Debut maker at 15, scorer at Old Trafford at 16 and a £1miilion Premier League signing at 17, Luke Matheson has packed a lot into a short career so far.

Still only 20, it would be entirely unjust to reduce the former Rochdale prodigy to a talent who had somehow failed to live up to his early hype, particularly as he looks to have done everything possible to keep his feet on the floor.

He continued his studies whilst national newspapers were circling for headlines, kept his head down at Wolves even when his chances of regular football looked remote, learned from every training session, and battled against the injuries and growing pains that all young footballers must endure.

On Tuesday night in the picturesque Ribble Valley, Matheson pulled on a Bolton shirt in a friendly against Longridge Town in the hope he can earn a playing contract and get started all over again.

Sadly for Wanderers, who would dearly have loved to keep his presence wrapped up, Matheson’s distinctive appearance made sure that every one of the fans present knew exactly who was behind the name ‘Trialist A’ on the team-sheet.

The full-back had been training with the squad for a few days, having been officially released at Molineux at the start of June, but had carried an injury into the summer and was only able to play 45 minutes.

And it is here that Bolton’s supporters – and perhaps the club itself will have to dial down their expectations, at least for the time being.

Mattheson has banked a lot of football experience since first bursting on to the scene at Spotland under former Bolton boss Keith Hill, then wowing TV audiences with his performances against United and Newcastle under his successor, Brian Barry-Murphy. But not every decision has panned out – and as a free agent this summer he has an opportunity to correct his course.

He has played just 31 games when Wolves invested £1m in him in January 2020, loaning him back to Rochdale for the remainder of a season that would eventually be cut short by the pandemic.

Had things worked out different for the Followfield-born defender, his price tag could have increased by a lot more, with League Two Dale inserting a plethora of performance-based clauses in his contract. It is a measure of how highly that the club rate him that they insisted on further payments for international appearances.

Wolves had been intent on turning him from a regular right-back who had played in a back four at his former club into a wing-back, which would better harness his energy, sprinting and recovery speed.

Kevin Thelwell, then Wolves’ sporting director said at the time: “At 17, for a boy to have so much experience, be English and have such a strong mentality is fantastic and we think he’s everything we’re about.

“He’s playing so often at Rochdale, so we’re sending him back there on loan, to continue to get experience and that should hopefully give him more game time. Then he’ll come back to us for the start of pre-season in the summer.

“It’s great for all of us to get him in the building, we’re really excited and we think he’s going to be a top talent.”

Wolves wanted to get Matheson some first team experience and agreed a loan deal with Ipswich Town on January deadline day 2021 to loan him out for the rest of the season. Paul Lambert had agreed the signing – but the Scot was sacked less than a month later, citing “significant differences of opinion” and replaced by Paul Cook.

The move brought just two appearances – both under Lambert – before he tore his MCL (medial collateral ligament) during a training session. The injury set him back several months by the following summer his head coach at Wolves, Nuno Espirito Santo had move on, replaced by Bruno Lage, triggering another shuffle of the pack.

Mattheson signed a new one-year deal but was then moved out on loan to Hamilton Academicals in the Scottish Championship for the season.

On arriving at the club and being peppered with the obvious questions by the Lanarkshire press about his wonder goal against United, he produced a typically mature response.

"I don't want that goal to be the peak of my career and what everyone remembers me for,” he said.

"If that's the case, I've done something wrong because I would still have had a 20-25 year career after that.

"I want it to be part of the legacy I leave on football and what people remember Luke Matheson for, but I want to make more memories.”

Sadly, the move north of the border did not bring the success he had wanted. Hamilton struggled for consistency and Matheson featured just nine times before Wolves cut his deal short in January and reunited him with his former Rochdale boss Hill, then in charge at Scunthorpe United.

And again, while the move looked a perfect one on paper, the Iron would endure one of the most miserable conclusions to a season it would be possible to imagine.

Relegated into the National League, the team won just once in 24 games. Matheson was part of the side that was hammered 7-0 by Bristol Rovers on the final day – a result which gave Joey Barton’s side promotion.

Matheson had studied remotely for his A Levels and talked about going to university to gain a degree but the last 12 months brought only a couple of appearances in the Papa Johns Trophy for Wolves’ Under-21s and half a dozen games in Premier League 2 and another injury which left him unable to make a case for another contract at Molineux.

And so, he ran out in front of a scattering of supporters at Longridge to begin what may – or may not – be a new chapter in his career.

Wanderers are understood to be keeping their options open and are happy for the locally-based 20-year-old to ease his way back. There is no indication yet whether there is a first team offer on the table or whether a different route, via the B Team, could be available.

Matheson may derive some inspiration from another former Wanderer, Luca Connell, who left Bolton at the tenderest of age and seemed to have walked out into the footballing wilderness when a move to Celtic did not bring regular football.

Via Queen’s Park he now commands the midfield for Barnsley, has pushed his way on to the fringes of the Republic of Ireland squad and is very much one of the division’s sought-after talents – even if he gets the odd pantomime “boo” from fans of his former club.

Matheson has, within the Bolton squad, a former team-mate in Aaron Morley, and would not be short of a recommendation from a few others, like MJ Williams or Aaron Wilbraham.

It is probably way too early in the piece for Bolton fans to get excited – and the club remain unmoved on any suggestion he could be added to Evatt’s squad - but for a player who clearly has a capacity and hunger to learn, there cannot be too many environments better suited.