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When head coach Lee Carsley announced the players that would compete for England’s U21 team at the Euros, names like Anthony Gordon, Noni Madueke, and Morgan Gibbs-White stood out. Even so, the hero of the final, and one of the best players at the tournament, was James Trafford; a goalkeeper from Manchester City’s youth team.
Trafford’s story started in Greysouthen; a village in Northwest England. After playing for the local Cockermouth and Carlisle United, James Trafford moved to Manchester City Academy at the age of 12.
Like most football players in England, James Trafford took his first senior steps in the lower divisions. In the 2021/22 season, the youngster first joined Accrington and later Bolton on loan spells. At Accrington, he didn’t impress and even lost the first-choice goalkeeper status but, according to Trafford, that experience made him grow up. Bolton was a completely different story. In the first four games, he kept four clean sheets and it was clear that fans were witnessing the beginning of Trafford's rise to greater things.
After six flourishing months at Bolton, the teams agreed for James Trafford to continue his loan spell for another season. During the 2022/23 season, the goalkeeper led Bolton to the promotion playoffs, where they eventually lost to Barnsley. During the season, James Trafford became a club record holder for keeping nine consecutive clean sheets. In the end, the youngster finished the season with a brilliant 22 clean sheets.
Trafford’s quality performances at Bolton will not go overlooked, so he became the first-choice goalkeeper for the England U21 squad. The team full of young stars arrived at the tournament held in Georgia with confidence, but nobody thought they would win all six games and keep six clean sheets.
James Trafford became the first goalkeeper with six clean sheets in the tournament, but his shining moment came in the decisive moments of the final against Spain. England U21s had a 1-0 lead, but the opponents pushed hard late in the second half. The game came to its climax in the 95th minute when Spain U21s had an opportunity to equalize from the penalty spot. James Trafford brilliantly stopped Abel Ruiz’s shot, allowing England U21s to lift the trophy for the third time, and Trafford became a national hero.
James Trafford has shown his potential, but Manchester City have Ederson – one of the best goalkeepers in the world – so it was clear that the youngster would not get too many chances to play. Eventually, Pep Guardiola’s team agreed to sell Trafford to Burnley for £15 million. In the next few days, The Clarets should finish their medical tests and Trafford will become the new goalkeeper for the club returning to the Premier League.
James Pickford and Aaron Ramsdale are surely the best English goalkeepers at the moment, but James Trafford is certainly someone we will hear a lot about in the future. His talent, work rate, and commitment will help him on a lengthy journey to become a prominent Premier League goalkeeper and a valuable national team member.