WANDERERS won’t benefit financially if James Trafford completes a £15million move to Burnley this summer – but his rapid rise to stardom has certainly done their reputation no harm.

Just six weeks after he waved goodbye with tears in his eyes at Oakwell, the Cumbrian keeper has kept four consecutive clean sheets for England’s Under-21s to put them into the Euro semi-finals, and now stands on the verge of a career-defining move to Turf Moor.

Trafford stated in his very first interview at Bolton that he would eventually be England and Manchester City’s number one. While that statement raised eyebrows when uttered by a teenager fresh from a dodgy loan spell with Accrington, these days it does not seem so far-fetched at all.

Reports suggest that City are insisting on a buy-back clause, which will enable them to keep a vested interest in his progress. Burnley, meanwhile, will be getting the hottest English goalkeeping property around, due in no small measure to the role played by Ian Evatt, Matt Gilks and a Wanderers squad who will be just as keen to see him hit his target.

Just as with Liverpool’s Conor Bradley, Trafford was presented to Bolton as a work in progress and not a player whose future was in any doubt.

The loan to Accrington in the first half of the 2021/22 season proved beneficial in as much as the young keeper was exposed to hardship for the first time in his career. He later admitted, however, that after losing his place to Toby Savin he lost some focus, feeling it had ultimately been the wrong move.

Wanderers knew they had to make a change in goal. Joel Dixon had struggled for consistency in the first half of the season and Matt Gilks was looking to move full-time into coaching. Though Trafford was on Chris Markham’s radar through his work with England’s youth team, plucking him from the bench at Stanley to put him straight in as number one still looks a brave move, even now.

The youngster had to ride an initial wave of resistance, helped enormously by an improving defence and by becoming the first-ever Bolton keeper to not concede a goal in his first four starts for the club.

It was the injection of confidence he needed, and from there on in we watched Trafford’s character and popularity among the supporters bloom.

Relatively quiet and unassuming in his day-to-day work, he revelled when the spotlight moved in his direction – whether it be on the pitch or in the press.

Described as “an eccentric” by Evatt – and certainly cut from a different cloth than most, Bolton’s fans grew to love the “Traff-isms” which revealed more about a young footballer who was simply living the dream.

We learned that Trafford’s whole family work in farming, with the exception of one older cousin.

“He’s a dentist, and even that was a bit frowned upon,” he added. “He should have been a farmer or a jockey. It was similar to me – my family didn’t really follow football and I still have to explain the offside rule to my dad.”

We learned that he had moved on quickly from his previous loan spell.

“I was there (at Accrington) for five months, it isn’t really a big thing. I have had bottles of water in my room for longer.”

And, eventually, we learned his appreciation for what Wanderers had done for him.

“I was a long, skinny boy when I first turned up and now I’m a long, skinny man with part of a beard. I have grown up massively and all the lads have seen me go on that journey.”

Quite aside from his entertaining turns of phrase, Trafford’s performances on the pitch were also catching the eye.

His distribution improved significantly in the second loan spell, and his handling work around the penalty box had become immaculate. An impressive 26 clean sheets in all competitions, including one in the Papa Johns Trophy final against Plymouth Argyle, had been achieved.

Carlisle United will benefit from a cash windfall if the deal between Burnley and City goes through, and though Brunton Park chief executive Nigel Clibbens says it will only be a “small percentage” you get the feeling that Trafford, a farmer’s boy from Greysouthern, would approve of their dividend.

Plucked from the junior leagues at Frenchfields whilst playing as a midfielder, it was only when Carlisle’s junior team had run out of goalkeepers that Trafford put up his hand to volunteer.

He remains an unashamed local lad whose every achievement is celebrated in the parochial sports pages of the News and Star.

Wanderers will take some reflected pride too, as their role in his development at a later age was no less significant. City kept their young keeper on a tight leash, with coach Xabier Mancisidor insisting on bringing him in for weekly checks to analyse his clips. But the work done at Lostock alongside Gilks since January 2022 has clearly been beneficial, and that bodes well for a club which has taken a slightly different tack in the transfer market so far this summer.

Some comparisons can be drawn between Nathan Baxter and Trafford, given they both came through the ranks of an elite Premier League club and have had the opportunity to train alongside some of the very best in the game.

Baxter’s progress has been made in increments during loan spells over the course of eight seasons, however, and at the age of 24 he has now made his first permanent move away from Stamford Bridge with a view to standing completely on his own two feet.

If Evatt, Gilks and Co can work their magic once again, Wanderers will have their own goalkeeping asset on a long-term deal. Chelsea will retain some stake, having trained him from an early age, but nevertheless this represents a seismic shift in the way the Whites have operated in the transfer market in the last few years, and it is hoped will be a key deal in future success.

Evatt is backing the club’s coaching staff to get more out of their outfield options, especially those signed in January, in what they expect to be a promotion charge this season.

Likewise, the addition of two permanent goalkeepers in Baxter and Joel Coleman gives keeper coach Gilks his biggest ‘project’ yet. And considering the results he produced over 18 months with Trafford, there is every reason to be optimistic.

For his previous protegee, a chance to prove what he has been insisting all along – not only can he be a Premier League goalkeeper at a tender age, but he can also stake a claim to be his country’s number one.

Trafford will line-up against Israel in the European Championship semi-final on Wednesday in Batumi, Georgia, with more attention on him than ever. Those who have got to know him quite well over the past couple of seasons, however, will know that is just the way he likes it.