high up in the table and have a great chance of going up. I really wanted to try and be a part of that.”
Rejecting Championship clubs in favour of a move to Pompey is a real statement of intent – the club have pulled off a real coup in signing him ahead of higher division clubs and many will see this as a sign that Byers is here to strive and thrive.
With the injury history and lack of recent playing time in mind, we can’t expect Byers to set League One alight immediately – but with vast experience at a higher level and a huge desire to do well for himself and Pompey – we might have quite a player on our hands.