We have all seen it. Young Trafford at Old Trafford doing the rounds on social media. Funnily enough, it was something his Dad and his former coach used to say too, as little did they know James Trafford would make it into yet another matchday squad for the Manchester derby a couple of weeks back – a Carabao Cup semi-final between two teams Trafford could have signed for from Carlisle United’s academy, before choosing City.
Now, six years on, his development has been rewarded with a number of places on the first-team bench. City Xtra writer Jack Heale spoke with the grounded, humble 18-year-old, accompanied by a more northern accent than the Cumbrian one that will have arrived in Manchester, about his recent experiences with Pep Guardiola’s side, the goalkeeping team and his future.
“My dad used to always joke with me when I was younger, because I never expected to get as far as I have at the moment, saying if I ever go to United it will be ‘Young Trafford at Old Trafford’ and I sort of got sick of it in the end,” he said. “Then when I checked my phone after the game, I saw it all and laughed because I got sent it from one of my old coaches (Ben Benson) and I was just laughing because he used to say it as well."
“But it was a really great experience because it was a semi-final of the Carabao Cup, and to have the faith in me to be on the bench and if anything happens to Zack [Steffen], it made me feel very confident and happy.”
Trafford continued: “The day before the game, it was Tuesday when we all got our results back, the coach told me ‘Scott has Covid, be ready’ and then the day after he asked me ‘are you nervous?’ and I said ‘yeah a little bit’ and he was like ‘approach the game as you are going to play because you never know if you might come on’. Then I saw it all coming out on social media that I might be on the bench and yeah, it was weird.”
“There are opportunities wherever you are as long as you work hard and apply yourself, but it’s good that you get rewarded for your hard work and improvement."
Trafford’s playstyle is exactly what you would expect from the leading youth ‘keeper – composed on the ball, a mean shot-stopper and a dominating presence in net standing at 6’3ft, who, when he is not on the bench for City, dons the sticks for the Elite Development Squad.
He has not trained with the first-team on a hugely regular basis, more so just joining the side when he has been required through injury or illness, particularly over the festive period.
“To be fair, I was surprised with how similar everything is, how similar the training is and the meetings, the only difference being instead of being like [James] McAtee, CJ [Egan-Riley] and all of that it’s Sterling, De Bruyne and all that,” he said.
To be able to learn from Xabi Mancisidor, Guardiola, who has hailed the England youth international as “a guy who is growing really, really well” and experienced professionals must be rather surreal, so who has Trafford felt has helped him most in the first-team? “Mainly the goalkeepers – Ederson, Zack, and Scott [Carson], they’ve been the main ones."
He added: “Especially being a keeper, you sort of gravitate to them because you spend most of your time with them. Especially with Scott being from my area, it helps a lot and you can just get advice off them all."
“People would say it’s like a once in a lifetime experience [to be coached by them] but to have people with that much knowledge and experience, you have to just absorb as much as you can, learn and take as much as you can in just because they give a lot of detail out. We do similar things to be fair, in the goalkeeping department from the academy and first-team, but it’s a lot more intense."
Despite his age, it is not the first time Trafford has been on the bench as even with three senior ‘keepers, he has still been called upon previously, most notably missing the FA Youth Cup final against Chelsea, which was the night before City’s home tie with Olympiacos.
“Devastated I missed the Youth Cup final because I was really excited to play in it. Especially with that group, we’ve all grew up with each other in school through every age group and that’s like the pinnacle of academy football so I was quite devastated I missed it,” Trafford said.
“But also, everyone’s at Man City to help the first-team and if the first-team needs you, you can’t turn it down or say no, so you just have to help the first-team which is what I’m there for."
Trafford has a mature head on young shoulders, but equally, a mindset that is keen to prosper in senior football in the near future.
“I want to get out and play men’s football as soon as possible on loan, and develop that way and keep developing as a ‘keeper and working hard, and just get a lot of league appearances in any league,” he said.
“Hopefully, one day, make it to the first-team with City."
As much sense as it would make for United to create the best weekly payoff line possible for their social media, you would struggle to see City letting go of a talented keeper anytime soon, who, despite his own admissions that he never thought he would get this far, has done and is certainly holding his own so far.
You can follow/contact the writer here: @Jack_Heale
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